I have been absent from Sparkpeople for some time now as I learn to live a normal life in a normal sized healthy body. In 2008 Sparkpeople gave me the tools and support that I needed to start me on my wellness journey. I still cant believe, all this time later, that this is all free and available to anyone!
In 2008, for the first time in my life I made a very public commitment to bettering myself. Not only did I not want to let myself down, I didnt want to let SP or my sparkie friends down. I read so many stories about people achieving their goals that I knew, I just knew that I could do it too.
For the next year and a half I stuck to the program faithfully using all the tools available to me. I tracked food and fitness every single day. I read the articles. I posted in the forums. I talked to people and shared my journey. Before you know it I had reached and surpassed my weight loss goals.
Then came maintenance...
It turns out that Im very good at losing weight and Im very good at gaining weight, but maintaining my weight? Thats a whole different story! I have struggled much more with maintenance than I thought possible and it took me a really long time to understand some of the underlying issues.
When I was at my lowest weight my family and friends were worried about me, my doctor insinuated many times if I might be anorexic, but I didnt feel anorexic, and I didnt think I looked too thin, so why was everyone saying these things to me!?!?!?
The truth is that my personal life had been in a big mess, I had gone through a divorce and focused all my energy on weight loss as a means of distracting myself from the negativity. I was doing something positive and good. When my personal life felt pretty chaotic I could feel completely in control of myself when I calorie counted my food and exercise. I had created an obsession with weight loss to block out all the negative things in life.
Eventually I had to admit to myself (first) and my loved ones (later) that this obsession had taken over my life, that no matter how good it was to achieve my goals if I persisted I would cause myself harm – the weight loss had to stop and maintenance had to begin.
By then my personal life was back to an even keel and I was ready to let the control slip a little. I stopped tracking on SP every day and stopped reading every fitness and nutritional article I came across. I slowly let the obsession ebb away as I tried to make sense of this new way of living.
There are psychological aspects of weight loss that I never prepared for, that even now Im not sure how to handle. I dont understand how “normal” people go about their lives unperturbed about their eating, how people who have never been fat (oooooh yes, I said the F—word) dont care if they live a sedentary life. For me, maintenance means worrying about my food and leading an active lifestyle that includes programmed exercising. If I dont do these things, the weight comes back and it comes back quickly! I have to confess that I have never mastered maintenance. I yo-yo diet on a monthly, weekly, or even daily basis.
When I look in the mirror I dont see myself the way that others seem to see me, I see all the imperfections and things that no amount of weight loss or exercise can fix. The biggest thing that kept me telling myself “im fat” throughout the last 8 years was the way my tummy looked, and wobbled around. The loose skin was a huge problem and a massive mental block. No matter how skinny I got or how much exercise I did, it never went away and it never got any better.
I spent a long time agonising over the decision to have surgery to remove the leftover skin. Its a really big financial investment and you need a lot of time and help to get better, so there was no way I could do this alone. My partner said to me “do you want to spend the rest of your life tucking your skin into the waistband of your pants?” my answer was “of course not!”
In October 2015 I finally took the plunge and had tummy tuck surgery (full abdominoplasty) to remove the excess skin.
Im writing this blog because I think its important for people who lose a lot of weight (or are trying to) to know what comes next. I dont think its spoken about enough on SP or elsewhere, and I think there must be other people out there that, like me, feel that they are incomplete, or their weight loss journey has failed because they cant see the success hiding under all the leftover skin.
So heres my 2cents worth of advice about having skin removal surgery and some of the things that people dont talk about. I hope you read it before you frantically scroll down to the pictures
1. Have the surgery.
Save for it, plan for it, surround yourself with people that can help you during recovery, just find a way to do it. For every pound you lose put away $10, when you reach your goal weight you will have a head start on saving for it. My operation cost about $12,000 all up. I did not go with the cheapest surgeon or hospital, I went with the most reputable and spent 4 nights in hospital, enough to feel confident about being ok going home. I was not willing to take a risk being cheap on this.
2. It hurts, A LOT.
Be prepared for the pain, for how long it takes to get back on your feet and just how much help you are going to need from the people around you. Its hard to sit still and try not to do too much too soon, but just take it easy! I was up the day after the surgery to the bathroom on my own, the second day I did a lap of the ward, on the third day I did 3 laps of the ward, and the fourth day i walked up and down the hallway 10 times without stopping to get my breathe or to cry and said I was ready to go home. Oh and another thing ... There is no subtle way to say this - emptying your bowels for the first weeks after the surgery is a painful experience, be prepared to take laxatives to make life easier.
3. Be at your peak.
Reach your weight loss goals and get into the best shape that you can be right before you have the surgery, this will give you the best results. You wont be able to do much by way of exercise for several months after the surgery, so expect a little weight gain and loss of condition following the surgery. It was about 3 months before I could start doing regular cardio (other than walking the dogs) and almost 6 months before I could start doing any abdominal strength training. I gave up smoking a couple of months before the surgery (on doctors strict orders, otherwise he wouldnt operate) and gained 5kgs before the surgery that I really wish I hadnt. During the post op recovery I have gained another 5kg, so I have about 10kg (22lbs) to lose to get back to my peak (like I said, maintenance is really hard! I definitely havent mastered it)
4. Give it time.
You wont see the results overnight, or in the first week or even the first month. Give it time and do everything the doctor tells you to do and you will get the optimal end result and avoid complications. Through no fault of mine or the surgeons my drains got blocked, this caused a seroma and prolonged swelling for about 2 months. I had to make more trips to the surgeon to have excess fluid aspirated from my tummy with a needle. Everyones swelling is different, it takes time for it to go down, be patient. After the surgery I noticed something else thats very curious - because I used to have so much space in my tummy I never noticed bloating when I ate (or at different times of the month), after the surgery I noticed that my tummy bloats when I eat certain foods and now that theres no extra space its actually very uncomfortable – so I avoid eating white rice and corn based products as they are the worst offenders.
The surgery was the hardest, most horrible part of my weight loss journey, but also the most rewarding. The doctor removed a 33cm piece of skin in my lower abdomen weighing 1.75kg (3.85lbs), he corrected an umbilical hernia and gave me a new belly button (it no longer looks like a frowny face). I did not have any liposuction as part of the surgery.
I am now about 8 months post op and absolutely thrilled with the results. I finally feel like a success story! I am proud of myself, of my body, of how much it can do, of how strong and resilient I am. Yes I have 10kgs to lose again but I dont feel fat anymore (in my head I feel "normal"), I dont look at my body with disgust, Im not constantly striving for some intangible ideal. I still have loose skin on my legs, bottom, breasts and arms and I have accepted these are my battle scars from a war that I won. I will wear these scars with pride.
Having the surgery allowed me to see myself the way that others see me. For the first time in my life, even though Im not perfect, I like what I see. Im happy to say that 4 months post surgery I wore a bikini on a public beach for the first time in my life - and it felt good. So for anyone thinking about having the surgery after they reach their goals, I say, be prepared and then just do it.