I’m sure everyone has seen the billboards or ads on TV.  On the billboard, a thin girl (who I’m certain was never “banded”) stands on a scale with one fist raised in the air and a smile on her face (and because everyone celebrates Christmas, she even has a Santa hat on during the month of December). The phone number is easy to remember – 1-800-GET THIN. The TV ad features a “real” person who was banded and he/she says, “…It’s easy to lose weight now!” Well, I’d like to set the record straight.

I’ve not told many people that I had weight-loss surgery. To be honest, I’m ashamed and humiliated that I had to surgically alter my body  in what must be my 5000 th attempt to lose the 200+ extra pounds I drag around everyday. However, near the end of 2008 I started to lose my balance on a regular basis. I fell several times. Fell down. Hard. One afternoon, Scully’s Mom wasn’t home and I tumbled and fell in the backyard and couldn’t get up. I sat on the lawn for 30 minutes before she got home and helped me up. Shortly after, I fell going into the grocery store and laid on the ground, stunned and bleeding from my forehead and knee, as people walked by almost as if I was invisible. Those were the two incidents that put me over the edge.

Being morbidly obese is like being invisible. It’s next to impossible to get any help in retail stores, car repair shops, home improvement stores, or anywhere that I can’t figure out how to do/get something myself.  After years of being invisible, it began to eat away at my self-esteem and my confidence. Finally, I decided that I would research weight-loss surgery – something I swore I would never do.

I’d always felt like to surrender to weight-loss surgery would be to admit to myself (and everyone else) that I was the failure that I looked like. Thus the secrecy about the surgery. I told only people who absolutely needed to know and I had to know I could trust them. Only one person told me that it was “the easy way out,” and it put a fissure in our friendship that I’m not sure can ever be repaired.

I found a wonderful Doctor, decided on lap-band surgery because it was less evasive than gastric bypass (and the risks were less) and scheduled the surgery for July 13th, 2009. I was frightened about the surgery and about the prospect of what could possibly go wrong but I woke up and save for some breathing issues due to the anesthesia, I made it through okay.

For the first two weeks, I drank only protein shakes (never, never, never again will I have anything that remotely looks like SlimFast) and then started to eat soft foods (cottage cheese, yogurt, soup). After a month, I was able to eat solid food again. However, there were restrictions. There still are restrictions. And the consequences of ignoring the restrictions are not pleasant.  There is a list of foods that I can no longer eat (rice, steak, lettuce, muffins, just to name a few) and the way I eat isn’t anything like it used to be. Taking small bites, chewing very well, and recognizing when I am physically satisfied (not full but satisfied) are all still things I must consciously think about, even after nearly a year. Preparing myself for the consequences of not doing so is also something I’ve been forced to do – sometimes I forget and take a large bite or eat too fast and suddenly, without warning, I get sick. This happened just once in public and I realized that everything the Doctor warned me about was absolutely true. Taking large bites or not chewing well can also result in food getting “stuck” as it attempts to go through the band. This sensation is painful – although I’ve not had a heart attack, I imagine that getting food stuck feels the same way. Sometimes, the sensation can last as long as 2 hours.  I can no longer drink liquid with meals and I no longer drink carbonated beverages (as someone who drank more than a 6-pack of Diet Coke per day, this was not easy and I still crave Diet Coke on a hot day). For the most part, I refrain from drinking alcohol because my body now metabolizes it differently and statistics show that 85% of individuals that have weight-loss surgery become addicted alcohol.

I guess I’ve driven buy one too many billboards this week because on the way to work this morning, I decided that I would set the record straight. I know there are Doctors that perform weight-loss surgery and don’t offer follow-up support or appointments but believe me, these Doctors are dangerous. The lap-band is meant to be a tool. Granted, it’s a powerful tool, but it is not “easy” and it isn’t the way to “quick” weight loss. I hope that some day I’ll know how it feels to have a body that can fit in any chair, sit down on the lawn to garden, or walk long distances without hurting and I hope this happens before I turn 50 (next year). I’ve wasted most of my life sitting on the sidelines, watching people do things that I am unable to do because I’m too big.

So, the next time you see the 1-800-GET THIN billboard, know that the lap-band isn’t a “quick and easy” way to lose weight. It’s a powerful tool to help those of us that are desperate to live life in a “normal-size” body. It’s working for me and I hope it continues to work for me but I know that food will always be an issue for me.

That’s what the lap-band is REALLY like. Take it from someone who has one.

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