Monday, July 20, 2009

Going Under the Knife To Stay Away From the Fork

A little more than a year ago as Amy and I were celebrating our Anniversary weekend down in Laguna Beach, we invited some friends to join us for dinner. We were dropped off at the restaurant by the hotel driver and were planning to return to the hotel by taxi when our friends offered to drive us to the resort.

All was fine until the four of us walked back to the valet in the alley and I saw his car. It was a Mercedes, but honestly, I have had meals bigger than this car.

Now you should know that the proud owner of this puny little putt-putt was once a man of considerable girth.

But one day, out of the blue, he magically started losing lots of weight. He told his friends and colleagues that he was “dieting” – and he wasn’t lying. He was dieting as much as anyone “diets” when you have had gastric bypass surgery.

While I was one of the few who knew the truth, I believe he shared his “secret” with me in hopes that I, too, would consider this wonder diet. To this day, I remain troubled that this procedure was apparently such an embarrassment to him that he couldn’t reveal to his close friends, relatives, or even co-workers that he had undergone the knife to help him stay away from the fork.

That night, as we ate dinner together, I watched as he nibbled and poked at his entrée leaving probably 90% of what was served on the plate. I remember his cheek-to-cheek smile as he was beaming in all his thin splendor.

When you finally lose lots of weight, it is amazing how much you do the simple things again, like smile.

All thru that dinner, I watched my friend and wondered whether I should bite the bullet and take the bypass plunge, but three words kept flashing in my mind: Quality of Life.

I watched as he slyly and artfully dabbed a napkin to his mouth and spit up a bite from his meal. I saw him prodding and toying with his food. I know that this surgery is a last resort for so many people who feel helpless, but if I had to spit up in my napkin every time my stomach was over sated, I would be a miserable wreck.

Truth be told, I wrestled with the idea of the gastric bypass for a long time. And as each fat friend lunged for the lap band, I would be drawn into what seemed like weeks of intense internal debate.

Despite my size I take few decisions lightly.

So when my doctor first broached the topic years ago, I went into a tizzy – talks with doctors, internet searches, surgical mortality statistics, you name it, I considered it.

And as the years flew by and my waist expanded, every friend and acquaintance who made that leap onto the operating table would pass along the name of their doctor and they would strongly encourage me to join them on their way to the happy weigh.

Well, call me Mr. Buzzkill, but I think elective surgery is crazy.

Look, when your insurance company forces you to see a shrink before allowing you to enter the operating room for one of these surgeries, they are probably trying to tell you something.

Nowadays the quick fix of the lap band or the bypass are shoved in your face like a big guy scarfing down a Big Mac. You drive down the freeway and the variety of weight loss surgical procedures are advertised in huge “WAR IS DECLARED” sized bold type on countless road signs.

Years ago, it was not so en vogue. I dunno, it seemed like it was more a celebrity oddity that helped the likes of Al Roker, Carnie Wilson or Randy Jackson.

But to us biggies, it was more than tabloid fodder: it was the cure all to fat dreamers everywhere.

The whole thing seemed so innovative and so simple. All you had to do was cut open your pesky stomach and you would be good as new. I guess the idea of a brain bypass freeway sign was nowhere near as marketable or medically appealing.

I recall a conversation probably 6 or more years ago with a dear friend who wanted a bypass but apparently wasn’t fat enough to qualify. So I remember her confessing her plan to go on a nasty, desperate binge to GAIN weight, just so she could get her insurance to pay for her stomach bypass. And for the record, she did the former and never followed thru on the latter.

So where is all this going?

Back to that alley behind the restaurant where this sad but true saga began.

As the valet drove up, my friend told Amy and I to get in the back seat. But I knew immediately when the car pulled up that I was too big to fit into the rear compartment of the car. As he moved his seat all the way forward, I started to freak out.

I swear, if I had the Fire Department Jaws of Life, I would not have been able to squeeze my fat ass into the back of that small death trap of a Mercedes.

After trying every which way to fit my very round body into that fairly square space, I just gave up. If there was such thing as a fat guy hell, this was it – an alley in Laguna Beach with my former fat friend smiling at me and the smell of french food wafting in the wind.

A few minutes later, I was wedged into the front seat with my massive gut pressing against the steering wheel as I was driving us all back to the hotel. I was embarrassed and ashamed and the experience ruined what had been a perfectly wonderful evening.

As I look back on this humiliation now, many things come to mind.

First and foremost, while I have savored losing nearly 14 inches off my waist, not until this very moment have I ever given a moment of thought to what I now concede may be the ultimate former fat guy perk. Forget new clothes. That is thinking way too small.

How about fitting into a brand new car?

Now I may covet many things, but trust me, a smart car or a mini-cooper is not in my future. Nor is the Mercedes that caused me such indignity.

But the experience made me think about this diet in a new way.

Hindsight always brings such clarity, but obviously I am glad that I didn’t succumb to the temptation of the surgery. It is very easy to say that now, but 15 months ago as I pulled myself out of that car, I was closer than ever to just slicing my stomach open and doing what had to be done.

I don’t mean any of this as a knock to my friends who took that option. It just wasn’t for me.

I guess when it came down to it, if I decided to go that route, I would have been forced into a life where I would get a few forks of this and a few spoons of that and I happen to like food way too much to never be able to enjoy a place like Lawry’s again.

Ultimately, the surgery seemed to me, forgive the pun, like a bit of a short cut. And liquid diets are too.

Whenever you cut back that much of your food intake, you lose a lot of weight quickly. It's not rocket science. But at some point you gradually add to your portions. So it should come as no surprise that I know a few people who went for the surgery only to gain much of their weight back.

A few weeks ago I had a check up with my diabetes doctor who used to be the head of weight loss at Cedars. He is also the first doctor who suggested that I consider either the bypass, lap band or the pouch.

When he saw I was down another 30 pounds since our last visit, he couldn’t have been more excited for me, but he said that the odds were stacked against me in terms of keeping it off.

Here is the sad fact: most people who have been heavy their whole lives can not sustain their weight loss very long, much less forever. Like a Ferris wheel at any fair, you go up and you go down and the circle just continues until you get off the ride. So I am in the same boat as those who bypassed their anatomy.

Whether you go for surgery or the old discipline of diet and exercise, ultimately you must cut your portions and eat properly to succeed. It’s not voodoo, it’s not magic, there is no short cut and there is no fad. It’s not about your stomach, it’s about your mind.

This blog really has forced me to think about defining moments in my life as a dieter. I remember being crushed by the cruel irony of a former fat friend who lost so much weight he was able to purchase a sports car that was too small for me.

I remember his infectious smile during dinner – the smile of a man who had finally conquered the teeter-totter of weight loss.

I remember back then thinking his grin was so smug, but I know he was genuinely happy with what he had achieved.

Look who’s smiling now!

© Copyright, Steve Elzer, 2009
All Rights Reserved


  1. Congrats Steve. You're right. It is all about the mind. Unfortunately, we've all been fed a ton of garbage all of our lives (in more ways than one). It's tough to go against the crowd and think for oneself. Fortunately, there are those, like you, that can. You haven't just changed your diet. You've changed your lifestyle and the lifestyle of those you love. I understand that you blog to keep yourself on track but please realize that you are also educating and inspiring others. Keep up the great job.

  2. a good read and an even better inspiration!

  3. Inspiring... and so compelling. Joyce Stein

  4. You, Amy & the kids are an inspiration to all!! Great Job!!
    Lori Garden

  5. jane and i continue to follow your progress, and you have our unconditional support. jeff

  6. I'm totally amazed by you and the fam!! When I have this kid in November I'm looking to you for weight loss inspiration!! xoxoxo Zaks

  7. Gee, don't think I should have read this hours before I head off to he Wally's tasting. But, there's no turning back now, and I will keep this in my noggin' as I do the "pour out" as it's not about indulgence it's about....our own moral compass. Thank you for heading me in the right direction today Steve.

  8. Lookin great Steve! Congrats on all the hard work!!

  9. Thank you for sharing! A great read to keep us focused on a healthy lifestyle. YOU inspire us!!!!