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IT HAPPENED TO ME: I HAD WEIGHT-LOSS SURGERY AT 17

Having the lap-band surgery was one of the worst decisions I have ever made in my 22 short years.

(Trigger warning)

By Hannah Armstrong

This photo was taking at my graduation, the day before we left for Mexico.

Let me start off by saying that mental illness runs rampant in my family. So does being fat.

The women in my family are all amazing. We are beautiful, talented and smart-as-hell. We are also bat-shit crazy and thick around the middle, to put it nicely. This is the way it has been as long as I can remember, and as you can probably imagine, these two factors had an immense impact on the way I grew up.

I started gaining weight when I hit puberty at 8 years old. I was the first girl in my class to have boobs, which I was mortified by, and I can remember being made fun of for being the “fat kid” in class as early as 5th grade.

I was bullied, to say the least. I was 13 the first time I can remember lying on my bedroom floor, crying for no reason. I couldn’t figure out why, but I was overwhelmed by sadness. I never wanted to leave my bedroom again.

This continued for several months, and then I felt fine. This cycle repeated hundreds of times over the next few years, and my weight fluctuated with the cycle. I hit my tallest at around that time, (5’7.25”, the height that I am now) and my weight was anywhere between 165 and 190 pounds, depending on how I felt at the time.

Fast forward a few years: I’m 17 years old, and it’s my graduation night. I weigh 220 lbs and I have a plane ticket to San Diego leaving in the morning, so I skip out on my let’s-get-shitfaced grad party and head home to pack. Why the hell am I flying to San Diego the day after graduation? So my grandmother can pay for my mom and I to have lap-band surgery in Mexico.

Let’s back up a bit; I think I got a bit ahead of myself. I can’t remember how old I was when my grandma had lap band surgery, but it was before it was common. She had all kinds of complications, that I never found out about until years later, but it was the “best thing she’d ever done for herself.”

My mom and I were both fat, miserable (be it due to fatness, or other factors, I’m still not sure), and both wanted out. My grandma took out a several thousand dollar loan and took us both down to Mexico to have the surgeries that would save our lives.

“I’ll finally be normal!” I thought. Boy, was I wrong about that.

The next few months are a blur in my memory. I had the surgery, recovered and turned 18. By the time I started college that fall, I had dropped nearly 50 pounds (from 220 to around 170). I was “normal” (size-wise) for the first time since puberty.

Around this same time, my first real relationship ended when my high-school sweetheart broke my fragile, newly-adult self into a thousand tiny pieces. I was cheated on, and then dumped in the worst way possible. This was when the proverbial shit I know as my mental health hit the fan and splattered all over the wall behind me.

I entered another phase of depression and barely came out of it. To fill the void, I started having casual sex with anyone that would pay attention to me. I was hot, guys were attracted to me, especially the creepy older ones with a “thing” for younger girls. I experimented with several drugs at this time. Some might call it “growing up,” but looking back on it, I call it “falling apart.”

Back to the surgery. From the small amount of research I did before I went to Mexico, the lap-band was supposed to help me control my portions, so I’d lose weight. Easy enough, right? WRONG.

I could either eat entirely like I could before (for those savvy in lap-band lingo, “under-restricted”) or could barely keep anything down. Before you go off at me for “doing it wrong,” I did what they told me. I tried to eat small portions of ‘healthy’ foods slowly. Most days I was throwing up water.

I would go get my band “un-filled” and go right back to “normal” eating. I never found my “sweet spot” of restriction with my band. What I did find, though, was that eating was embarrassing. So I stopped doing it. I would rather be the weird girl at the party that didn’t eat anything than the weird girl that went to the bathroom 3-4 times during one meal.

And it didn’t hurt. It wasn’t uncomfortable, so I kept doing it. I’d go several days, start throwing ketones in my urine (TMI, I know, but if you have ever been through this before, your pee starts to smell like fruity nail-polish remover), get scared and eat, and start the whole process again. This lasted entirely too long.

I almost died of hypothermia at some point during this, because I decided it was a good idea to not eat for 3 days and then go on a 20-mile hike in the snow. I hated myself. I leveled-out and then bottomed-out. Rinse and repeat. For several years.

My life and disordered eating spiraled out of control for the last time in October of 2010. I went to DBT group therapy. I learned to cope with crisis. I’m finally on some medication that’s working. I have a job and I’m back in college. I have a nice boyfriend. My band(s) (of the musical variety, not the lap variety, har har) are doing well. My grades are good. It took almost 5 years, but I’m finally getting REAL help.

You know what didn’t help? My lap-band.

Do I regret the surgery? Most definitely. I know my case isn’t indicative of every single one out there, but the lap-band truly screwed up my life.

Now my lap-band is completely deflated. I get tingles down my middle when I yawn or get overexcited, but I’ll take that over slicing up my arms and puking vodka all over my bedroom floor after falling out of bed any day.

I made an uninformed decision and had major surgery at a time when I was at my weakest and it made the next almost 5 years a living nightmare at the best of times. You know what I really needed the whole time? Psychological help.

I got there eventually, but living in a society where almost everyone equates happiness to thinness, it’s been a complicated process. Say you’re so sick of hearing about fat-shaming, and fat-hatred all you want to. Make your jokes, poke fun at the terms, but I hope you all know that this REALLY is a REAL problem and it has REAL consequences.

Consider the 17-22 year old girl you just read about one of those consequences. Consider the scars on my body and my screwed-up metabolism as consequences to the fat-phobic society we live in.

My name is Hannah, and having the lap-band surgery was one of the worst decisions I have ever made in my 22 short years. I am proud to say that I am finally picking up the pieces that it left my life in, and am finally on the road to recovery.

________________________

Mod note:

You can say what you want about this story. You can say maybe she should have gotten it done in the US, maybe she should have been in a better mental state. But this is what the hysteria about being fat leads to. You cannot tell me for one moment that she was healthier after her surgery than before.

Have I heard success stories about weight loss surgeries? Sure. But I’ve heard far more horror stories. People no longer to eat their favorite foods, people unable to process the food they eat, who end up vomiting or having diarrhea on a constant basis. People who end up weighing more after the surgery than they did before. People who lose their hair, who can no longer absorb nutrients and vitamins. People who die on the operating table.

The bottom line is, when you go for a surgery like this, you are changing the way that your body naturally works. And the risks far outweigh the benefits. Listen to the people who have had the surgery, or the people who decided against it, not the people who get to line their pockets for every new patient they get to go under the knife.

Losing weight does not make you healthier. Living a healthier lifestyle makes you healthier, regardless of whether pounds come off or not.

For more information on the risks of weight loss surgery, here are some links.

Emergency Care of the Bariatric Surgery patient

Lisa’s Gastric Banding Surgery

Mandatory Weight Loss Surgery?

bigmamalebanon’s story

Love,

Amber

A story from a survivor of weight loss surgery. (trigger warning, diet talk, body shaming, weight loss surgery, etc.)

randomlancila:

One of my followers, bigmamalebanon, had weight loss surgery and lived to tell the tale.

She asked if she could submit her story to me to hopefully help people understand that bariatric surgery isn’t the miracle cure or the success story that so many like to believe. And in so, so many cases, people end up fatter, sicker, and unhappier at the end than at the start. The risks far outweigh the benefits.

Thank you so much for being brave enough to share your story with myself and my followers!

At 26 years old, after taking a walk across the stage to receive my B.A., I felt that all would be sound with my body and mind once I reached the unattainable: have a “normal” sized body… I was giddy and chatty as I was wheeled into the operating room and had to throw myself onto a bariatric table. The lights were bright, the place was sterile, and like always, I was the one people were looking at. Professionals in masks whom I did not know were going to open me up for my own good to put a foreign body inside of me. 

The events that lead up to this? Dr. C gave me an arrogant look and said, “It looks like you tried everything: Weight Watchers, eating less, exercising, going to a dietitian, PCOS medications.. there are no options left except bariatric surgery. I am going to refer you to Dr. F”.

“Well, can’t I try on my own?” I said almost pleadingly…

“You are too far gone. Studies show once you reach a certain weight, there is no coming back from it”. I should have said, “Can you show me the many reliable studies that conclude, beyond a reasonable doubt, that what you say is the truth?” Instead, my eyes watered, I was crestfallen. I was a hopeless case. Nothing else was left for me to do besides make peace with the idea of a scalpel…

I remember on October 14th, 2006, I was willing to die rather than live like I had been. I was jolted awake during the procedure and realized that the anesthesia left me paralyzed for the moment. I could feel the intubation tube being pulled from my throat. My eyes were still taped. I was alive however, yet I would spend 5 years in a secret battle between wanting food and wanting results. 

What follows is extremely difficult to admit and make public, but it needs to be said so that people can see how the promise that bariatric surgery will be easy and solve one’s weight problems is utterly and completely false. I spent a month happily eating baby food and dropping weight at an alarming rate. Thirty pounds came off while I followed a liquid/pureed/soft food diet. When I went in for my six week check-up, everyone congratulated me and told me how great I was doing. Um, anyone being deprived food and only able to eat 4 oz. at a time would drop weight. I wasn’t a superstar, but I felt like I was because I was out of the 400 lb. category and into the 300’s. I could eat solids again afterwards, just in time for the holidays. I was psyched for a taste of turkey for Thanksgiving and some mashed potatoes with gravy. Around Christmas, that old feeling came around again… the urge to eat while yuletide cheer flew around me was making me stir-crazy. I always breathe a sigh of relief on the night of the 25th, that the lovely holiday is completely over with for another year. I began to want to eat the pizza everyone else was having at Uno’s instead of a side of mashed cauliflower. I wanted a damn chunk of General Tso’s while cutting up the broccoli from someone’s order and dipping the pieces in the sauce to fill me up. I tested the limits during dinner on Christmas Eve while working a 15 hour shift at the group home I had a full time gig at. My individuals became scared as this feeling of a golf ball sitting in my throat intensified and made me double over. The man who worked with me who I was secretly seeing (he was “turned on” that I started looking so good after surgery) urged me to call 911. I knew my suffering was because I went a bite over what I should have and I had no clue what to do except curl up in a ball and cry for a few hours until the feeling subsided. I soon found out what to do to satisfy the urge to eat more as well as the urge to lose: purge. 

The idea came to me by accident as I was running through the streets of downtown Northampton, Massachusetts on my lunch break looking for a bathroom. I ate hummus at the Moroccan restaurant and it didn’t want to pass through my band. The owner refused to let me use his private restroom. I was frantic until I saw a trash bin thankfully placed in the middle of the street. Here I was, the Administrative Assistant to the Vice President of a Human Services organization down the street, and I publicly had my head in the trash. I vomited involuntarily that time, and that time only. 

I learned how to play a game with myself as I lost one hundred pounds within a year. I tried to eat as much as I could, stuff down each bite to see how far I could push it. Some of the time, I would feel a sick relief as the food slid through my band. Other times, I would feel regretful when I had to relieve the golf ball in my throat in public restrooms, at home, at friends’ homes, in school, at work, etc. 

I was working out five times a week by this time. I began to enjoy my 20’s and the smaller shoes and clothes I was able to buy. I danced for years as a kid, and I had the rhythm still as I partied hard on the dance floor, incorporating holding a Corona expertly with my moves. I felt like I was successful, when in reality I was tricking my body into continuing to lose weight. It was technically impossible to overeat with the band. I could try to sneak in a few extra bites or plenty of extra calories, but it prevented binges by not allowing a large amount of food to go down in a short amount of time. Yet, it did not prevent the process of going on a binge and subsequently purging. 

I grew bolder in my rebellion against the band’s restrictions. I would binge on purpose now without care. I had about 15 to 20 minutes until the physical effects would start after eating - the painful suffocating feeling in my chest. I timed bathroom breaks after eating perfectly. I had mascara and lipstick to reapply in my purse, tissues to wipe off the tears that would involuntarily come with the gagging after sticking my finger down my throat, gum, breath mints…. check, check, check, no one would know what was going on with me. Or did they?

Friends at a vacation I took heard me vomiting. My family would see me “overdo it” and run to the bathroom. My lunch break buddies would ask if I was ok when I came back from the bathroom looking as if I was bawling. Yes, I was ok…didn’t they see the new size 10 shoes on my feet? The 20/22 shirt I was never able to fit into? I was fucking great! Couldn’t they stop asking?! 

An unexpected pregnancy that occurred while I was hooking up with my unexpected fiancee (I did not know I would find him while in single mode), left my bariatric surgeon, Dr. F, with his hands tied. “We have to take all of the fluid out of the band, it’s in accordance with the AMA’s guidelines”. YES! This was an excuse to binge. The band was loose, I could eat, and I had a reason to. I am feeding my baby everyone! Go fuck yourself while I eat this cake to nourish my child! … The mentality I had was: I am going to get this band back as soon as possible after I deliver. I had a free pass to eat again! What could be better? I got married that summer and I gained eighty pounds by the end of my pregnancy. I was reprimanded severely by my OBGYN the entire pregnancy because of the gain. I had a combined 90 minutes of sleep all night the second day after coming home from the hospital with my new babe. That morning, I was teetering on the edge of falling on my face holding my daughter in her carrier while in line at Dr. F’s office. Jesus Christ! I thought…fix me and let me go home and take a nap! I felt an intense relief after the needle went into my port sewn under my skin and into my band. I could feel it tighten back up inside of me. That lovely restriction that would undo the middle of the night Taco Bell runs while I was 9 months pregnant…

After the band was tightened, my year included 90 lbs. of weight loss (bringing me almost back down to the 100 lbs. of initial loss), a divorce, serious postpartum depression, job changes, a move, etc. It was intense, but I was still congratulated on the post-pregnancy weight loss. My life was falling apart, but I was back to the size I had been used to for a few years. Then, a problem began to surface. Ever since I had my daughter, the band decided to either be too tight or too loose-fitting. This caused me to have several adjustments every few months. I could either hardly eat at all or eat too much. These extremes evened me out and caused a stand-still in my weight overall. I would gain 2, lose 2, lose 5, gain five. I was either up or down, never stabilized. 

From the beginning of 2008 until September of 2011, I struggled with constant adjustments of the band (some so tight that I would not even be able to hold water down until the surgeon had to give me an emergency adjustment so I wouldn’t suffer of dehydration). I was given numerous upper GI’s to identify the problem with the band, a new acid reflux problem reared its head, a hernia popped out of the blue, and a diverticulum in my esophagus was discovered. This was all labeled as “coincidence”. My surgeon said that none of this was even possibly related to my having the band. Of course he HAD to say this to save his ass, he had been sued for a botched gastric bypass a year earlier. With all of these new problems, it became pparent that the abuse I put my body through because of the band was taking its toll on me.

Over time, I gained about thirty pounds back and felt that this band was a burden. I was sick of not being able to eat a normal amount of food without throwing up. I was sick of people having to pull over on the highway so I could vomit on long trips after eating food on the road. I was worried that my daughter was starting to notice that I looked and felt sick sometimes after eating. At times I tried to be very careful about eating so I could hold my food down with my child in tow. And during those times, I sometimes had to quickly run her stroller into the handicapped bathroom with me and pray to the porcelain god in her presence. When she was old enough to shop with me and walk around without a carriage, I could not turn her stroller to face the wall so she couldn’t see what I was doing anymore. Once, she saw me hanging over the toilet in all of my glory, and I knew that this ridiculousness had to stop. 

When I announced to Dr. F that I wanted the band out, he said that it was a good idea since it didn’t seem to be working for me anymore. “Do you want the bypass when I take out the band so we can do it all at the same time?” He asked this, as if he was asking if I wanted an order of fries with my Whopper. “Um, noooo…” I said to him. “Yeah, it’s best to maybe recover before the bypass” he stated matter-of-factly. Sorry Dr. F, did I say I wanted a gastric bypass??? Do you think that was my only option? Did you feel like you had to save me because the band didn’t? How much more abuse should I have continued to put my body through in the name of attaining an “acceptable” weight? 

When the day came to remove this horrific band, once again, I faced the white lights in the operating room. I felt like I had failed, that I was never going to be successful at this weight loss thing. This time, upon awakening, I was not paralyzed with tape on my eyes and a tube in my throat. Instead, I was screaming in pain. Thick scar tissue grew around the band AND the port that had been installed in me only 5 years prior. Dr. F had to yank on my band for about 2 hours to get it to budge. This kept me anesthetized much longer than planned and the attending physicians gave me so much pain medication because I would not stop crying that my heart rate dropped to 40 and I was in danger of death. I was placed in a hospital room and kept overnight because of this. 

I now have scars all over my stomach from implantation and removal of the lap-band. While the scars from the removal were fresh and before I could even eat my first meal in the hospital, some dietitian came to see me and gave me her business card saying that she doesn’t want me to gain all of my weight back and to call her. I’m glad that the nurses felt that it was cool to let her into my room while I was recovering and trying to rest.

I don’t know what my weight is now. I don’t care because I am attempting to eat as healthy as I can. Trying to eat better than I used is a personal decision for me, but now, I don’t feel like I failed to “work with the band”. The pro-surgery rhetoric I was constantly bombarded with before surgery makes me sick. Post-surgical patients get up at group meetings and told me how they don’t have health problems anymore since they lost their weight. They said that they cannot imagine having had weight loss success without having had the band. Maybe this is true for them personally, but the band is not a “one size fits all” cure for obesity. Obesity cannot be “cured”. It is not a disease. Fat people who chose to lose weight will not be blessed with a miracle because a doctor restricts their food intake. I found a way around restriction, and now I have permanent acid reflux and unnecessary surgical scars all over my stomach in attempting to cure myself. What makes me the most upset about all of this is that my Grandmother lay dying in the same hospital I had my band removed in while I recovered from surgery. She died suddenly days after they discovered her body was riddled with cancer she knew nothing about. I could not say goodbye to her before she passed since I was admitted to my hospital room and was not allowed to venture out to visit anyone. 

So, the ultimate meaning to this very long story? Surgery did not cure my desire to eat, it did not prove to be a miracle cure, it goes against what my body was intended to do: to give myself  an adequate amount of food to function. Surgery essentially starves you and depletes your body of vitamins. Four ounces of food three times a day (if I had a half hour to eat it at a very slow pace as recommended, which I did not), leaves much to be desired. So, I am choosing to share my story to help others who may think that the band or the bypass is their only option to feel healthy. Like diets, surgery fails a lot of the time because of unrealistic expectations. Two people I am close with even today go through the same torture I did on a daily basis having a lap-band. They vomit as much, if not more, than I did. I picked a co-worker up off the floor years ago because she passed out after eating M&M’s and suffered “dumping syndrome” (caused by eating too much sugar/fat when you are a bypass patient). If she didn’t wake up, she would have had to been rushed to the emergency room, which is standard protocol. I feel for those that suffer after making a mistake by having surgery because I have been there. I am grateful that this particular surgery was in essence, reversible. I do not have the band anymore, but the physical trauma and emotional turmoil from it all remain. 

Pulling a band across my stomach was not going to stop my compulsive overeating, my long history of disordered thinking when it came to food, my desire for my favorite treats that would not cooperate with the band. In trying to get “healthy”, I ironically began the most unhealthy years of my life. My surgeon received a hefty sum for the implantation and removal of the band I had, not to mention all the insurance payments for appointments I had in between. Like the diet industry, he made a killing off of promising people a fat “cure”. My insurance must have believed the hype too, since they paid a small fortune for all of my care in order for me to be in “good shape”. I cannot get back those five years: years that I was essentially bulimic, valued numbers on a scale instead of what my body needed, and was misled by professionals who thought it was ok to mess with a body part I was born with for a reason. We have to eat in order to live. It’s not a bad or dirty thing that needs to be regulated surgically. I am grateful every single day that I did not suffer more than I could have from this. I am upset at the time that I wasted and the years I cannot get back. I am furious at the responses from friends and family when I told them that I wanted to reverse the surgery. I get fired up inside when people comment on my weight at all anymore. I hurt myself thinking that I was helping myself with surgery. If I can change the mind of one single person who is seriously thinking of bariatric surgery, I will feel accomplished, satisfied, and most importantly, victorious. 

This is an important read for anyone who is considering weight loss surgery. Are there success stories? Sure. But you never hear about the horrible things it can do to your body and how many people are forced into it because they feel they have no other choice. Forcing your body into starvation will not make you healthier. Squeezing off a large part of major organs will not make you healthier. There are so many risks that are involved in this surgery that doctors don’t want you to know, because above all, fat is so scary.

This brave woman is just one of the many examples of the horrors of weight loss surgery.