Three Years Later: Life After My Gastric Bypass Surgery

(null)Transparency can be a difficult thing.

When I decided to start Beauty and the Bypass, I was feeling empowered. After years of unsuccessful weight loss attempts, I was ready to proactively change my life. I was motivated to not only be a success for myself, but to inspire other people to do hard things.

Year one was the year of achievement. I went under the knife. I shared my ups, downs, and sideways moments. I hit many numerical goals and shared frequent non-scale victories. I lost 100 pounds in 6.5 months, and was down exactly 130 pounds on my one year “surgiversary.” But that was a one-day weight…and possibly a fluke with my scale.

At the beginning, I wanted desperately to be able to glide into Onederland and be under 200 pounds. But on my best and lowest day, I was 241. I hovered between 245 and 255 for the next year, struggling with reactive hypoglycemia, mono, peritonsillar abscesses and some deep mental health struggles. In October 2013, I had a tonsillectomy which resolved the recurring infections and mono. However, within a month of the surgery, I moved from Salt Lake City to Detroit and started a new job. Talk about a crazy whirlwind!

nicole bullock weight lossOnce I was in Detroit, I had a few personal epiphanies about my happiness. Because I was in a new place, re-establishing friend groups and professional ties…I realized how taxing it was to be “weight loss girl”. I was insecure about my weight loss success story because I was still technically obese. While specific numerical weight goals were in my head, my real personal goals were physical health (reduction of comorbid conditions like sleep apnea and hypertension), mental health, and ability of participate in physical activities without my weight/size limiting me. I realized that I had achieved improved health and activity, but my mental health was still lacking.

As a sufferer of depression and anxiety since my teen years, I’ve tried plenty of medications and met with quite a few mental health professionals. The pills and visits seemed to help me situationally, but I still would get into phases where my coping skills were poor. And whereas food was a frequent coping mechanism prior to surgery, I had lost my ability to medicate with food to a degree. After a long hard look at my life, my happiness, and my health…I decided that blogging no longer brought me the satisfaction it had for over a decade.

So I stopped giving myself arbitrary expectations of writing posts…just because. I got many concerned messages from readers, and I wasn’t exactly sure what to say. I was living my life as a healthier woman, and didn’t necessarily want the voyeurs of the interwebz to have access to my deepest and darkest. I posted a little on my Beauty and the Bypass Twitter and Facebook pages, but the previous drive to maintain my online success was gone. I declined sponsorships, product reviews, and opportunities to make money off my weight loss success. Some days I regretted it…but it was largely a relief to take myself out of the spotlight.

I knew I’d still want to make occasional updates on the blog, but I feel like most of my gastric bypass story has been told. There are bloggers I adore such as Melting Mama and Eggface who continually update the WLS world on post-op life. But since several people have asked me to give an update, here are a few highlights of 2014.

(null)My friend Wendy contacted me and said she was going to be coming to town in October to do the Detroit Free Press international half-marathon. Through her powers of persuasion, i consented. I’m not a runner by any means, and I care about my joints too much to take up rigorous running at this weight. So I walked and jogged 13.1 miles through Detroit and Windsor, ON. It was the most physically taxing thing I’ve ever done, but I hobbled through the last 2 miles and sprinted across the finish line to get my awesome finisher medal.

I was very into tracking my fitness during the year with my Fitbit One Activity Tracker (add me on my Fitbit profile). I made a goal of walking 3 MILLION STEPS in 2015…and I accomplished it. In fact, I ended the year with a total of 3,433,531 steps, which was the equivalent of 1593.95 miles. Also, I climbed 3,748 flights of stairs! But one thing that I learned is that steps alone won’t make you lose weight…and an active lifestyle still requires control of what you eat. I was less careful about my intake in 2014, and that’s part of the reason I had some regain. I own it, and I’m working on it.

(null)Another highlight of 2014 was my family trip to Amsterdam. When the Bullock family travels, we do so in short intense bursts. With only 4 days in the Netherlands, we crammed in as much excitement as physically and financially possible. We walked and walked and ate and enjoyed time as a family (and I celebrated my 10 year wedding anniversary with Taylor). It was such a happy trip, and I would not have been able to enjoy it so much had I not lost the weight from gastric bypass.

My weight has crept up to 270ish, and my goal for 2015 is to tackle some of this regain. It’s hard to stay active through Detroit’s arctic winters, but I look forward to spring when I will be able to ride my bike all over my area and spend my lunch breaks wandering through Detroit people watching and taking pictures.

And that’s my 3-year post-op update.

Reflections of a Two-Year Post-Op

nicole bullock 2 year gastric bypass

February 7th was my two year “surgiversary” of my roux-en-y gastric bypass surgery. I’ve been trying to decide how to commemorate this anniversary on my blog for a few weeks, and nothing felt quite right. I’ve got lots of pictures on Facebook, Instagram, and my blog that show my weight loss progress, so I didn’t want to focus on my external/physical changes. I wanted to touch on some thoughts and feelings about how I’ve changed on the inside…and how I’m still the same.

Reflections of a Two-Year Post Op:

I would like to lose more weight, but I am happy with where I am at: When I embarked on my weight loss journey, I had the ultimate goal of losing 200 pounds. On my absolute lowest day, I had a total of 131 pounds lost. That means that I’m still 70 pounds overweight, and I’m not completely satisfied at my progress. But setting the scale aside, I like ME a lot better. I can look into the mirror and like who is smiling back at me. I can find clothes that I feel comfortable and attractive in. My weight doesn’t hold me back from things that I’d like to do (biking, skiing, swimming, 12+ hour days of walking during travel, etc). I’ve got my problem areas that are managed by shapewear, but I’m not horrified by my bulges and loose skin. I like ME, and even if I don’t lose any more weight, I feel like my surgery was a success.

I still have my taste buds: Just because I had surgery to restrict the amount of food I can ingest, that doesn’t mean that I care if it tastes lousy. I do care. I love food, and willingly admit that I focus a lot of time and money on good food. I tried to get into the mindset “Eat to live, don’t live to eat,” but it doesn’t work for me. I have an emotional attachment to food, and I don’t think that any amount of therapy will change that. I like to celebrate with food, I like to be social around food, and I make better food choices when I just accept those truths. I am not as restricted by the types of food I tolerate as I was right after surgery. I can handle a small dessert without dumping. I eat more carbs than an average RNY patient to avoid reactive hypoglycemia. I usually don’t feel sick after having something rich or fatty. I can’t rely on my “tool” to limit the foods I eat by making me feel sick, so I have to think about the foods I eat. However, now that I’m eating more calories per day, I MUST be active. I feel lousy on days that I haven’t exercised, and I know that eating too much will make it tough to keep my weight in check.

Weight loss doesn’t fix everything: Surgery and the subsequent weight loss have helped me get my blood pressure under control, reduced edema and helped circulation in my legs, and has allowed me to be much more active. But the major disappointment with my pre-surgery comorbidities is that I still have obstructive sleep apnea. I had a sleep study in November that revealed that I have significantly improved my apnea, but I’m still advised to use a CPAP machine (at pressure 5). I have struggled with depression and anxiety since my teen years, and weight loss hasn’t changed those mental health challenges. If anything, I think I have more problems with anxiety. I’ve had some nutritional deficiencies that require ongoing management. I had mono last year, which made me feel tired and lethargic all the time. I consider myself MUCH healthier than I was in 2012, but I’m still not normal or perfect.

Forgive regain, to a point: For the first 10 months after surgery, the numbers on the scale went down consistently. But since December 2012, I’ve been in a constant struggle with my scale. On my absolute lowest weight day, I was at 242. But I was working out like a maniac at that point, having RH crashes too often, and I felt weak. Once my RH was under control, I came down with mono. And peritonsillar abscesses. And I had to go on steroids. And I had surgery. And my doctor restricted my from rigorous exercise for 2 months. On my worst day with the regain from surgery and steroids, I weight 261, 19 pounds up from my highest. For the last 2 months, I’ve been hovering between 248 and 252. I could freak out about what I’ve regained, but I have other things to worry about. However, my RED ALERT weight is 260. If I hit it again, I will be fighting it like gangbusters.

taylor and nicole 2 years

Relationships change, friends come and go
: WLS is like a magnifying glass on relationships – it makes the good things better, and the bad things worse. Taylor and I went through some tough times in our relationship prior to surgery, and I wasn’t sure how our marriage would fare post-op. Luckily, he has been an incredible support, I know how much he loves me, and my increasing health has only made our marriage stronger. But not all people can say the same.  It’s been interesting to watch my friends go through relationship changes since WLS: divorces, infidelity, marriages, serial dating, moving across state lines to be with the ones who make you feel loved. Those in abusive relationships tend to finally have the courage to move on, whether it is a romantic relationship or just a friendship. I’ve lost friends, but have gained many more. And some of the friends I’ve made since surgery have already moved on. You have to do what is best for your sanity, and sometimes that means that you rely on different people than you did in the past. It’s hard to move on, and I’ve shed tears over people I no longer have in my life, but I am so grateful to the ones who continually support me.

I’m not ready for plastic surgery: With all of my blogging and social media connections to the weight loss surgery world, I’ve seen some amazing transformations over the last few years. For many of them, they hit their goal weight in less than a year, and have reconstructive plastic surgery soon after. I’ve been fortunate to have minimal skin sagging and need for major reconstruction, but that may change as I lose more weight. And I haven’t ruled out the possibility of having another child yet, so I will wait for any additional surgery until I have a baby or decide to keep my family as is.

I’m not sure where I’m going with my blog next: I’ve had some pretty awesome opportunities through blogging about my weight loss. I’ve spoken at conferences, I’ve been on TV, I’ve been featured on health websites, and have a loyal group of followers online. But I’m in a bit of a “blog life crisis” – I don’t always feel like blogging about my health, I get offers from brands to review products and want to take advantage of those opportunities, but then I get behind with writing for me. I will probably be writing here less and less. I’ve got a time-intensive job that demands my attention more than past positions, and getting back on a computer after work rarely happens. I’ll post when I have something important to say, and not pressure myself to post for the sake of posting.

Wordless Wednesday: Two Year Comparison

gastric bypass weight loss comparison

Wordless Wednesday: Polysomnography Testing


Wordless Wednesday: Down 130 Pounds

130 pounds lost gastric bypass

Vegas-Bound for WLSFA

nicole wlsfa vegasSo excited.

Leaving for the airport in an hour to fly to Vegas. It’s time for the WLSFA Meet and Greet. I’m going to be seeing my Bariatric Bad Girls, and so many friends who have been helpful and supportive through the last year as I’ve had surgery and lost so much weight.

Oh, and Carnie Wilson is the keynote speaker. She’s been a bit of an idol of mine since my adolescence. Any of you who have been karaoke-ing with me know this – “Hold On” by Wilson Phillips is my go-to song.

If you’re there, make sure to say hi!

Vegas, baby!
WLSFA header

Wordless Wednesday: Am I That Skinny Girl?

nicole bullock weight loss collage

Wordless Wednesday: New Driver’s License Picture

new drivers license photo

Losing Inches, Not Pounds

nicole bullock purple dress
Most people who have gastric bypass surgery have very rapid weight loss in the first year. Once the pounds stop dropping, plateaus can be very frustrating.

Not only is it annoying to step on the scale and see the same number (or see a higher number), it’s been tough to deal with the fallout publicly. I’ve been really open and honest about my weight loss and measurements, and I know people are paying attention. When I haven’t posted my current weight on MyFitnessPal for a while, I start getting questions. Some of my favorites:

“Did you give up?”

“Did you decide to have your surgery reversed?”

“Are you waiting to post your weight so you can show off a big number?”

“I noticed that your weight loss stopped. Would you be interested in trying _____?” (insert various multi-level marketing weight loss product)

“Are you exercising? It’s really important to exercise when you’re trying to lose weight.”

belly fat comparison

The last comment is the one which makes me laugh, especially on MyFitnessPal. They have access to my weight losses just as much as they have access to my workout records. Way to be observent, buddy!
The first week of December began my plateau that’s been sticking around for about 2 months. The first week of December was a few days after I began working out at the gym on a regular basis. I try to be really consistent with my workouts. Some weeks when I’m not feeling sick (or completely sleep-deprived), I successfully work out up to 6 days a week. On a busy week, I average between 2-4 workouts. This past week I was sick for 9 days in a row, but I still made it to the gym for some very light walking routines twice.

So. The scale isn’t really budging, but I’m really not worried because my body is toning up. It’s tough to get a good comparison picture (mostly because I only took one fairly poor photo as my “before”), but if you take some time to look, you can see that the definition in my belly is much better. The top picture was taken a few days before Christmas, and the bottom picture was taken earlier this week. Not bad for 7 weeks!

I got some great photos and headshots taken lately, and I’ll be posting those soon…but I wanted to show you how much my body has changed since December 2011.

nicole side view comparisonMy measurements have changed as such:

  • Neck 14.5″ (-2.25″)
  • Bust 42.5″ (-9.5″)
  • Chest 37″ (-9″)
  • Waist 38.5″ (-10.5″)
  • Upper belly 40.5″ (-12.5″)
  • Hips 45.5″ (-17.5″)
  • Thigh 29.5″ (-4.5″)
  • Calf 18.75″ (-4.25″)
  • Ankle 10.5″ (-2″)
  • Upper Arm 16.25″ (-3.75″)
  • Forearm 11.5″ (-3″)
  • Wrist 7″ (-2″)

My Size 30 Jeans

gastric bypass dischargeThe last pair of pants I purchased before surgery were a pair of size 30, elastic waisted boot-cut jeans from Lane Bryant. The largest size that they carried in the store.

I was mortified to be at the point that I was wearing the largest size available in local stores. If I gained any more weight, I would have to press my luck with the “large and tall” store (that rarely had anything that big) or order things off the internet (and send them back because they wouldn’t fit).

Utah doesn’t have a lot of options for plus-sized clothing. There are many locations of Lane Bryant, a few CW Banks and Deb stores, and the last Fashion Bug store just went out of business. You can shop at Torrid if you want to look super trendy, but the quality of the clothing is awful. There are no Avenue, Cato, Catherine’s, Woman Within or Ashley Stewart stores. You can get sizes up to 24 at most department stores, but your options are horribly limited after that.

Now I have lost 125 pounds. And I can now put my old size 30 jeans on…and fit into one leg! And my daughter can jump in there with me!

nicole and rosie in size 30 jeans

standing on one leg of old jeansIt hardly seems real that these jeans used to be the ones that were such a tight fit, and only fit on me because they had an elastic waist. They weren’t the most stylish jeans in the world, but they were the ONLY pair I could find to fit me.

Last week on my surgiversary, I decided to buy some new jeans with my birthday money. I’ve been a fan of Lane Bryant’s T3 (Tummy Tightening Technology) jeans, and have purchased them in sizes 28, 26, 24, 22, and 18. My size 18 T3 jeans are getting a little baggy, so I thought I’d just buy some size 16s. But…for the first time in a year, the T3’s didn’t fit me right.

I browsed the clearance rack and found a pair of size 14 jeans on clearance for $22. They looked like they would fit, so I tried them on just for the fun of it. And whoa! They fit! I haven’t fit into a pair of size 14 jeans in nearly a decade.

shopping at lane bryantAnd what is significant about size 14 jeans at Lane Bryant? They’re the smallest sized jeans they carry. That means I just purchased my last pair of jeans from Lane Bryant. I’ve been shopping there since I was 18. And now I have so many other options for clothes, I may never even step in the doors again. I like their bras, but now my band size is too small. I’m in a 38D-DD now, and they don’t have 36’s. I guess I can unsubscribe from their email list now.

Farewell, Lane Bryant! You’ve clothed me well for a decade and a half. At least, as well as a store can…when you have very few other options.

For comparison: wearing my size 30 jeans on 2/8/12 when discharged from the hospital from surgery…and wearing size 14 jeans on 2/8/13!

nicole size 30 size 14