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.
As a weight loss surgery patient, I know the ups and downs of dieting. For most of my life, I felt stuck in a vicious cycle of gaining and losing, then gaining and losing all over again. It’s normal to feel excitement at the start of a new weight loss plan and totally soul-crushing to admit defeat when things don’t go according to plan. So, when I made the choice to have weight loss surgery, I had to decide whether it was best to keep it to myself or share it with the world.
The truth is, I sort of suck at keeping secrets. So, let me just put it right out there — I used to weigh 531 pounds. Once I had an actual surgery date on the calendar, I had a strong sense that I owed it to my family to clue them in. Surgery was “surgical.” If I was going to tell them about having my wisdom teeth extracted, then it seemed perfectly natural to tell them about this too. Plus, with all of the pre-operative requirements, I could tell I needed a support system. For me, transparency and living authentically — with nothing to hide — felt like the right choice. Once I had a plan in place, I told my parents and siblings. After so many years of trying to encourage me in my health, only to see me fail, I was a bit worried they would be skeptical. Instead, they were full of questions and more than willing to help in every way possible. I shared the news with friends and co-workers. Everyone who knew me, knew I was embarking on this journey, and I felt like they were cheering me on. I wanted and needed a support system — and I was lucky to have one throughout the process.
Of course, there are plenty of misconceptions about weight loss surgery and obesity. And, to be sure, the “Negative Nelly” in some people came out in ways I didn’t expect (or deserve). Some were quick to offer their uninformed opinions claiming that weight loss surgery is just “taking the easy way out” or — my personal favorite — “if you just stop eating then you will lose weight” or — another classic — “you will gain it all back.” I have never understood why people want to put down others who are looking to improve themselves. So, if you do not feel you are emotionally ready to deal with the negative comments, then consider keeping your plans to yourself. People will notice the weight loss, so prepare yourself as to how you want to respond. For me, surgery was my go-to tool in my toolbox to manage intake. It was a power drill in my hand, but I still had to press the button and apply a proper amount of self-imposed pressure to achieve my desired results. This involved exercise and getting my body moving again.
Above all, weight loss surgery requires a mindset of self-awareness and self-love. Prior to surgery, I never gave much thought to the emotional aspects of weight loss surgery and weight loss in general. When I was younger, I just wanted to fit into cute clothes. But, as I got older, I realized my weight wasn’t just impacting my wardrobe — it was harming my health. At my heaviest, I couldn’t even buckle my seatbelt. So, I took it upon myself to have counseling prior to weight loss surgery and after. I finally realized that I did not get to be 531 pounds without lots of emotional baggage. It took time to work through issues from my past and identify circumstances which caused me to turn to food and overeating as coping strategies. Once I started to do this, the weight started coming off. I was turning 40 and finally believing I was worthy of living my best life, worthy of saving, worthy of the investment I was making in myself.
I would be lying if I said I never had moments of doubt. Having been overweight for so long, I worried that I may not be successful. As the weight started coming off, people kept telling me that I was looking better and healthier — but at first, I personally did not see it. It wasn’t until I truly embraced my mindset, embraced myself, — feel in love with myself — that I began to feel something I hadn’t felt in a long, long time — confidence.
This mindset has carried me thru my ups and downs over the ten years since my weight loss surgery. Even now, my smaller stomach size serves as a constant reality check. It keeps me in line and helps reinforce my better choices of intake and food. Weight loss surgery empowered me and it was just too good a story to keep secret. And, the cherry on top is one I didn’t see coming. By sharing the good, the bad, and the ugly of the entire process, weight loss surgery helped me do what I love doing most — help others.