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From Pain to Pride
A Shocking Weight-Loss Chronicle

By Gloria Kay Vandiver Inman

From Radiance Spring 1992

WARNING! This material is rated X! No, it doesnt contain explicit sex, profanity, or violence. So why the X rating? Because it contains humiliating and graphic descriptions of medically and self-inflicted abuse heaped on the body in the name of weight reduction.

I speak from first-hand experience. I've had a lifelong obsession about my weight. I am five feet three inches in height, with a medium bone structure. I was a slightly pudgy child. When I was thirteen years old I consulted a doctor, and my weight gain-loss cycle began in earnest. At first it was just 10 to 15 pounds, but after five years of dieting, I had gained 50 pounds. After ten years I had gained 100 pounds. By the time I was thirty-five, I had gained 150 pounds.

My first serious dieting effort consisted of medically prescribed small doses of amphetamines. As I took larger doses my personality changed, and I became dependent on the pills. Getting unhooked was difficult, and my weight increased.

When I was eighteen, my Aunt Minnie told me how she had controlled her weight for years with self-induced vomiting. If you really can't stop yourself from eating, at least get rid of it, she advised. I tried that for about a year, but found it disgusting.

Next I tried diuretics (some prescribed, some not). They were effective, enabling me to drop a couple of pounds rapidly (usually just before a visit to the doctor). But diuretics only get rid of fluid, so they never produced any significant or lasting results. And excessive use can lead to dehydration and more serious problems.

Laxatives were my Idea. They prevented any further weight gain for almost six months, but didn't cause any reduction. I stopped this practice when I became anemic and caught every virus within a hundred miles.

I tried chronic gonadotropin shots, a derivative of cows urine. The doctor didn't explain how the shots worked. I took the shots every day, and the only things I was allowed to consume were water and diet sodas. Of course the program worked-until I became too weak to get out of bed for the next shot!

Another doctor admitted me to the hospital for total fasting and regimented physical therapy. My only nourishment was through an intravenous tube. After two weeks I had only lost three pounds. Even my doctor was mystified. He joked about doing plastic surgery over 100 percent of my body. The awful truth is, if the doctor had been serious, I would have consented.

I tried all the popular liquid diets, all the supplements that came out in the 1960s and 1970s. Next came the Cambridge Diet, the Pritikin Diet, and the list went on. I'd lose a few pounds and then gain it all back, plus more.

Lets not forget my yoga stint. I learned I was very limber for my size. I could turn myself into a pretzel, chant mantras, meditate, and even stand on my head. But I didn't lose weight.

I underwent surgery in the mid-1970s. The procedure is known as an intestinal bowel bypass, or ileal bypass. This was an experimental surgery, and I signed legal documents absolving the surgeon of all responsibility.

The results were devastating. If you have a delicate constitution, you may want to skip the next two paragraphs.

An ileal bypass severs the large intestinal tract at the top and bottom. Doctors stitch the center (90 percent) of the ileal together, creating a loop that remains alive, but useless. They hook the two remaining short ends together, leaving a short link that goes directly to the anal canal. This results in the immediate evacuation of any food consumed, including liquids. The bowel movements are immediate, almost totally liquid, painfully explosive, highly acidic, irritating to the skin, and disgustingly malodorous. Even a sip of coffee would precipitate a run for the bathroom. Visiting a friend became a humiliating experience. Inviting friends to my home proved equally embarrassing, and evenings on the town impossible.

But I lost weight, lots of it. So did others who had undergone the same procedure. I stayed in contact with most of them, and we became a special club-until they started dying off.

Different portions of the intestinal tract absorb different nutrients from the food as it passes through the colon; each fraction of an inch has a different task. Without all the unused intestine, some vital nutrients would never enter the system again in the normal manner.

The potassium deficiency was the first serious shortage noticed in my case. I had to consume large doses of foul-tasting liquid potassium supplements daily.

The first sign of actual disease began as an arthritis attack in my hips and knees. When I could no longer walk, my husband wheeled me back to the doctor. While I waited in my cubicle with the door slightly ajar, I overheard the doctor speaking to his nurse about another bypass patient who was having problems. His comment was, These cows come parading through here, expecting us to make them beautiful, and then have the audacity to complain when it hurts. What in the hell do they expect? I changed doctors.

Out of our club of nine ileal bypass patients, five died of complications in the first year. Two of the remaining four became very ill in the second year and had the surgery reversed. Their weight began to climb immediately.

That left just me and one other woman. The other woman lived for seven years before she became too ill to work and finally had the procedure reversed.

In my third year, another doctor told me I was in imminent danger of death if I didn't have the bypass reversed immediately. The doctor who did the reversal convinced me stomach stapling was the correct thing to do. He performed the two procedures in the same operation, but not without complications that almost cost me my life. That was in 1980.

When the stomach staple works correctly, it limits the capacity of the stomach to an ounce or two. Anything more is vomited right away. It also limits the types of foods that can be digested; meat and pasta are the most difficult. Today my staple is still in place, and I can and do eat any food in any amount, which means the staple is not working. After the bypass reversal and stomach stapling, I tried to recover my health and lose weight with items from health food stores. One manufacturer claimed its product ate away unwanted pounds while you slept. Soon I was restless at night and needed tryptophan to help me sleep better (a product the FDA has since withdrawn from the market). Another health product was glucomannan, raw fiber tablets that are really just an expensive laxative. Next the store recommended I purchase their miraculous chocolate-flavored, chewable tablets that promised to burn more calories than they contained. My first visit to this store cost plenty. When my purchases didn't work, I went back. The clerks recommended other products to use with what I had already purchased. I was desperate and played their game for almost six weeks and several hundred dollars.

The health food approach had failed me. Next I tried professional hypnosis, self-hypnosis, and subliminal tapes covering everything from general behavior modification to metabolism modification.

Finally, about three years ago, I spent five weeks as in inpatient in St. Lukes Eating Disorder Clinic in Phoenix. This program consisted of a restricted diet, regimented physical therapy, in-depth psychiatric counseling, group therapy, biofeedback, nutrition classes, behavior modification techniques, assertiveness training, and family involvement groups.

For the first time I acknowledged the traumas I had experienced as a child. If I could have remained in this totally supervised environment for six months, it might have been more effective in helping me recognize what triggered my obsession with my weight. But I had my job to consider, family conflicts arose about my absence, and we were having difficulties with our finances. I did learn to quit blaming myself for things that had occurred in the past over which I lacked control. I acquired limited skills in the assertiveness training program that had a positive effect on my personal relationships. These were my first accomplishments.

I lost twenty pounds in those five weeks, but I gained twenty-five pounds within six weeks after discharge.

The new medically supervised modified fasting supplements became my last hope. Everyone with eyes and ears knows they work, right? After two weeks of not eating, I went into a severe depression. Thoughts of suicide drove me back to my doctor in tears. He withdrew me from the program immediately and sent me to another psychiatrist.

I was lucky. This counselor was sensitive, caring, sincere, and responsive. She selected one major issue for each session and assigned me an assertiveness exercise to do before the next session. This counselor concentrated on self-esteem and self-confidence and goal setting. Week by week, the number of small successes grew. Success breeds success. I was finally on the right track.

It was the combination of the eating disorder clinic and the final therapist that turned my life around and gives this story a satisfying conclusion. I have finally learned to deal with the past and to like myself. I have achieved a much higher degree of success and happiness.

I now keep a goals list. I continually meet (and often exceed) everything on my list. It has three main categories: career, social, and health.

The main items under career are to enhance my wardrobe and reward myself with manicures and pedicures to feel better. There is a long list of goals in the social category. I have stopped being reclusive and started taking some fun classes, have gotten involved in two professional organizations, and have initiated more friendships.

At first my health category contained several rigid exercise schedules. But I have found that I do better with a more relaxed fitness routine that tones me up, rather than wears me out. My favorite is water aerobics, which I do regularly. I am in awe of my newly acquired fitness. I am exhilarated by my agility and health, by the sensation of real muscles in my legs and abdomen, and by the knowledge that I am improving myself, day by day.

The special thing to note about my goals list is that it does not contain the destructive four-letter word, diet, nor will it ever mention losing weight. I have dropped about thirty pounds without dieting, which does make me happy, but reducing is not the issue anymore. It is more important to like myself, to be physically fit enough to remain active, and to be an involved, functioning part of my family and community. I am all that, and my husband says Im beautiful. But then he sees me through the eyes of love.

There was a time when thin and happy were the same word to me, but I've learned there are many thin people that are unhappy. Pride in my career, spiritual growth, and physical well-being make me happy. Watching a beautiful sunset or listening to Rachmaninoff makes my spirits soar. That special look from my husband, the one that sets little butterflies dancing around in my heart. Communicating with friends. Reaching out for someones hand and touching his or her heart. That is happy.

Yes, I'd be happy if I lost more weight, but I don't have to lose weight to be happy.

GLORIA KAY VANDIVER INMAN is a computer systems analyst, genealogist, wife, mother, grandmother, and a published author living in Tempe, Arizona.

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