Gastric Bypass Patient Testimonial
It’s a Small World After All for Barbara Thompson
Name: Barbara Thompson
Surgery: Gastric bypass
Date of surgery: January 28, 2000
Weight before surgery: 268 pounds
Current weight: 150 pounds
These days, Barbara Thompson can work a room, easily gliding in and out of conversations as she socializes with peers and colleagues.
Sometimes even she is awed by just how well she blends in among “normal-weighted people.” Thompson is normal weight now, but this wasn’t always the case.
She underwent gastric bypass surgery 11 years ago and has since lost 118 pounds, had some facial contouring surgery and changed many other aspects of her life — including her livelihood.
One of the biggest differences between Thompson then and Thompson now is how people interact with her, and how she interacts with them.
“I have actually been part of conversations where people are laughing at or criticizing people afflicted by obesity who have no idea what I used to look like and what I have been through,” she says. “I don’t let them get away with that, however, and try to get them to see people as people regardless of their size.”
(Note how she uses the phrase “afflicted with obesity,” as this is deliberate. “People who have cancer are not cancerous,” she explains.)
Pioneer Turned Advocate
Weight loss surgery has grown in popularity in recent years as many studies on its safety and long-term effectiveness have been published. But 11 years ago, there was a dearth of information on these procedures.
As a library and information specialist, Thompson was no stranger to research, which is how she came to learn about gastric bypass.
She later used this same skill set, along with her own personal experience, to become an advocate for people afflicted with obesity, and something of a tour guide for others on their weight loss journey. She wrote Weight Loss Surgery: Finding the Thin Person Hiding Inside You in 2000 and co-authored Weight Loss Surgery for Dummies in 2005. Thompson’s popular newsletter can be accessed through her website www.WLScenter.com.
The Road Less Traveled
Thompson remembers her own weight loss journey well. “At first, there is a fear of losing weight because you lose the social buffer and social distance,” she says. “As much as I wanted to be thin, there was a fear there.”
She decided on surgery after what she calls an “Aha!” moment at Disney World with her now 24-year-old daughter. Thompson needed a wheelchair to get around the park due to her weight and the associated joint pain.
“My daughter was so embarrassed by me, yet felt so bad that she was embarrassed because we were so close,” she says. The duo waited in line for close to an hour for a ride, and when they were finally able to board, Thompson found that the seatbelt wasn’t large enough — and they both had to get off of the ride.
Deciding on gastric bypass wasn’t an easy choice and she did get some resistance from her loved ones.
Thompson had lost her first husband when he’d gone into the hospital for a routine hernia surgery. Both her daughter and her new husband were very concerned about the risks of weight loss surgery. This fear is common among the families of people considering bariatric surgery, she says.
Her husband also had some other fears. “I always loved going out to dinner and he thought that would be wiped away and I would never be able to enjoy a meal with him again,” she recalls.
Fear of Failure
But like many people afflicted with obesity, Thompson’s life was diet after failed diet after failed diet. Nothing worked.
“I did not tell people who I worked with initially because I was afraid that it wouldn’t work,” she says. Thompson took six weeks off and says coworkers were under the impression that she had a hysterectomy (surgical removal of the uterus).
With gastric bypass, weight loss occurs within the first nine to 12 months and is very rapid once it starts. When her weight started dropping, Thompson remembers the look of pity in her coworkers’ eyes as they tried to make small talk.
“I couldn’t stand that look, so I finally said, ‘This is a good thing. I had weight loss surgery and this is what is supposed to happen.'”
Thompson had some joint pain and pre-diabetes before her surgery, and while her blood sugar levels have normalized since, she still has some aches and pains from time to time in her weight-bearing joints. “It is much less than before,” she says.
Five Year Itch
Many people who have had bariatric surgery do find that they can eat the way they once did and start regaining weight within three to five years.
Staying the course is something Thompson knows quite a bit about.
Five years after her gastric bypass, Thompson says she began to struggle. She re-committed her efforts and began exercising and living a healthier lifestyle.
“Look at your diet first and see how many carbohydrates you are eating,” she says. “Carbs are important because you need a balance and can’t just eat protein, but choose whole grain healthy carbs in moderation,” she says.
Journaling is also very important.
“If you take a little time and write down everything you put into your mouth, two things happen — you can better analyze what you eat and you will find that you eat less because you know you have to write it down,” Thompson says.
Before surgery, “I always opted for the biggest, richest platter on the menu. I didn’t want to eat a little bit; I wanted to eat big,” she says.
Deprivation can set you up for failure, as can the thought that you can never again taste your favorite foods. Now Thompson orders big, but eats small. “I taste a little bit of everything,” she says, adding, “If normal is the way I used to eat, then I hope I never eat normally again.”
“There is nothing I miss from my fat life,” she says.
Are you considering bariatric surgery? Or are you trying to adjust to your new life after surgery and fear slipping up? Whether it’s advice on how to stay the course, tell coworkers about your surgery or deal with addiction swapping, Thompson can help. Nothing is off limits with Thompson, even the bathroom and intimacy issues that many bariatric surgery patients experience after their operations.