What it's like one year on from weight-loss surgery

by Alison Smith / 10 February, 2019

Listen to a computer-assisted audio version of this article if you're on the move:

Alison Smith's eating habits have done a 360 since she had bariatric surgery. Photo/Getty

Alison Smith's eating habits have done a 360 since she had bariatric surgery. Photo/Getty

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A year ago, Alison Smith went under the knife to lose weight charting her surgery journey for North & South. Now, she reports from the lighter side of the stomach-shrinking operation.

My new jeans are too tight. I am determined to make them fit properly within another month or so. This used to be a lost cause, but not anymore. It’s now one year since I began losing weight by having my stomach size reduced through bariatric surgery. A great many things have changed for me since that fateful day.

The most obvious change is my status from a BBW (big beautiful woman) to one who is “medium curvy”. I’ve gone from a women’s size 22 to a size 14, and lost more than 30kg so far. The road to my new physical body has been a rollercoaster of peaks and troughs, but mainly the highest of peaks. It has also been confusing at times, when my body behaved in ways it did not before, and that has served up some perplexing situations.

The most freeing change is the feeling of energy and “bounciness” when I wake up in the morning. It’s no longer a chore to take myself through my daily routine, especially the previously necessary regime of weeding out those outfits just too tight to squeeze into, and the extra 20 minutes or so wasted on finding an ensemble that made me look the least fat. Now, I put on fitting trousers and jumpers that are finally a loose fit, and feel the strength and possibility in my legs as I bend to feed the dogs and do up my boots. Those jumpers no longer tightly outline my well-developed “puku”, but hang from my bust, which is now the largest part of me. I can see my feet! My double chin has receded to reveal a pronounced jawline (the only thing Paula Bennett and I have in common), and there’s a pleasing difference between my waist and hip measurements.

If it can be considered a downside, I’m now too thin for 75% of my previous wardrobe, which means most op shops in the district have benefited from my “largesse”. Buying replacement clothing has not been cheap, although I’m finding the slimmer you are, the greater the range of clothing available at far more reasonable prices. My wardrobe has morphed into something quite different. The tops and vast-waisted trousers that covered a multitude of sins and took up half the clothesline have given way to skinny jeans and shirts which are M/L instead of 2XL. I can now buy bras in bright colours instead of having to go to the few racks where the buckets of elastic that boast wide straps and no visible bulging are available in any colour, as long as it is beige.

My Type 2 diabetes has disappeared. I’m now officially pre-diabetic, which means I still take metformin and need to control my sugar intake, but I no longer have to worry about losing feeling in my extremities or potentially having limbs amputated. However, for the past year, as my eyes gradually recovered from my diabetes, they changed and changed again, so I’ve had no fewer than three new pairs of glasses as my sight settles down.

I have just come back from a walk on the beach. I did not need to stop and rest, or become painfully aware others could hear my laboured breathing. I no longer have pain in my ankles and knees when I walk more than 200m, and I don’t look for excuses to cut the walk short and turn for home (“It looks like it might rain”).

The spiral of restlessness and partial insomnia that was trending ever upwards has been reversed, and sound sleep follows fresh air and exercise. The more exercise I get, the more I want. And whether I deserve it or not, I slumber like an innocent. There’s a new requirement from the surgeon that I swallow a daily multivitamin for the rest of my life, but my anxiety medication is slowly reducing as the power I have over my own body, and my confidence, increases. Amazingly, I’m finding people are generally more pleasant and responsive to me, which just goes to show how ingrained negative attitudes are towards the obese. 

gastric stomach surgery

The gastric sleeve procedure. Image/Getty.

I must remember to eat. A mug of coffee fills me up, and I may not notice I’ve had no food until lunchtime. For the first few weeks, when my diet was so limited and my stomach swollen and unable to hold anything, almost nothing I ate was very inspiring. When I went out with others, I ordered soup and usually had about a third of it over half an hour or so. One kind friend made me a plain omelette, and I couldn’t hold it down; eggs were tricky for a while.

Now, what I’ve lost in quantity, I make up for in quality. I save money by buying much less of what I need. This is the new freedom: I can eat anything I want, as long as I have a lot less. Too much sugar makes me feel bloated and fatigued, and too much fat usually comes back up. These are my natural limits now, and I’m more finely tuned to what my stomach tells me than I ever was before.

One thing I’m aware of, which I discussed briefly with my surgeon before the operation, was the possibility of developing loose skin following rapid weight loss. There have been times when I have deliberately slowed down the rate at which I’ve been losing body mass so my skin has some time to shrink. While I’m in a hurry to get to my ideal body weight, I’m also in this for the long haul. My strategy has worked well, although at 55, I still have middle-aged “wings” of flesh under my biceps. I think whether you suffer from sagging flesh is dependent on skin type, age and the old enemy, gravity. I’m fortunate, but I suspect the outcome would have been less positive if I’d waited any longer to have the surgery.

Men are visual creatures, however shallow that may seem. Their gaze now lingers on my face and body in a way it didn’t before. I’m not ashamed to glance back, with newfound confidence. My robust and functional body is strong. Everything works as it should and that makes me feel exquisite and sexy. I now feel the best years of my life are not behind me.

Most of all, I’m thankful. I thank my family for making the money available, even though they didn’t know what I would use it for. I’m thankful for all the information that was online and the openness of the people I contacted as I was making my decision. I’m grateful

I was able to overcome my many misgivings to finally get to this point: “Feel the fear and do it anyway.” My hospital stay was made almost pleasant by the kindness and attentiveness of the staff and, despite the high price tag, I received the best possible care. My son has shown hidden depths in his sympathetic concern and support for me after the operation. Not one of my friends has judged me harshly for my decision – in fact, quite the opposite. Life is good.

Was it worth it? Without a doubt. In hindsight, would I make the same decision again? In a heartbeat.

This article was first published in the January 2019 issue of North & South.

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