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From Couch to Triathlete - A Sleeve Story

Watch of for this one. She can kick your ass. - MM

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Hi, I’m Marie. Some of you know me as MacMadame. I am one of Melting Mama’s new guest bloggers and it’s time to tell my weight loss surgery story.

About a year and a half ago, I was at my highest weight ever (220-223 pounds - higher if I’d had Chinese the night before). I had stopped exercising. My blood pressure required medicine to control. My cholesterol, formerly on the low side, was inching up near 200. I had plantar fasciitis in my left foot and my allergies (I thought) were out of control. Towards the end, I started to get very bad heartburn that would not respond to medicine. I was getting to the point where I would sit down to tie my shoes and I was moving less and less in general.

I looked into the future and it was not pretty. But I didn't know what to do about it.

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I had been dieting for over 35 years and it obviously wasn’t working. Oh, I could lose weight just fine, if I had a sufficiently important goal to aim for -- such as my wedding day or wanting to get pregnant. But I could never keep the weight off because eventually the hunger would get to me and I’d start eating again.

Then I ran into my next-door neighbor, who had had bypass about six months before. And, contrary to the media portrayal of WLS, he had lost weight and looked good – healthy even. This somehow made WLS seem acceptable, knowing a real person who had done it, when before it was just this extreme thing other people did.

Like most people I only knew about the band and bypass at that point. I crossed RnY off the list pretty fast. After all, I reasoned, I was still relatively healthy for a fat, old chick, barely qualifying for surgery by US insurance standards, and I didn’t want the risks that malabsorption brought to the table, no matter how slight they may be. Dumping didn’t appeal to me either.

So I started researching the band. At first it seemed okay, but the longer I hung out with the banded, the more concerned I became. Slippage, not being able to get proper restriction, and a high long term re-surgery rate were all issues that concerned me.

In the meantime, I had learned about ghrelin and how it makes people think they are very, very hungry even when they aren’t. That was an “aha” moment for me and I realized that the reason I was hungry all the time was because I had too much ghrelin in me. Therefore, I need a surgery that directly addressed that.

So I changed my mind and started the process of getting a sleeve. Sure, having most of my stomach cut off freaked me out a bit, but I had an Aunt who had lost most of hers to stomach cancer in the ‘60s and she seemed able to lead a normal life. 

I had the usual doubts and second guessing right up until surgery, of course. But I worked through them the best I could and, on September 24, 2008 – almost a year ago – I was sleeved and had a hiatal hernia repaired at the same time.

I was happy from day one. When I woke up in Recovery and realized, for the first time in a long time, that my brain wasn’t screaming at me that it was starving and to eat something, damn it, I knew it had all been worth it, no matter how much I did or did not lose.

Which is good because, at first, my first my weight loss was slow. I was eating to plan, but I was only exercising one or two days a week for only 30 minutes. It had worked for me before, but I was older now and it wasn’t enough.

When I went to see my surgeon for my three-week check-up, he was not happy with me at all and told me to exercise more or I would risk not getting to goal. I didn’t want to hear it, but I knew he was right. I resolved to really exercise and worked my way up to three to four days a week at the gym. 

But now I had a new problem. Riding the stationary bike that much was boring. I wanted to do something else.

This is when I felt the treadmills calling to me. I resisted at first. I had never had much luck running before, even at lower weights than I was just then. But I had heard about the Couch-to-5K program and people swore by it. So I gave it a whirl.

And, suddenly, I was running. I was a runner!

This is when another strange thought popped into my head. I had watched the Ironman World Championships (aka as Kona) on TV back in the 80s and thought it looked like fun. At least it looked like a blast when thousands of people all jumped in the water at once and started swimming and it looked like fun when they staggered out one by one and hopped on their bikes and pedaled away. But then they’d come back from biking and the announcer would say “and now they are going to run a marathon” and I'd think “are you freaking kidding me?” That part did not seem like fun at all.

But now I was running. It wasn't fun exactly, but it was rewarding and, if I could run, I could do a triathlon. Maybe. Some day.

I started looking into it and found out about the Sprint distance. It was short and sounded completely doable. Not that day, certainly, but in a few months … probably. Before I could change my mind, I signed myself up for one four months in the future and started training.

At this point, I was still heavy enough that I qualified for the Athena (heavyweight) division. But the weight was coming off and much faster than at first. Plus, every time my weight loss slowed down, I would need to add in another workout or increase the time of an existing workout to be ready for my triathlon and it would pick back up.

I did my first Sprint tri as planned in April and had a blast and finished faster than I expected. Then two weeks later, I finished Wildflower -- a really tough Olympic distance course -- right in the middle of my expected time window. I had done it -- moved up to the Olympic distance, took on one of the hardest Olympic courses around, and did better than surviving.

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Now I felt like a real triathlete. I had challenged myself to do something I wasn't quite sure I could do, that took every ounce out of me, and I had delivered. I still had more weight to lose and I was slow as molasses. But I knew at this point that I could do anything I set my mind to do.

As of today, I've lost a total of 110 pounds, my body fat percentage is at athlete levels and my resting heart rate is under 60 bpm. I am also off my blood pressure meds, my plantar fasciitis is in remission -- even with all the running I do -- and I am off the strongest of my allergy meds. (It seems the hiatal hernia was causing a lot of my “allergy” symptoms as well as some weird back pain.)

But the best part is that I have normal hunger. If I feel hungry, it’s because my body needs fuel and I eat something and it goes away until the next mealtime. For the first time since I started going through puberty and developed a weight problem, I feel like a normal person when it comes to food.

I don't think any of this would have happened without the sleeve. Getting rid of my ghrelin did more for me than restrict my food intake. Now, instead of having a voice in my head that screams at me to eat and sit down and take a load off, I have a voice that whispers to me to get up and move.

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At this point, I’m not sure what the future holds. Maintenance is unknown territory for me – a place I’ve never successfully navigated before. But, with normal hunger and my new athletic lifestyle, I am hopeful.

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