Eating to Live, Not Living to Eat - Hear from a Patient

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Article By: Tiffany Willis

Tiffany is a Bariatric Coach, Bariatric Patient Advocate, and Co-Host of the Life After Fat Pants Podcast. After losing 349 pounds in just 18 months following bariatric surgery in 2012, Tiffany has dedicated her life's work to helping those suffering from morbid obesity disease.

Before my weight loss surgery, I went to the mandatory dietitian consultation filled with dread. Throughout the appointment, I held myself together, but, when it was over, I walked out to my car and cried. Staring at 46 pages of new dietary do’s and don’ts was in a word, OVERWHELMING. For the first time, I really understood that the weight loss surgery I was about to have was only the first step of a very long journey.

Up until then, my relationship with food consisted of way too many fast food stops and private binges. Both filled me with shame and always left me hungry for more. But, after that pivotal appointment with the dietitian, I realized that if I was going to save my life and get healthy, I had to change my mindset and my eating habits. For all the years leading up to my 531-pound weigh in, I had been living to eat — stuffing myself as well as my emotions. Prior to surgery, I hid my binge eating from friends and family — always waiting until I was alone to unwrap that burrito. When I was with others, I would eat as they did, or even less — in a futile attempt to convince the people who loved me that I was at least trying to be healthy. You see, I had not yet dealt with the heaviness of unresolved childhood trauma, and to sate my sadness, I would often spend $25 at Taco Bueno. In fact, I used to drive around alternating which fast food restaurants I would frequent so the drive-thru attendants wouldn’t recognize me. For me, eating was more about my emotions than my actual appetite. The visit to the dietitian set me on a path toward positive change. I needed to start eating to live instead of living to eat. Among other things, she encouraged me to give up carbonated beverages and focus on two main things: water and protein. At the time, I barely knew a protein from a pop-tart. For most of my life, I had avoided any real study in nutrition because knowing what was best for me meant I had to reconcile my obesity with my untamed impulses. It meant I had to believe eating well was better than eating a lot. And it meant I had to start believing I was worth it.

Through lots of private and group therapy, and plenty of self-study in the produce department at the grocery store, I began to educate myself on the merits of stuff like hummus, avocados, Brussels sprouts, salmon, and protein shakes.

Before my surgery, I never valued clean eating because binging was my dirty little secret. But now I know. It was this combination of weight loss surgery and proper nutrition that helped me reach my goals for better health. The moment I made up my mind to invest in myself in a way that I never had before, was the moment I started declaring my worth through healthier choices. I was no longer powerless. I had tools at my disposal. The bariatric surgery was one tool, but it would mean nothing without a commitment to fueling myself with goodness. From then on, I’ve tried to consume at least 64 ounces of water per day and 60-90 grams of protein. This takes some effort and plenty of planning. But ultimately, eating to live becomes a practice. It’s been nearly ten years since my surgery, and I have more energy than I ever had before. By consuming more water, fewer calories, and way more protein than I used to, I’m being good to myself. This doesn’t mean I don’t have a few bites of a burrito every now and then — it just means I’m mindful and intentional and striving to live a life of balance. Oh, and one more thing, even my taste buds believe in this approach. Seriously! Sliced baby cucumbers are better than French fries — I swear.

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  • Renee

    I had my gastric bypass in 2015 with a loss of 100 pounds but I never did reach my goal mostly because my old habits haven’t died! I binge eat mainly late at night and I’ve become iron deficient with an abundance of symptoms common to IDA. I’ve had heart palpitations, major fatigue, light headedness, dizziness, loss of appetite etc etc. now I’m scheduled for iron 5 infusions over the next 10 days and I’m hoping it will help. I do however want to begin my journey again once I’m back to myself again (fingers crossed). Any advice?? It seems I didn’t really have a good start to begin with so I’m hoping my reaching out can make a difference!

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