In this the month when resolutions made are as common as a few pine needles still in the carpet fibers, people plan changes that come in all sizes. And, for a friend of mine, there has been one big change, one he hopes, will result in a smaller him.
Meet Mark, 59 years old, and someone I always thought embodied the stereotype often perpetuated that chubbiness and jolliness go hand in hand. When I spoke with him about my desire to share his story in my weekly prose, he told me that he’d struggled with his weight since the sixth grade. And, of course, as it is with many, the problem grew incrementally as time passed. What seemed like a small change, as in gaining two or three pounds a year, became an even bigger change when multiplied by each passing year.
Mark used food as a crutch, and when life got tough, he’d just order another pizza. Eventually, he came to the conclusion he had a food addiction, some feel the most powerful of all, since everyone has to eat to survive.
And, while Mark dreamt of a thinner him, admittedly for decades, he simply couldn’t seem to summon the willpower to keep the weight off that he periodically would lose. While he hated heading to the big-and-tall department when he shopped, that was his reality. Then came an important moment, one that foreshadowed an eventual major decision.
Recalls Mark, “In 2011 while helping my daughter move, I fell down and snapped both quadriceps tendons. I had to have a pretty complex surgery with fiber wires used to rebuild the tendons and was off work for five months while going through some pretty grueling rehab just to be able to walk again.”
Once back on his feet, Mark realized walking was more difficult. His hips and back were chronically sore, and he adopted a far stiffer gait. For Mark, like a lot of heavy people, that meant negotiating with himself on the simplest decisions, as in whether to ascend a flight of stairs or go out on an icy winter day and risk a fall that could be disastrous.
“The thought of what my weight was doing to me depressed me, which led, as any food addict will tell you, to more overeating.”
But, over time that feeling along with the pain and stiffness that accompanied simple walking is what Mark needed to make a big change. Last year, along with a loving and supportive wife, he attended a St. Rita’s weight management program and decided to enroll and attend each meeting The more he listened to doctors and nurses talk about the dynamics of the problem and the options available, the stronger his resolve became to become thinner and healthier.
The option he decided upon was surgical, one called a vertical gastric sleeve, which would drastically reduce the size of his stomach to about the size of a banana. However, Mark was told that the surgery was no panacea. Without good decisions when it came to eating and exercise, his stomach would again enlarge when the tissues in the stomach walls called rugae reprogrammed themselves.
Six months of preparation for the procedure that was performed early last November followed, with Mark rising at 5 a.m. daily to work out before heading out to work. In the presurgery orientation, he was told he had to be smoke-free, not a problem because Mark had kicked that habit years ago. He was also told that following surgery, for the procedure to work, he had to be alcohol free, something Mark really didn’t want to hear.
“I’ll be honest, like a lot of guys, I really liked my beer, especially on weekends and when watching sports.” Mark continued with the same well-cultivated sense of humor I’ve always known him to possess, “Listen, I’m a Browns fan, and a few beers helps when you watch THAT team!”
Nonetheless, in an effort to start to reconcile himself to the changes he would need to make eventually anyway, Mark decided to quit beer even before Doctor Jason Bowersock’s surgical efforts.
Twelve weeks later, Mark is adjusting to his new dietary normal, eating slower and less. As for the slower, there’s a reason everyone should slow down when eating, a reason he learned in his St. Rita’s seminars.
“It takes a larger person about 20 minutes for the dopamine in the brain to send out signals of fullness. So, by slowing down, I’m able to feel that fullness before overeating occurs.”
Mark bristles a bit every time someone suggests that perhaps he took the easy road by opting for the surgery rather than sheer willpower.
“Listen, I’ll have dietary restrictions for the rest of my life as well as my having to closely monitor my vitamin regimen to replace what my body can’t absorb anymore. And, of course, parting ways with beer? None of this, including the prep work and surgery itself, has been or will be easy.”
However, resolve is a powerful forte, and for Mark, this whole resolution business has recently gotten a whole lot easier. It’s the ongoing commitment to stay the course to achieve his own longer and healthier ever after.
John Grindrod is a regular columnist for The Lima News and Our Generation’s Magazine, a freelance writer and editor and the author of two books. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.