The Big Reveal: My Weight Loss Journey
For some time, I have been wanting to share my story about getting healthier. It is common for patients to tell me “I just can’t lose weight” or “I eat healthy foods and the scale doesn’t change,” and hope that maybe plastic surgery is the answer for them. As a plastic surgeon—and a woman with a lifetime of weight struggles–I have a lot to say on this subject. Unfortunately, plastic surgery isn’t the way to weight loss and a healthier lifestyle. When I say this to patients, I know I disappoint and even upset some. Coming clean and leading by example, I hope sharing my story makes a difference.
Having a healthier lifestyle (and often with it losing weight) takes a commitment. Similar to quitting smoking, the drive to want to do it has to be there. I didn’t have that drive for a long time. I’d lost and gained weight in different stages of my life. I’d tried Weight Watchers, Jenny Craig, and used apps like My Fitness Pal, but until recently, I just couldn’t make it stick. Like many of my patients, I am a busy working mother. With a limited number of hours in a day, I put my family first… and me, last. I made sure that my kids had healthy snacks, lunches, and breakfasts, then raced out of the house grabbing whatever was in a package that I could eat in the car. My husband and I made home cooked, well balanced, and “family friendly” meals most evenings. Often these were comfort foods or crock-pot meals that were easy to prepare without much regard for portions. Each night, I would collapse, exhausted. Playing with my young boys winded me. I did not feel very good about myself. I developed high blood pressure and couldn’t even commit to 30 minutes of walking three times a week–which my doctor said would be the equivalent of one blood pressure pill. One day, my husband said, “if you don’t start exercising before you turn 50, you are going to have a hard time moving at all.” That was the push I needed to do something… but what? I despised running. I don’t believe in going to the gym—I don’t have any extra “commuting” time in my day. While venting those concerns (excuses) to my coworkers, one of them asked me what I liked to do for activity. Prior to the birth of my sons, I used to belly dance. Why not dance, she asked? I remembered I had purchased a DVD set I saw on an infomercial (I never do that, but I had a long time to dry my nails after a rare manicure) which was still in the box at home.
Fast forward to a different moment. A friend from my residency reached out to me after I posted some information on Mommy Makeovers on Facebook. She asked me to call her to discuss post-Mommy Makeover maintenance. She candidly shared her journey going through that surgery and asking her surgeon about maintaining results. She was told, “just diet and exercise.” She discovered the Beachbody program, an online fitness and nutrition program to help guide her with what to eat, how much to eat, and exercises she could do at home. She did well and ultimately became a coach. She offered her services to my patients, and to me. By the time we had talked, I had done some of the dance workouts, and, by coincidence, those workouts were part of the Beachbody program and came in a box with pamphlets on using an eating system called Portion Fix. This was exactly what my friend was suggesting I use. I shared with her how frustrating I found diet plans and measuring foods and counting points. I was also frustrated that I felt as if the programs didn’t emphasize enough healthy changes. Through our discussion, I learned my svelte friend had not always been so. Like me, she had struggled with her weight. Like me, there was an emotional component to her weight gain. But unlike me, she had lost and maintained her weight loss… and was still on the program and exercising.
While I said I would try it because I don’t recommend anything to a patient I have not investigated, the truth is that I no longer believed the story I was telling myself. The special occasion foods I enjoyed did not give me the same pleasure when I ate them all the time. I did not monitor my portions and ate foods because they tasted good. Later, I would feel overly full, bloated, and uncomfortable. I ate when I was bored. I ate when I was stressed. I ate what was easy. I hated the idea of a diet. But I hated feeling tired, sluggish, and unhealthy more.
I wanted to be able to make a healthy change to my lifestyle without having to rely on packaged frozen dinners or counting points and calories. Portion Fix made it very easy to eat properly. After an initial calculation involving my weight and activity level, I followed the plan for my own calorie target but did not have to count calories. I used (and continue to use) a system of containers—different colors for different foods—to help me portion my meals. There is a list of foods for each category (vegetables, fruits, carbs, proteins, healthy fats, seeds and dressings) and I pick from the lists to make my meals. It is very clean eating. And all I have to do is fill the container and that is what I get to eat for that meal. I fill a red container for my protein, and I can have 4 of them a day. This has taught me portion control for each meal. If it fits in that container, I can have it. I’m also eating “clean.” There are food lists for each category. For example, I can fill my yellow carb container with quinoa or sweet potato or breakfast cereal. The foods are listed from best choice to better (there are no worst choices on this plan). I am eating a balanced diet daily.
Back to my story: I recruited some friends and we all joined the coaching group. This was perfect for me. It is done through social media and on my own time. Coaching involves an online, private Facebook group. The members are other women who are using the Portion Fix eating system. Here I found support from other women who were getting and/or staying healthy. We take a “sweaty selfie” after exercise and post our workouts in the group. This bit of accountability and positive reinforcement (of course these get likes!) was a big help to me in the beginning. As I have progressed on my journey, it also shows me how far I have come, in pictures and also in commitment.
As I began to explore a lifestyle where I would make the time for me to be healthy, I decided that I would make sure to exercise on days when I don’t operate. On those days, I have more time in the morning which is my preferred time to exercise. I usually do a 30 minute high intensity interval routine, and I use the Beachbody On Demand workouts to stream them from my tablet to my TV. There are so many trainers and so many workouts that I am never bored. The trainers are excellent motivators: “you can do anything for a minute” was one of my favorite encouragements as I sweated through the 21 day fix program. Lately, the exercise I despised—running—has become enjoyable. I have become stronger, more flexible, and my endurance has increased. I have more energy. I just feel good. The workouts that used to wind me have now become easier. I can do so much more than I ever thought possible. I look forward to exercising my body and love when I get to indulge in some yoga to stretch myself out after hard workouts. This has largely replaced the massages I used to get for tight shoulders from operating.
My goal was to no longer be overweight. I wanted to have a normal body mass index. I watch the scale, but I also watch how my (new!) clothing fits. I don’t follow the eating plan to the letter (sorry, Coach). But it’s working for me. The most profound part of this journey was realizing that I was not on a diet. I changed my lifestyle. I weigh myself every day, not to obsess, but to make sure I stay on track. I try to stick to the Portion Fix plan. Since February of 2017, I have lost 35 pounds and a whole lot of inches. I’ve gone from a size 12/14 size to a size 6. I can see muscle definition in my body. I don’t hate to shop for clothing anymore. I have tried styles I’ve never been able to wear in the past. The best part about this whole experience is the confidence that I now have in myself. I like myself a whole lot more; not because I’m thinner, but because I’m being honest with myself. I’m not hiding behind excuses or fatigue. In a challenging workout (or when I am really tempted by a bag of chips), I remind myself that I am stronger than I think—physically and mentally. Apparently, this change is infectious. I’ve recruited friends and patients to make healthier choices in their lives. My kids and husband exercise with me. My daughter can still outrun me in a 5K, but I’m getting faster. She looks to me for advice on following an athlete’s diet and is training in her off season to be in peak shape for her sport. I still can hardly believe I’m giving this young athlete advice. I truly have never, ever felt better.
So when patients come in and tell me they just can’t lose weight, what I really want to say is, you can. You are worth it. You can do much more than what you think is possible. Plastic surgery can’t do this for you, you have to work for it. It’s not genetics or a fad diet or luck. I know this because I’ve been there. On both sides.
But once you get to where you want to be, if you still need me, I’m here for you. And it will be my pleasure to help make the changes you can’t do on your own.