This post is part of a series highlighting the accomplishments of women within our community who have taken charge of their health through exercise, healthy eating, addressing mental health and through preventative care and screenings. You can see more in this series here.
Kim Verdugo could be a runner or a rock climber. She is strong, slender and lithe. It’s hard to imagine her any other way, but for most of her life Kim has struggled with her weight and not just the old ten or twenty pounds. Kim’s story is one of dramatic change through dramatic measures, from morbidly obese to a healthy weight, from the brink of catastrophe back to life.
In 2009, at 45-years-old, Kim reached a breaking point. Fed up with standing on the sidelines watching life pass her by, unable to join in because of her size, Kim took a drastic measure to lose weight, surgery.
She wanted to hike with her family; to watch graduations; to attend weddings, and to live see future grandchildren. Obesity was threatening to take it all away. This wasn’t the first time Kim had tried to lose weight. She had tried everything it seemed, from diets to phen phen. She would lose the weight only to put on back on twice what she’d lost when she stopped the diet or pills. Something had to change. Kim recognized that her ‘off’ button was broken and rather than ignoring that and continuing a cycle she hadn’t been able to break for decades, she considered bariatric surgery.
It's Your Time - Kim is No Longer a Bystander in Life
Bariatric Surgery is a broad term describing weight-loss surgeries that alter the digestive tract to limit the amount of food you take in or the nutrients that can be absorbed. It is strictly for those that are significantly overweight (BMI greater than 40 which translates to about 100 pounds overweight for men and 80 pounds overweight for women) or obese (BMI greater than 35) and facing significant health concerns as a result of that weight. These procedures are not for everyone, typically there is an extensive screening process and the commitment to healthy choices after the surgery is stressed.
Lap-band or gastric banding is where a silicone collar is placed around the top of the stomach diminishing the size of the stomach to the size of a golf ball so that you feel full sooner.
Kim underwent lap-band surgery in August of 2009. She explains that it is now uncomfortable to eat too large a serving. She eats very small portions so that she doesn’t feel uncomfortable and chooses her foods well so that they are nutritious. “I stay away from soda…and I haven’t eaten a bacon cheeseburger in a couple of years.” The result is that Kim has lost 146 pounds, more than half her starting weight, her BMI is now in the low 20’s. The outcomes are more than just an impressive weight loss and a change in clothing size (from a size 24 to a 6-8 in Juniors). Kim is no longer on medications for the health concerns that obesity was causing. She is able to engage in life fully now, hiking with her family and participating in 5K walks. She’s even been asked to be the assistant coach for her daughter’s high school all girls wrestling team.
Her family has cheered her on and embraced the changes in her life, but when she questions her husband as to why he stayed with her through the over weight years, he lets her know in no uncertain terms that his love for her is not dependent on her size, that his love is not so shallow a feeling. Three years on, Kim is still surprised by the change in her body. Sometimes she’ll pull out something to try on only to have her daughter remind her “Mom, that’s not your size anymore.” Kim’s self esteem has also changed, “I can smile at that person in the mirror. Before I could hardly look at her.”
Some of the changes have been bittersweet. Kim reports that people are much nicer to her now, sales clerks talk to her, people don’t look away and doors are opening up that didn’t before. Kim celebrates these new changes in her life, but she notes the prejudice against overweight people associated with the shift in attitudes toward her. When others whisper comments about someone’s size Kim doesn’t stand for it and calls them on their prejudices.
Choosing a surgical route to lose weight is not always applauded. On more than one occasion Kim has been told that she has “cheated” or taken the easy route. Kim’s response, “If this is cheating, then I’d cheat again to have my health.” Her only regret? That she didn’t make this decision earlier.
The attitude that bariatric surgery is somehow cheating demonstrates a lack of understanding of the preparation and dedication involved in choosing bariatric surgery and maintaining the weight loss afterwards. As Kim talks about how her eating habits have changed she stresses that the bariatric surgery was only part of the equation, the lifestyle changes were fundamental to success. The equation for weight loss is simple, calories in must be less than the calories expended, but that does not take into consideration our often complex relationship with food. Food is not a choice. You have to eat to survive and your eating habits and relationship with food have roots in biology, your family history, societal pressures, even our evolutionary history. It is influenced not only by physical requirement, but there is also an emotional component to our relationship with food.
Kim took the brave step of recognizing what her strengths and weaknesses were and decided her health was too important to deny what she seemed unable to control.This is not cheating, this is wisdom. Congratulations Kim.
You can find more information about providers who offer these treatments via our Find a Doctor tool. Search for bariatric under specialities. TMC’s Health Encyclopedia provides a decision making tool where you can explore whether Bariatric Surgery is a choice you might consider. If you’re considering weight loss surgery we offer a monthly Q&A.