Building a Community of Support

A while back I read this article:  Want to lose weight?  Shut your mouth

I disagree with this doctor’s advice.  While everyone’s path to health is unique, I don’t agree with keeping mum about lifestyle changes, especially ones as drastic as the one I am about to undergo.  The woman’s doctor, Jon Walz “blames the need for secrecy on the culture of obesity” according to the article, and it is this that I have an issue with.

Unlike other health problems, being obese is one that carries the largest and most obvious stigma, since those of us who are obese wear our health issues on our bodies.  Our health problems are obvious the moment we walk into a room and instantly gives people license to give us unsolicited advice about how to lose weight:

“Well, have you tried cutting back?”

“Why don’t you do Weight Watchers?”

“I went on a diet once and cut out all carbs and lost 48 pounds, it was great.”

“My neighbor did Atkins and lost a whole bunch of weight, maybe you should try it too.”

It also gives them license to say hurtful things about us:

“You shouldn’t eat that, it’s fattening.” (said on multiple occasions to me as a child)

“White’s really not your color.” (said to me as I pumped gas one afternoon on my way to work in college–I was wearing the uniform I had to wear as a CNA in a nursing home.)

“Holy shit, you’re fat!” (said multiple times by multiple faceless strangers)

Just because other people can’t control their internal dialogues is no reason to remain secretive about your personal path to health and longevity.  In the article Anita Mills states, “It’s so much better to walk into a room and have someone say, ‘Hey, did you do something different?’ than to announce, ‘I’m on a diet,’ and have people pointing fingers at you.”  While I agree that it’s great to have people say nice things about your appearance and such, by remaining secretive about your own efforts to regain health you deny others the opportunity to learn more about what you’re doing to get healthy.   In my opinion, the more people around you know about your efforts, the more likely they are to be a support system for you.

It is this support system that I believe is critical to long-term success in any endeavor to change one’s life.  Every other time I have tried to lose weight, I failed to build an adequate community of support.  I tried to go it alone, because I didn’t feel like those around me really truly understood the battle I was fighting.

This time would be different, I told myself.  Of course I told myself that every time I tried to lose weight, but this time it really would be different.

One does not remain silent when attempting to lose 210 pounds.  

There, I said it:  210 pounds.  Yes, I am trying to lose an entire adult man off of my body.  That’s a post for another time.

It is pretty much impossible.  Because I have elected to do this surgically, the weight will come off rapidly and it will become patently obvious that I am doing more than just “cutting back” and working out.  Once significant quantities of weight start going missing from your frame, people start talking and speculating as to the cause of your sudden svelteness.

“Is she sick?”

“Did she go on a diet?”

“Did she have surgery?”

To avoid this, I decided to tell the people around me about what I was going to do.

I began with my husband, naturally.  He is totally supportive, and will actually be having surgery of his own a few weeks after I do.  I have the best husband ever–he really, really understands why this is so important to me because it is important to him too for many of the same reasons.

Then I told my parents.  After all, this is major surgery, and I felt that they both needed to know.  They both also know that I have fought and lost the weight loss battle my entire life, and when I told them I was going to have surgery, I simply said, “I’m tired of fighting.  I’m going to have surgery so that I at least have a fighting chance at losing all this weight.”  Both of my parents’ responses were similar:  “Good for you, mija*.”  While both of my parents are at healthy weights for their heights, each of them has had struggles with weight loss in the past and so they understand my struggle.

I told my siblings, who were both supportive and happy that I was going to do something about my health.  Neither of them has ever had a weight problem, but growing up, they watched me get bigger and bigger while they remained slender.

I then went about telling co-workers that I am close to.  I knew that besides my husband, they would be the ones seeing me on a daily basis, knowing that something was up once weight starts coming off in large quantity.  They have been very supportive, and encouraging.  As it turns out, two of my co-workers have had the same procedure with the same surgeon, which is a wonderful coincidence.  They have said nothing but good about him, and I can certainly agree with them.  My doctor is pretty freakin’ awesome.  I adore him, but that is a topic for another post.

My principals have also been very supportive.  It was critical that they know what I was about to do, as my doctor’s appointments will require that I leave school early on some days.  It was also important for me to let them know because during the summer, we are required to attend professional development meetings and workshops early on, and I knew that the timing of my surgery would interfere with my ability to attend those meetings, as in I will be laid out on an operating table when you want me in a meeting so yeah…

I also sought out support online from a community of people who would know exactly what I was going through, because they have been there themselves.  I belong to an online community of sleeve gastrectomy patients on a site devoted specifically to providing patient support, information, and education about bariatric surgeries called ObesityHelp.com.  The community I belong to has been very supportive and informative so far, and I have learned so much about what life will be like post-op.  It has provided me with a place to learn about what I am about to do by reading about others’ experiences, challenges, successes, and failures.

The psychologist that I had to visit as a part of my pre-qualifying exams recommended that I begin attending the weekly support group that he facilitates at one of our local hospitals.  I have found this group to be an excellent source of support and comfort, as nearly everyone in the group has been obese and has had some sort of bariatric surgery to use as a tool to help them lose weight.  They know what it is to have tried multiple times to lose weight and to fail multiple times.  They know what it is to walk in the shoes of someone who is beyond overweight.  They know what it is to make the same decision I have made.  They know what it is to live life after surgery.  I appreciate that this group can identify with everything I’ve gone through and am about to go through.  They know.

Finally, I made an announcement via Facebook to all my friends and family.  I posted:

“Today, I am a month away from turning 40.

As my 40th birthday present to myself, I am giving myself the gift of bariatric surgery–sleeve gastrectomy, to be exact. It is not a bypass or a band. The procedure will take my stomach from being able to hold 2 liters to holding at most a 1/2 cup.

Those of you who know me well know that I have fought and lost the battle of the bulge numerous times. This time, I’m going to give myself another tool that will help me be even more successful than I’ve been before. I feel incredibly lucky and blessed to have had a fantastic 40 years in the body I currently have. But something’s got to give if I expect to have 40 more years.

I feel this next year will be a truly transformative experience that will make the next 40 years and beyond possible.

I meet with my surgeon during Spring Break to discuss the particulars and to schedule my surgery, which I’ll have done during the summer, immediately following the end of the school year.

Get ready, world…I’m going to be even more fierce than ever at 40.”

The response to my various announcements of my upcoming surgery has been positively overwhelming and supportive.  I must say that I am blessed to been born into the family I have been a part of for 40 years.  I am also blessed to be surrounded by the best friends anyone could hope for.  As my wise friend Georgianne said, “An army behind you.”  And you know what?  She’s spot-on.

*(daughter in Spanish and a term of endearment)
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2 responses to “Building a Community of Support

  1. Great post! i enjoyed it very much. The topic of who to tell is often discussed on the OH boards and something I’ve thought a lot about. I chose not to tell everyone, as I know a few people (at least) that will not be supportive and I’m just not ready to hear it yet! I’ve got enough on my mind without the negativity of others. I wish I were as lucky as you to have so many supportive people in my life, as well as the bravery to put it out there! Love your blog, I can’t wait to see how things go for you!

    • Thanks for reading! I have seen the various discussions at OH about who to tell and decided a long time ago that I needed to share with my family and friends about what I was about to do. The only people I haven’t really told are my students, and that is partially because I will only have them for a few more months (two!) in class, and I don’t expect that they’ll be back to visit often. If they do, then they will be pleasantly surprised that their former teacher is a shadow of her former self. 🙂 At least I hope that’s what happens!

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