Sunday, June 8, 2014

Will a VSG work for me?

I get a modest number of messages every week from people around the world.  Some share incredibly touching stories and leave me wanting to help more, others are simply seeking out more information about vertical sleeve gastrectomy (VSG) surgery.  I'm always happy to reply when I can and i'm humbled and inspired by all your messages of courage and support.

The overwhelming commonality with just about every message I have ever received is the question:
"Will this work for me?"
I'm always a little hesitant to give advice, all I can really do is offer my own experience and the factors which I considered to help guide my decision.  I am not a doctor.  I am not a psychologist.  But I do know so many of you can relate to my story and my background.  So with that in mind I thought my next blog post, this blog post, could be a sort of Nancy Drew adventure through my own decision making process of whether or not a VSG was for me.

I am also using this post to share some old photos from my not too distant past and some recent family portaits taken by the lovely Maureen Hayes from Life in Bloom Photography.

This photo was taken in early 2010 before my sleeve surgery.

1. Why does my size matter to me?

This one was fairly easy to answer.  I didn't want to miss out on life anymore.  I felt that my weight had prevented me, in many ways, from living the life I wanted to live.

It wasn't all about the way I looked.  At my heaviest I felt tired and lethargic most of the time.  My back ached, my feet hurt and I felt uncomfortable.

I've written a lot about this throughout my blog already.  Those who have read my blog and perhaps have seen my videos know it wasn't all about wanting to fit into a pair of size 10 jeans. I believe you can be beautiful at any size.

But I also believe you get to a point where you can't FEEL healthy at any size.  That applies to both ends of the spectrum.  I'm not into fat-shaming or skinny-shaming... it's all about good health and feeling happy and comfortable in your own skin. That balance is different for everyone.

I knew I had to change.  I wasn't healthy and I was no longer happy. Moving on...

I don't think every plus size person needs to lose weight.  If you are comfortable in your skin, feel healthy and happy then don't feel pressured to change.  But if it gets to the point where your health or your happiness is suffering, then you need to take action.

My daughter and I in 2008.  I was on my way up the scales here, but I felt really pretty and content on this day. I was still self-conscious on having my photo taken.  But i'm still a little bit that way even now.

2. Why am I obese?

I knew the basic mechanics of how a VSG would work.  By limiting the volume of my stomach, a sleeved tummy would limit the amount of food I could consume at any one time.  Which would limit the amount of energy I would consume.  The laws of thermodynamics meant that if I consumed less energy than I was burning on a day to day basis, then I would experience sustained weight loss. Easy.

But why couldn't I just do that without the surgery? It was time for some hard truths.

I won't indulge in all the introspection but the sum of it all was this... I was always going to struggle with eating too much.  At the wrong times.  For the wrong reasons.  If by some surge of superhuman effort I was able to muster the willpower and discipline required to shift the amount of weight I had to loose, some 60 kilograms, this would be a never ending battle for me.  I would always be teetering on the edge, looking behind me at the abyss, fighting my appetite and my inclination to eat too much.  At the wrong times.  For the wrong reasons...

Whatever the reasons, you need to be honest with yourself.  You need to diagnose exactly what has got you to this point so you will understand what your options are to fix it.

For me this was a permanent problem to which I needed a permanent solution.  Moving on...

If you're not sure about sleeve surgery you owe it to yourself to give whatever your next best option is another red hot go.  Perhaps a sensible eating plan with some measures in place to curtail your bad habits?  Perhaps try a new exercise plan, a realistic exercise plan which you look forward to doing.  Nothing extreme or impossible to maintain long term.  Nothing you hate.  But perhaps small changes to gently steer you on course to long-term sustained weight loss.

If it works, well that's perfect.  But if it doesn't, sit down and critically analyse why.  You need to identify all the factors so you can work out what will work for you.  When you meet with a surgeon you should be able to articulate exactly why you think everything else has failed for you.  Believe me, you need to be brutally honest to save yourself time and heartache.  It might be hard to accept, but it's important.

Family portrait taken in early 2014 - photos by Maureen Haynes, Life in Bloom photography

3. What are all my options?

Photos by Maureen Haynes - Life in Bloom photography
By this point I was certain of two things.

I couldn't stay the way I was.  I had to change my current trajectory because I wasn't happy and I wanted more from life. Not doing anything wasn't an option anymore.

I needed help and couldn't rely on conventional diet and exercise.  Been there and done that.  I even sat down and listed all the diets, pills, gyms and personal trainers I had tried. They all failed because I simply could not control my diet.

Enter that fateful day when I walked into my doctor's office and asked for help after my latest effort (diet pills and gym) had failed.  I had never considered surgery before.  Well I had never considered a lap band before, which was all I knew about weight loss surgery at the time.

When my doctor told me about VSG surgery it seemed to tick all the boxes for me.

It would help me to limit my portion sizes. tick.

It was a permanent solution to a permanent problem. tick.

It seemed too good to be true but I also didn't have any better options to help me lose weight that I hadn't already tried.  So I took the leap.  By the end of the first information session I attended I had booked an appointment with my surgeon and was itching to set a date to have the surgery.

A few weeks before my sleeve surgery in 2010.
Which brings me to here... where I am in that photo there on the right. Yes, that's me.

I remember taking this 'selfie'.  I had only recently purchased the black swimwear I am wearing in this photo.  In size 20. I decided that if I was going to have this surgery, I was going in 100%.  I needed 'before' photos.  I put on make-up.  I straightened my hair. I shaved my legs and painted my nails. I tried to make myself look as good as possible.  I tried to smile.  But I felt ridiculous and just unbelievably sad.  Not long after I took this photo I made this video.  It was hard.

I've had people insist this isn't me.  That this photo is a hoax.  But I have other photos to prove it including out-takes where i'm too out of focus or just looking too ridiculous. It's me!

I posed side on.  Front on.  I even took a photo over my shoulder into the mirror of my back.  It was crazy. At the time I was too embarrassed to ask my husband to take the photos.  I never imagined i'd post them on the internet.  I'm still questioning my sanity on this, but it just illustrates better than any words what I was feeling and why I needed to change.

My favourite comparison photo is this one.  Alex is about 8 weeks old in the photo on the left.

You can see more of my 'before and after' photos elsewhere on my blog so I won't post them again here.

A few weeks after these 'selfie' photos, I walked into John Flynn Private Hospital on the Gold Coast and changed my life forever.

And now i'm here:

Photos by Maureen Haynes - Life in Bloom photography

I am no one special.  I still have moments where I indulge in my old habits, especially when i'm at work and they are passing the biscuits or chocolate around.  I am still sporadic with my gym attendance.  Even though I love to exercise now, sometimes juggling small children and a career makes it feel impossible to get to gym regularly.  Evidently I still make excuses.  But I try.

This is why I choose to have a VSG.  Because I am not perfect.  Because I needed help.  Because even though I occasionally indulge in less nourishing food or skip gym I still deserve to be happy. Because I don't need to punish myself with gruelling eating plans or gym sessions to deserve to be thin or healthy. Because I have better things to do with my time right now. Because I want to be the wrinkly 90 year old retiree who walks to the beach with her mal tucked under her arm to go surfing with her husband, children and hopefully... grandchildren.

Heidi x


  1. I needed this right now. I have decided to have a vsg and started the process. It is good to read someone with similar thought processes to mine and know I'm not crazy. Thanks for sharing.

    1. You're not crazy :) Thanks for the message x

  2. Thanks so much Heidi! You've answered all of my questions about this process. I've just signed up for private health insurance and have a year to wait for the surgery, and I'm so excited about what my life might be like on the other side of this life-long weight battle that I'm continuing to lose year after year. The fight left me this year. I no longer have the energy to try yet another diet, another stint of exercising (you're right, yoga at 120kg HURTS!) and finding this weightloss tool has been the most exciting thing! I love how giving you are to others who want to know more and have enjoyed reading your blog front to back twice (I promise I'm not a stalker either!). I do still worry that way down the track I'll unravel and try to 'outsmart' the surgery in my desire for junk food, but I do think this is absolutely my best shot. Thanks again xo

    1. Thank you :) That sort of worry is hard to resolve, but you'll find confidence and find how the sleeve works for you. Stay positive and keep focused. I know how gruelling that wait can be for the health insurance to kick in. Keep in touch and let me know how you go x

  3. Hi Heidi - love your blog!! You've inspired me to proceed with a VSG and your blog helped convince my family it's a good idea too! I have a qu - I currently have a five month old boy and plan to have surgery in next eight weeks / do you have any thoughts, ideas, reservations about doing it with such a small baby? I'm breast feeding and would like to continue afterwards thanks :-)

    1. I'm so sorry i'm only just getting to reply to your question, it's been a crazy month...

      There's a couple of things i'd consider...
      - the time you spend recovering from surgery in hospital (you'll probably need a back-up plan, either expressing before hand or relying on a substitute while you are recovering), and
      - the first month following surgery your diet will be quite restricted as you work your way back up to eating solid food and in amounts to provide for both you and your milk supply.

      I don't feel qualified to give you answers to those. I guess it depends on how strongly you feel about weaning your son if things don't work out? You could always give it a shot and see. Everyone is different, recovery period is different etc.

      I'd recommend discussing this with your nutritionist first, then perhaps asking if they knew a lactation consultant who would be knowledgeable about your options?

      Let me know what you find out, i'd be keen to share that with my readers x

  4. Wow what an inspiring story. My brother had his sleeve surgery last year and I am so happy for how it changed him. My sister and I will be doing it next year in mid 2015. I hate taking photos but most of all I had not being able to sleep properly, to breathe properly and enjoy life properly. I think about it every day and the fact that my mum passed away at the age of only 52. I don't want to die so young over weight issues. Thank you for posting this blig and the video.

    1. Thank you Maria :) All the best! x

  5. Thank you for your inspirational blog. I was admitted to the hospital at 8.40am this morning and it is 2.46pm now... I am still waiting to go in and be sleeved. I'm starving, thirsty and getting more anxious and nervousness as each minute passes. Reading your blog gives me peace and calms my mind. You are my inspiration to stay positive! I am a mum of 3 young kids, they need me and I need to be present in my mind rather than obsessing over my weight. Thank you for it all!

  6. You look AMAZING!! I'm having the same procedure in a month and I was wondering what kind of vitamins supplements did you take because my doctor doesn't want to give me any and I want to have an idea of what should I take. Also what else did you do beside pilates and yoga for the excess skin?

  7. Cristina gutierrezJanuary 23, 2015 at 3:31 AM

    How did you deal with the pregnancy after your surgery? Weight gain and losing the baby weight again?

  8. Hi
    Just found your blog

    Was wondering his things are for you and if you will do an update??


  9. Hi Heidi! I was so excited to find you here and I LOVE the name of your blog! I'm in the process of getting approved for the procedure and when I get nervous this is an awesome place to visit and calm down. You have thrived and so will I :)

  10. I'm so happy I ran across your blog. I'm hoping to get sleeve bypass in the next year or two. My fear is...this sounds so stupid....that I'll never get to eat my favorite things...duh I guess that's what got me here.

  11. It is a very motivational blog. I had the sleeve surgery 12/3/14 after reading every word on this page. It has all been worth it!!!