For over a decade, I struggled with unexplained weight gain AND the inability to lose the excess pounds even with diet and exercise; all this weight kept inching its way onto my 5’ 6” frame slowly but surely taking up what felt like permanent residence. How was this even possible? I was a tiny kid and in middle school had my “chubby” moment for about half a second and then really thinned out to 125-150 pounds in high school and college (for my height my ideal weight is 150-160). Then it all changed. It all went south; and by south, I mean to my waistline. Below is a picture of me at my 15th birthday… blonde and 125 pounds.
My #1 health issue is: PCOS (Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome) which is called a syndrome instead of a disease because it is an entire host of symptoms that are not consistent with every patient. Nearly 10% of the US female population have PCOS.
PCOS symptoms include:
- metabolic syndrome
- significant weight gain
- excess facial hair
- blood sugar problems
- insulin intolerance
- high cholesterol
- darkening of the skin (under breasts, back of neck, inner thigh creases, etc.)
- significant hair loss
- depression and anxiety
- cysts throughout the body; not just ovaries
- excessive blood loss
- irregular or extreme menstrual cycles
- lack of ovulation
Basically, women with PCOS have more testosterone in their body, so weight gain is in the belly (picture beer belly) rather than the butt and thighs which is more typical for a female. Gee, I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard, “Congrats! You’re pregnant!! When are you due?” Ugh. Really? I promptly trash whatever shirt I was wearing that day. As my sorority sister says, “THE ONLY time it is appropriate to ask a woman if she is pregnant is when you see the baby crowning!!” Ha! Love her!!
Of course this extra male hormone is the cause for acne and excess facial hair too. Lovely. Also, estrogen and progesterone levels are flipped – whichever one is supposed to be high is low and vice versa. That is why it is impossible to get pregnant and if you are lucky enough to get pregnant then it is really difficult to STAY pregnant. I was lucky that I didn’t have diabetes, but it was a real possibility for those who suffer with PCOS. Doc said I was “pre-diabetic” – but isn’t everyone really?
Prior to my PCOS diagnosis, I was being treated for my symptoms separately by each of my doctors. I was taking Lipitor for my cholesterol as prescribed by my family physician; taking meds as prescribed by my dermatologist for acne; my OB/GYN was telling me it was normal for women to have irregular periods and/or not ovulate and she also told me the very dark, nearly black skin in the creases of my inner thighs were a result of insulin resistance.
Every one of my doctors told me the MAGIC CURE to all of my woes was to lose weight. Yeah, easier said than done! Grrrr….
Watching TV one night in early 2007, I saw a segment on the local news which featured a doctor discussing PCOS and magically before my eyes was a description of all of my symptoms! Surprisingly, I saw one of my coworkers on the segment. She was being featured as a sufferer of PCOS. Of course I called her the very next morning and listened intently as she told me her story and then she urged me to call her doctor.
No amount of working out helped me lose weight. I ate normally, but packed on the pounds. My new endocrinologist (doc specializing in PCOS) gave me a personal trainer and nutritionist. She put me on a strict diet. Carbs are a PCOS woman’s worst nightmare, so the goal is to limit those and to cut out any “bad carbs” and only eat the good ones. A group of us, all women afflicted with PCOS, worked out 3x a week for one hour… it was intense. After 16 weeks of grueling workouts and eating like an organic, healthy bird, guess what… I lost THREE POUNDS!! Yeah, I kid you not. Three.
PCOS is an auto-immune disease which causes your body to attack itself. Nice. My hormones were so out of whack that I was gaining weight, and more weight, and EVEN more weight. Yet, I needed to lose weight to get my hormones in balance. But, how? Only a quarter of PCOS patients have trouble with weight gain/inability to lose. Oh, great. I’m in this 25%. And, others do not have infertility issues. I pray when it is my time to have children… I will be okay in the fertility department. Time will tell.
My highest weight was 265. Ouch. I was wearing a size 26. I kept the one pair of jeans that I wore all the time and were growing tighter each day (see picture… how my size 16 self fits in them now). Scary! My inability to lose weight was beyond frustrating. My waistline was expanding so rapidly that I felt like the little girl who ate the “meal gum” in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and she blew up like a ginormous blueberry. Much like that little girl, I was fearful I might eventually explode. I had to do something DRASTIC. The only answer for me was surgery. On Feb 4, 2008 I had gastric bypass surgery. The surgery bypasses the duodenum part of the intestines (about a foot of the small intestines that absorbs all nutrients) and this causes rapid weight loss.
My stomach is now 1 ounce, the size of an egg. Keep in mind, the average human stomach is 32 ounces, the size of a football. I now eat 3-6 ounces every three hours. I don’t eat and drink at the same time and I limit sugar, fats, and grease because they make me sick as a result of my rearranged anatomy. Now, I’m 90 pounds smaller. I meet with my surgeon annually to test my nutrients because gastric bypass makes a patient malnourished. I take 18-20 vitamins a day; every day for the rest of my life. And, due to my body’s inability to absorb nutrients, I must take two of everything – morning and night.
The reason I chose bypass rather than the gastric band was because it was the ONLY thing that would rectify my health issues. I did loads of research and thought initially I wanted to do the band because it was less invasive, but ultimately, it would not have been the right answer for me. Bypass changes the chemical makeup of your body (hormones = chemicals) and I needed the chemical change to force my PCOS into remission. I joke that I did a bit of internal spring cleaning and rearranged my anatomy in order to rearrange my lifestyle!
Six months after my surgery another blood test confirmed my PCOS was in remission – it never really goes away, but I will take remission. WHHHOO HHHOOO. I was so flipping excited my hormones were back to NORMAL. Surgery wasn’t easy. Luckily, the only side effect I’ve experienced is I’m now lactose intolerant. Who needs milk and ice cream anyway, right?
As my weight loss started to plateau, two years post-op, I started to notice a few of the PCOS symptoms coming back… a bit more acne, a few more hairs on my chin and neck, and little bit of weight gain. I only put on three or four pounds, but isn’t that how it all starts? I wasn’t about to put any weight back on after surgery!! Ugh. A blood test showed my PCOS was coming back. All of this was enough to scare the CRAP out of me, so I started working out at boot camp every morning. Yes, 45 minutes of heart-pumping workouts starting at 5:30am with a personal trainer. I would walk out of there with sweat dripping off me. It felt good AND it felt bad (sore muscles). Some weeks I was there three days and other weeks I was there five days… depending on how sore I was at the time. I lost the few extra pounds that had crept back and I finally started to feel better. The pictures above and below were taken at my one year surgerical anniversary… by then I had lost 85 pounds!!
When I had my annual visit with my surgeon in 2012, I asked him why I would wake up one morning at 177 pounds and the very next day weigh 184. I didn’t gorge myself the day prior by eating high amounts of sodium or junk food… I ate normally. What gives? He said, “It is your hormones. Sorry. You’re a woman AND you’re a woman with PCOS. My wife has PCOS too, so I know what you’re going through. She battles it every day. You’ve lost 90+ pounds remember that!! You’re a testament to just how hard someone has to work to MAINTAIN weight loss. This current weight may be you. It may not be destined for you to lose another 40 pounds. And, you’re going to fight your hormones for the rest of your life.” Oh, G-R-E-A-T! Sigh.
My #2 health issue is: Prolactinoma (a benign pituitary tumor). If you haven’t already, you can read more about this diagnosis here: https://candycoatedreality.com/2012/10/18/a-mustard-seed-and-me/
February 4, 2013 was the five year anniversary of my surgery and I mustered up the courage to share with my Facebook friends just how much PHYSICAL change I’ve experienced. I was frightened to post my before/after pics as many friends from high school and college had never seen me at my heaviest. To be honest, 265 pound Renae is a time of my life I’d truly like to forget. It is incredibly difficult to look at my before pictures. Sigh. But I put on my big girl panties, took a deep breath, and decided to live my truth. I’m so grateful I did and I’m overwhelmed by all of the positive support!!!
It is time to do the same on Candy Coated Reality. Now, you too know my truth…
In the matter of five years, I went from morbidly obese to my new and improved obese self according to BMI charts. My weight is right on the cusp between obese and overweight. Whoever thought my goal would now be to become overweight, ha! Yes, I know I’m more than just a number on a scale, a size on my clothing, or a label on a BMI chart… that is until I look down and see my big ol belly saying, “Hey yo, what’s up? Me? I’m good… just chillin… all comfy here!” Ugh.
I’m thankful for the art of modern medicine. Surgery was the BEST decision I have ever, ever made. However, with all of this said… not everyone needs bariatric surgery. My case was severe. I’m incredibly thankful I went from a size 26 to a size 16. This was something which would have been IMPOSSIBLE for me to do without drastic measures like surgery. I gained my face back which was buried below three layers of fat… aka additional chins.
Please consider yourself lucky if you have none of these chemical issues going on in your body and if you think you might have a similar experience, then here are some helpful websites…
Increasing PCOS awareness: http://pcosfoundation.org/index.php
Outlines insulin resistance: http://www.medicinenet.com/insulin_resistance/article.htm
Explains metabolic syndrome: http://my.clevelandclinic.org/disorders/Metabolic_Syndrome/hic_Metabolic_Syndrome.aspx
Provides a great support system: http://www.pcoschallenge.com
AND…this is a general woman website that is PHENOMENAL: http://www.womentowomen.com/
© Renae Rossman and Candy Coated Reality™