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I have always struggled with being overweight. I would go on and off different diets, or I would lose the weight and then put it right back on. It was always a constant battle. But the moment I realized I needed to change came during a trip to Disneyland with my sister and my fiancé.
At my weight at the time, about 500 pounds, I could barely walk to the park entrance without feeling like I was going to pass out. I couldn’t easily move. I needed a wheelchair to get around, and I was so embarrassed that I couldn’t even walk or enjoy myself at my favorite place in the world.
I knew I wasn’t going to fit on most of the rides, but there was one kid’s ride I thought might work because it didn’t have seatbelts. I entered the line and I actually got stuck in the turnstile going through, before I could even get on the ride. I was mortified—beyond embarrassed. I removed myself from the turnstile and laughed it off, and then I went to the bathroom and bawled my eyes out. In that moment, I knew I needed to do something; I needed to change. I went home, and I started from there.
I first started to change the way I ate by counting calories. I have learned through my journey that I am prone to binge eating, and I use food to cope with my emotions. When something exciting happened, I would immediately want to celebrate with food, and when I felt sad, I sought comfort in food. Now, I journal to deal with different emotions instead of turning to food, but it is still something I am working on.
The next thing I did was walk as much as possible because I realized I had hardly been moving my body at all. I started by walking every night when I got home from work, first for two minutes and then for five. I started doing at-home aerobic walking videos, and I would tell myself I had to do five minutes of activity every single day. That grew to 10 minutes and then 15 minutes, until I was doing the whole workout video.
I started at exactly 510 pounds, and I have lost over 300 pounds by eating healthy and working out. Because I lost so much weight, I have a lot of loose skin, which I started having surgically removed in July 2016. My first surgeries, on my stomach, upper back, and upper arms, were exciting because I couldn’t wait to see the results.
My latest, on my legs, was a different story—my most emotional surgery by far. Since my legs carried most of my weight, they were always the biggest problem for me, not just weight-wise and how heavy and painful they were, but also how I viewed them. I hated the way they looked, so my reason for wanting the surgery so badly came from a negative place, whereas my other surgeries have come from a more positive outlook.
Here’s the problem with my legs: They carry a lot of lactic acid, which causes fluid to get trapped in my loose skin. When the fluid can't circulate, it gets hard and swollen, which can be very painful. To prepare my legs for surgery, I needed liposuction to remove some of the extra fat and fluid.
The extra skin on my legs was especially painful because it was so heavy. My doctors described it as wearing ankle weights around your upper legs all the time. Every time I would lift my leg or step up a stair, the extra skin was adding extra pull and weight to those muscles. My hips and knees were starting to give out.
When the date finally came to have my legs done, I was so nervous because it was a bigger surgery, and there was so much riding on it to go well. How do you walk with huge incisions down both legs? Will this take all my pain away? Will I finally love the way they look? There’s a lot of emotions tied to this.
Recovery has been both slightly better and slightly worse than I was expecting. My pain is worse, but my mobility is better. I have a small wound under my knee where the skin had died and needed to be removed. To help the wound heal faster, I had skin-graft surgery, during which my surgeon took skin from my hip to close the wound.
It was physically and mentally challenging to have a second, unplanned surgery, and while I am still in some discomfort, everything seems to be healing nicely. Recovery typically takes about six weeks for skin removals, although I will have to wait longer to exercise. Overall, I am starting to feel like myself again!
These surgeries can be really emotionally draining. Finding a surgeon that you click with and who really cares about you is key. I found my surgeon through a referral from a friend, and I had this instant feeling of he’s my doctor. I always tell people that while it’s important to do your research and find someone who is qualified and does good work, you also have to be comfortable with them. This is such a big thing to go through, you want to make sure this person has your best interests at heart and won’t just cut you open, take your money, and not care what happens after.
Unfortunately, the best doctors are not always available to everyone. There’s a law in California that states skin removal should be covered by insurance if it will help your overall well-being and appearance. I fall into both of those categories, yet my insurance fought coverage under the guise that the surgeries were cosmetic.
Even if my insurance had offered coverage, there was not a doctor within my provider network that performed the type of surgery I needed, so I was forced to look externally for my surgeon. I have paid for all of my surgeries out of pocket, and I am continuing to fight with my insurance for coverage as my skin removal is a physically and mentally necessary procedure.
I will still need several skin removal surgeries after my legs heal, including a breast lift, the lower part of my arm, a revision on my upper back, and possibly my outer thighs (this recent surgery involved my inner thighs). My surgeon has his patients wait at least three months between surgeries, but typically I’ve gone longer. This is not only so that I can regain my strength, heal, and recover, but also so I can get back into my routine mentally and emotionally. Back-to-back surgeries can be very mentally damaging to people, so recovering emotionally is just as important as recovering physically.
Throughout my weight loss journey, my view of myself really changed. In the beginning, at 500 pounds, I was so ashamed of my body, of how I looked, how much I weighed. I was so self-conscious. Then slowly, I started realizing I'm not losing weight because I hate myself. I'm on this journey because I want to live a healthy life, because I want to get married, because I want to have kids.
I've maintained that perspective. Instead of punishing myself because I have to go to the gym, I go to the gym because I love myself and want to become stronger. I started viewing my body differently and realized that it’s okay to want to make changes to yourself and still love yourself. So often, people think if you’re trying to lose weight or if you have skin removal, you must not love your body. I love myself enough that I want to make these changes because it’s what’s best for me. It’s what’s best for my overall happiness, health, and well-being.
I think the biggest thing I can do in terms of self-love is to acknowledge that it’s okay to be where I am right now and love who I am right now, while working on a better version of myself.
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