By Karen Secord

Ready or not, 2010 is shaping up to be my year of the “food fight”.

It’s messy. It’s wasteful. But rewarding nonetheless.

My personal war with food began when I was 10. Or, at least that is my first recollection of feeling different from my flat-chested Twiggy’ish classmates. I was big. I wore a ladies size 14. Stores did not sell child-appropriate clothing in that size. I was still in elementary school but regularly mistaken for a university student. The dentist told my father that my teeth were “bucked” because my jaw had grown too quickly. I wore a 36B bra. I couldn’t bare gym class because my breasts bounced.

My size came to define me. For much of my life it owned me. Comments like, “You have such a pretty face–” and then a pause, became code for, “Too bad about your body.” Where the standard greeting for others might be, “How are you?” for me it was, “Have you lost weight?”

It started there and ended here. Sitting in a hospital gown.  Five incisions held not-so-pleasantly together by steri-strips and dried blood. Pain. Nausea. Excitement.

It took this for me to face my relationship with my body head on. I was tempted to say food — my relationship with food — but that is not entirely accurate.  That 10-year-old girl hid from the world, unequipped to cope.  Food became a crutch when my body failed to conform to everyone else’s definition of acceptable. At age 13 I stopped eating entirely. At 23 I ate with unabashed freedom, giving the proverbial finger to any who dared question my heftiness. Marriage and children brought more stares and uncomfortable moments.

I joined weight loss and exercise programs — with commitment and dedication. Weight Watchers, TOPS, dieticians, nutritionists, a naturopathic doctor, a personal trainer, they all made a mark over the next 25 years.  My size fluctuated minimally. But the world still pointed and called me “morbidly obese”.

If the truth be told, I mirrored many of the other adults in my life. . .mother, father, grandmother, brother. . . .

“Don’t let anyone tell you that there is anything you could have ever done about this,” Dr. Dent told me, throwing out that deadpan, serious face he is so famous for. Dent, one of Canada’s foremost endocrinologists, is the reason why there is a bariatric program in Ottawa. He is the force behind research into the genetic link to obesity (Bariatrics is a branch of medicine that deals with obesity — read more at the Ottawa Hospital website here).

It was one of those ahhhh moments. I cried. And strangely, I felt a surge of strength.

Now I find myself in a staring contest to beat all staring contests. Me and food. Me and my body.

My decision to participate in the Ottawa Hospital’s new Bariatric Program has forced me to wrestle with my fears.  Only this time there is no turning back. I can’t throw up my hands or throw in the towel.  The pain in my side reminds me of this.

I’m not shy to admit that the last two months have been painful. I have oozed emotion. The drastic decision to have the Roux-en-Y Gastric Bypass surgery has not been easy. The process to get the surgery has been anything but simple. I had to see three doctors, attend weekly classes, speak to a behaviourist and a psychologist, see a nutritionist and an advance practice bariatric nurse, and stop eating/chewing/enjoying for two weeks before climbing onto the surgical table.

Bright lights. Sterile steel. A nurse on my right side holding my hand. The anesthesiologist on my left searching for a vein. . . .

This is real. It is not reversible. My stomach has been modified, from a 1,000 ml sack to a very small pouch. My small intestine — once responsible for helping my body absorb nutrients — has been altered; the part that absorbs nutrients no longer functional. I will take a cocktail of vitamins every day for the rest of my life to compensate – B12, calcium and vitamin D, multivitamins with extra iron.

Four days after surgery my new food regime begins with 4oz. of protein powder in rice milk, three times a day. I sip clear liquids, struggling to swallow 2L in 24 hours. It will be six more weeks before I settle into my “diet for life”. Half a cup of food, primarily protein.

Gastric bypass surgery not only reduces the gut’s capacity for food but also dramatically lowers ghrelin levels, causing satiation before it would normally occur (Ghrelin is the hormone that stimulates hunger).

Forbidden foods like sweets, many starches, fried foods and even red meat, will make me sick. There will be no “cheating”. The consequences are immediate and severe, I am told. Eat them and my body will respond.

This morning I had my first solid food in three weeks: 1 tsp of mashed squash. My instructions were to eat is over 15 minutes.

It is a beginning.

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