By Erin Pasley
Making positive choices should be the easiest thing we can do for ourselves, but I did something for myself this year that was one of the hardest decisions of my life. It was also the best.
I am newly engaged to the love of my life, and I can’t wait to start a family when I complete my education; however, I have an addiction to food, and it threatened all the things I am and all the things I loved, including my future — and my life. I watched it happen to someone I love, and if I didn’t do something, I was bound to repeat this family history.
I grew up in a family of six, and life was hard. I am the oldest of four girls; my sisters and I often butted heads. My father and mother, both college graduates and caring people in their fields, worked multiple jobs to keep food on the table and the heat on. But, my parents struggled with their weight, and so did I.
Diet after diet, the three of us tried, but failed. Desperate times in middle school called for me to do the HCG hormone diet, which meant eating 500 calories a day while participating in basketball. I lost weight on that diet, but quickly regained the pounds through emotional binge eating.
As I struggled, the same issues were happening within my family structure. My father weighed around 475 pounds, so he opted to have gastric bypass in Chicago. It was a high risk surgery, but without it, his life was in jeopardy.
The surgery was successful. Dad was in the 190-pound range by the time I was a high school sophomore; however, his unhealthy lifestyle before the surgery had already taken a massive toll. He passed away suddenly and tragically from an enlarged heart. My life spiraled out of control as I was consumed with grief and PTSD. I went off to college in Bismarck and, in the blink of an eye, I weighed 375 pounds. I was 21. I’m 5 feet 4 inches tall.
I was diagnosed with fibromyalgia, hypothyroid disease, severe gastric reflux, gastric inflammation, and much more. I was becoming the very image I feared. My addiction was going to claim my life like it claimed my father’s.
Left with few options, in March of 2019, I was referred to a bariatric surgeon. Through secrecy and the support of my mother and fiancé, I had a consultation, where I learned I was an ideal patient for the gastric sleeve — a surgery you can get once in a lifetime, no do-overs. Gastric sleeve is for people with high BMIs and who have tried all other avenues of weight loss. The procedure removes three-fourths of the stomach, creating a small pouch. It does not guarantee weight loss; it’s the work you put into the tool (the sleeve) that causes weight loss.
After multiple sleepless nights, research, several appointments, more failed diets, and overcoming the mental fear of judgment, I decided the gastric sleeve was right for me. I graduated in April with my undergraduate degree in Communication Sciences and Disorders, and in May I had the surgery. It was a 45-minute procedure. The gastric sleeve was complete, but the mental and physical pain was immense.
Yes, people judge me, but I live shame-free because my choice of caring for myself was the best choice for me. I no longer have hypothyroid disease and I’ve been discharged by multiple health specialists. I have lost 105 pounds so far and I no longer surrender to my food addiction. I prove to myself daily that I did not take what some call “the easy way out.”
For the rest of my life I:
- Eat little to no carbohydrates/sugar
- Eat high protein
- Consume beverages with no carbonation
- Eat small portions, 1/4 – 1/2 cup
- Exercise daily
What I have learned from my journey is that, to take care of yourself, you can’t worry about what others will think of you. There’s no book that tells us what is the right way and the wrong way; ultimately, those decisions about you lie within you, and with no one else. And, I finally learned that “There’s strength in admitting what you can’t do … no one likes it, but it’s self-preservation.” (From the Netflix Original series, “Orange is the New Black”.)
By asking for help, I set myself up for success and a healthy life, and it’s about time I started taking care of myself.
There is no better day than today to take care of yourself. Tomorrow is never promised.