Bariatric Transition Walk Group
My name is Jeff Preston. I am the coordinator of the Bariatric Transition Walk Group for Austin Fit. In October of 2007 I had Gastric Bypass Surgery. I was born November 7, 1963 which makes me 56 years old at the time of this writing. My top weight was over 400 lbs. Prior to my surgery my weight would yoyo constantly. No matter how much I lost, I never could sustain/maintain that weight.
Many people battle their weight, regardless of the amount of weight one wants to lose. Some have a much tougher challenge than others. One example is my brother. My brother and I are 11 months apart in age. He was always the “skinny one”. I would eat half of what he ate and he would stay skinny. It was quite depressing. The truth is that each body is unique and the way it metabolizes food is different.
We all know about Calories. Early on, it was about cutting the calories. Then it was about cutting the fat. Then along came Dr. Atkins and the protein diet phase. I’m not a nutritionist, or dietician, but I’ve seen each diet scheme have different successes with different people. People really are all different. We all don’t have the same metabolism.
I remember thinking, “Skinny people just must never eat anything. Or they’re binging or purging.”, but some people just don’t gain weight, or even worse… They have to fight to keep it on (Lucky Jerks!). Sadly, people thought just the opposite of me. Back in the day I actually had someone ask me, “Are you one of those people that gets up in the middle of the night and eats an entire container of ice cream, because I don’t see you eat a lot”. The truth is, no. I’ve never gotten up in the middle of the night and done anything like that. I just wasn’t that kind of eater.
Prior to my surgery, my surgeon said something very wise to me. He said, “Jeff, you’re a big guy. You’d going to lose a lot of weight, but be aware that your body is going to want to go back to the weight it was.” That stuck with me and sacred me a little. He was 100% right. The body seems to have its own set point, and it wants to get back to there.
It’s been 12 years since Gastric Bypass. I still fight that battle. Fortunately, the battle is NOT as hard as it used to be.
Let me continue with my story….
So the doctor said I was a big guy, and I am. I stand 6’ 4”. So, believe it or not, I carried 400 lbs. pretty well. Unfortunately, therein lies the problem. Regardless of how well I carried it or looked, I was still in a really unhealthy state. A year before surgery my family doctor put me on high blood pressure medicine, and I suffered from Sleep Apnea. I was depressed to the point of tears. I had two young teenagers at home and I was afraid I might die if I didn’t do something. So, I opted for Gastric Bypass.
There were many pre-surgery steps. I had to get approved by insurance, meet with a dietician, meet with a kinesiologist, meet with a Psychiatrist, attend 2 seminars, and lose weight prior to surgery. All of that happened over a 45-day period.
There is going to be someone reading this that’s not had any type of Bariatric Surgery that might say, “He took the easy way out!”. Let me assure you, that having major surgery where they detach the top of your stomach and reform a tiny pouch and reconnect it to your intestines is NOT EASY! This is very serious surgery and I found NOTHING easy about it.
The purpose of this writing was not to detail my surgery and all that encompassed my journey, but I felt that some of it needed to be shared so that you can get a perspective of where I came from.
While going through the initial process of testing and evaluation I was directed to start walking 5 days a week. This was around 45 days prior to surgery. I was directed to walk at a casual pace. No racing, or powerwalking, just casual walking. So, I started walking 5 days a week, I first walked around the block. Then, I added a block, and by the time surgery day came I was walking 45 minutes a day.
These days most hospitals have you up and out of your hospital bed as soon as possible to get you ambulatory(walking). Everyone on the medical staff warned me, so I knew the deal ahead of time. You can’t get out of the hospital till your walking, and have expelled so much urine. The minute they woke me up, I was ready to walk, and I doubled everything they asked me to do. I just wanted out of there! I spent the night, and the next day I went home. Two days out from surgery I walked a mile. First, I don’t recommend this at all! I had to rest for two days after that. It was stupid, but I wanted to be diligent. Isn’t that how you spell diligent??? S-T-U-P-I-D? As with all things medical, consult your doctor first.
After a week, I went back to my walking, and I walked short distances everyday twice a day, and fortunately I was pain free. I didn’t really experience much pain before I left the hospital. Once I got home, I never needed my pain medication. I attribute this to the fact that I was active up to my surgery date.
I lost 4 to 8lbs a week for many weeks. (Not everyone loses that amount, so please know that everyone has different results. There is no “correct” amount.) The weight came off so fast. It was amazing! They call that the “honeymoon period”. I’ve heard it said that Bariatric patients lose the majority of their weight over the first 9 months and it tapers off after 12 months. My weight loss went on for almost 18 months. One piece of advice a nurse gave me was to lose as much weight as I could the first nine months. It was really good advice for me. Because, you don’t get to choose when the weight loss stops. It just happens.
A few points I want to make here. I lost 35 lbs. prior to surgery from diet and exercise. Weight loss requires both. It’s just that simple. After surgery, I was able to keep the high weight loss rate going longer than a lot of other people for two reasons. First, I was a really big guy and secondly because I continued walking and increasing my distance over time. It’s important to note that regardless of the amount of weight you lose, you ARE going to gain some weight back. I’ve heard numbers like 15-20%. Don’t hold me to those values, but I would say they’re probably accurate. Those numbers are assuming you are maintaining your diet and are active. Weight loss is like a pendulum swinging, and it is going to find its center point eventually based on your intake and activity level.
There are people out there that have had bariatric surgery that gained much larger percentages back, or even gained all their weight back. I’ve heard people say, “The surgery didn’t work for them” or “yeah, ‘so and so’ failed”. These statements aren’t accurate. The surgery works, and an individual that has the surgery does NOT fail. In order to see and understand the problem, you have to look at the process.
As I mentioned before, after a patient has bariatric surgery, they go through the honeymoon phase. Because most of these surgeries restrict the amount of food a person can eat, they are naturally going to lose weight. This period can last from 9 months to 12 months. It’s during this time, that the weight loss happens quickly and easier for the individual. They don’t have much appetite; they’ve dropped a lot of weight and believe it’s never going to end. But it does end, and when it does it’s the first challenge for them. They often hit what’s referred to as a plateau. This is the first sign of the slowdown to weight loss. Its where you don’t lose any weight one week, but then it turns back on for a few weeks, and eventually you come to a place where you have to work harder to keep the weight loss going. You’re so used to losing so much weight each week that when that plateau hits, you panic and fear creeps in. You aren’t at the weight you want to be, and you’re afraid that the ride is over. Most patients go through a long period of plateaus. Of course, people with less weight to lose will arrive there much faster. Good thing it’s not a race!
Many people say things to me like, “You’re one of the only successful people that I know that has had that surgery blah blah blah”, but what is success??? I did this to be healthier, and I am much healthier. Did I gain more weight back than I wanted? Absolutely, but I also got it under control and slowly took it back off. It’s a never-ending project. I hate calling it a battle, because it’s not a fight. It’s a project I’m working on. Some days the project goes better than others.
Whether you had surgery or not, never let someone tell you that you failed. You didn’t fail. You’re not a failure.
Back to the typical Bariatric Journey...
Usually a patient returns for their one-year checkup at their Surgeons office. The doctor looks at your scars, tells you that you look amazing(and you do!). He tells you to keep up the good work… and more often than not you fade away into oblivion. Up to that point, the surgeon, nurses, and rest of the staff were your cheer leaders, your motivators, and more importantly they were the ones that kept you ACCOUNTABLE. This is not a slam to the Bariatric Medical Community, but instead my intent is to show you that somewhere along the way, you will be on your own.
This is where most bariatric folks start to really stumble. They don’t have a follow-up plan, or have decided “they’re good now” and don’t need any more help. It’s easy to do. You look great, everyone is complimenting you. You’re purchasing close that fit etc. But with no team to support them, and no plan, it’s very difficult for many folks to maintain their weight. You have to be VERY self-motivated to have continued success, or you have to be part of an ongoing “forever” program. This is why I created the Bariatric Transition Walk Group. I wanted a place where Bariatric people could be part of a fun workout program. I wanted a place where they are encouraged and not judged, and a place where they could be accountable to each other. Finally, I wanted a program where they could reach achievable goals all the while bettering their health.
Though it may sound like this program is only for Bariatric “Surgery” patients, it’s important to note that a Bariatric Patient is NOT just someone who’s had surgery, or going to have surgery. It’s for anyone battling their weight that wants to be around similar people and achieve the same goals.
Back to my personal story and how I got where I am today…
Time passed, but I kept active. I walked a lot and was very cognitive regarding what I ate. In the end Bariatric surgery is a tool. People learn ways to get around the tool, but I really tried to work with it. That part isn’t that difficult, but it requires effort. I slipped a little along the way here and there, but I always worked the weight back off.
I eventually started swimming. I had been swimming for several months, but had no goal. This is where things in my life changed. I had no goal regarding my workouts. You can easily say to yourself, ‘There’s no need to swim, walk, or cycle today.. I’ve got nothing I’m training for...” That mentality leads to a person giving up. If you don’t have something to work for, then you won’t put in the effort. I had been swimming one mile 4 days a week and saw there was a swimming event coming up called the CAP2K. This is an internationally famous swimming event that takes place at Town Lake in Austin, TX. I now had something to work towards. I had no choice but to train because I was going to be in the water with hundreds of others, and I didn’t want to be the person that couldn’t finish.
I finished that race, and it was an amazing achievement for me. I reached my goal. I then decided to join a Master Swim Team. I was the slowest swimmer in the water, and the biggest, but I didn’t care because I was so happy to not be training alone. After learning how to swim and train properly I slowly advanced and wasn’t the slowest person in the water any longer. I continued competing in swimming events. I realized that being part of a team and having goals regarding my training made it easy to workout. No one judged me, or criticized me. We were all in it together. I made many friends, and continued to grow as a person.
One day, a friend of mine says, “You should come riding with us”. So, of course I got a bike. Next thing you know I’m riding 30 miles every weekend, and swimming during the week. I had no idea I was secretly being setup! Then I was asked, “Ever considered doing a triathlon?”. I honestly hadn’t. They kept nudging me, but I didn’t bite. Then one day we decided to go watch my friends compete in one. It was amazing! The atmosphere, the people, the music. It was really incredible, but the thing that caught my eye were the competitors. There were people of all shapes, sizes, young and old, men and women. When I saw several people competing and completing that event that were 150lbs larger than me, I knew I had to give this a try. So, I signed up for my first Triathlon. The swim was going to be easy because I was used to distance swimming. The bike wouldn’t be bad as I was riding a lot as well, but then there was the run. This first triathlon was a sprint. The swim was 500 meters, the bike was 12 miles, and the run was a measly 5k(3.2 mile) run. How hard could it be?!?! So, I started running a little to train for it. I would run, then walk a while then run. I knew I wouldn’t be able to run the whole thing, but I wasn’t stressed about it.
So, there I was. The horn sounded I was in the water swimming with the rest of the splashing salmon-like swimmers. I made it back to land and ran for my bike. I felt great! I road the 12 miles and then starting seeing OLD people… really old people passing me, and very large people passing me. I thought, “Man, I must really suck!” By the time I got back to start my run I was exhausted. I remember we had to run through a field and there was a tree line that the runners ran behind. My goal was to make it to that tree line so I could walk and catch my breath, and I did just that! Again, I was passed by so many people that I thought could NEVER finish before me, but lesson learned. Swimming, Biking, Running does NOT respect age, gender or size. An athlete is still an athlete and never judge an athlete by what they “look” like. I completed that triathlon and I was hooked! I participated in many more and have a collection of finishers medals.
It was all great fun, but I was very unhappy with my running. I just wasn’t a fast runner. I wanted to improve it, but wasn’t sure how. I then discovered interval running. I started training for my first half Marathon (13.1 miles)! I had an app on my phone, and it had me training 4 times a week. Just prior to the half marathon I participated in a 10-mile run called the “Run for the water”. I was really pleased with that race, and just afterwards I competed in the 3M Half Marathon in Austin. I finished my first Half Marathon! It was a great triumph! My friends kept telling me, ‘If you did a half marathon than you can definitely do a full marathon”. (I’m sure your thinking, ”Ditch those friends!”) I just wasn’t sure about doing a full marathon. Then I found a run group that was training for half and full marathons. And I trained and completed my first Full Marathon in San Antonio. It wasn’t pretty, but it was completed! Since then, I’ve run half marathons, and various 5ks. And that’s where I’ve been ever since.
So that’s my story. I’ve hit bumps along the road, and obstacles that were unexpected, but I persevered. You can too! I encourage you to get out there and make it happen. It’s your project!