Sisu, Moving Forward and the Act of Becoming

What I Learned on My 468-mile Bike Ride

From July 29th through August 5th, a period of 8 days and seven nights, Steve Boona and I rode our bicycles from Westerville, Ohio to Gaylord, Michigan… a total of 468 miles. We camped at state parks and carried everything we needed on our bikes or purchased it along the way.

This was not my first long-distance bike ride. I’ve ridden from my Westerville home down to Raleigh, NC, a total of 525 miles. I’ve ridden across parts of Colorado and Kansas, over 500 miles. As with all previous rides, as I peddled away from my driveway my stomach was in knots and my mind raced with thoughts, not the least being: “Can I actually do this?”

The Ride is Complete!

The Ride is Complete!

It didn’t take long for a feeling of comfort to overcome me and I relaxed and began to enjoy the ride. However, that level of anxiety, of discomforting worry and fear, would return, nightly, as I sat in my tent and reviewed the agenda for the next day. But each day I got up and peddled my bike – and each day brought a new level of accomplishment, of wonder, and a sense of personal achievement and victory.

And as with other rides, I felt so viscerally alive – testing my inner strength against challenges I couldn’t see coming, but knew were out there… the daily cycle of fear of the unknown being overcome by the accomplishment of doing and achieving.

The true joy of biking across the country is in the people that you meet along the way. You meet people everywhere… at restaurants, camp grounds, and stores… when you stop for water, to rest, to check directions. And because you are holding a bike and dressed in spandex and bike shorts, people will notice, and they will ask questions. It is always satisfying to see the look on people’s faces when you tell them that you’re in the middle of a multi-day, 500-mile bike trip – especially when they learn my age… and that I weighed over 400 pounds just 5 years ago.

We met so many interesting and wonderful people: Dan, the guy who recently bought the campground, Judy, the woman just outside of Bowling Green who gave us water and bananas, Paige, our waitress at the bar and grille who was from my hometown of Westerville, Budd, the camp manager who shared personal stories and delivered extra firewood to our campground, Jim, the 40 year veteran of driving a fuel truck, who was fascinated by our ride and our back-stories, Amanda and her family who welcomed us into their campground at Higgins Lake. These are just a few of the people who made an impact on us, and hopefully we left them feeling the same.

The lessons and enlightenment of past bike rides were with me on this ride. But as with every ride, new ideas, new truths, new paradigms, and new insights were revealed as the miles went by and the wheels turned. I am always amazed at how lessons learned that apply to bike riding, usually have great significance for weight loss and for life in general.

The following are three insights I took away from this ride.

1) Sisu and True Grit

On the fourth evening of our ride, as we set up camp in Sleepy Hollow state park, we were joined by Steve’s in-laws, Elly and Ken Davis. They live nearby and drove over to check on us, take us to dinner, and brought us food for breakfast the next day!

While we were setting up camp, Ken mentioned that our bike riding efforts had certainly shown real Sisu.

Sisu? Ken described it as grit personified… grit plus.

From urbandictionary.com

Sisu is a uniquely Finnish quality; the word used to typify the Finnish spirit; a concept that is at the heart of how all Finns view themselves; a certain feature or value considered by Finns to be typically Finnish.

• endurance, resilience, tenacity, determination, perseverance,
• an inner reserve of diligence, capacity, the ability to face head-on and always overcome,
• the recklessness that inspires a person to take on something in the face of incredible odds,
• bravery, empowerment, inner strength,
• gritting your teeth, continuing to fight against an overwhelming enemy,
• continuing on to win a race even after falling.

Sisu means that you finish what you start, you don’t quit in the middle of a job, and you don’t whine.

Sisu!

The bike ride certainly demanded Sisu of us and proved that we had it. On several hills and against stiff winds, you’d often hear me shouting out loud, “I eat Sisu for breakfast… I bite its head off and swallow it whole…,” etc., etc., etc., to motivate and drive me forward. Sisu: breakfast of champions.

My fellow weight loss surgery friends, riding the next morning it occurred to me, we have great Sisu.

Think about it. We took it upon ourselves, against incredible odds, to make a huge change in our lifestyle and remake our bodies. It took endurance, resilience, tenacity, determination and perseverance to learn new skills and develop new habits. It took bravery and inner strength to face the challenge of surgery, recovery and starting over. We’ve all had setbacks and found a way to continue even after falling. And we don’t quit in the middle… in fact, because our life-style changes are life-long, there is no middle, just a journey that we will live for the rest of our lives. It seems that people who possess Sisu are always moving forward. They are striving… struggling… overcoming… continuing… fighting… and racing. To accomplish is to do, act, or become. To achieve is to change, evolve and grow. Winning is not a destination but a way of living.

My fellow WLS peeps… We possess great Sisu!

2) Always Moving Forward

In the movie Wish I Was Here, Aidan’s father, Gabe, relays that his cancer has returned and this time it’s worse. The future is uncertain and bleak. Aidan is shocked and confused:

Aidan: What do we do?
Gabe: What do you mean what do we do? We move forward. It’s the only option God has given us.

As I was riding, Gabe’s words keep replaying over and over in my head. “We move forward. It’s the only option God has given us.” I think it is obvious that as much as we might like to be able to go back in time, we cannot. That option is totally closed off to us. Many people advise living in the moment… in the ‘now.’ That sounds like good advice, especially since you are never guaranteed another day or even another moment. However, living in the now is a very fleeting thing. For one, “Now” was here and instantly become “Then” (the past). There isn’t much we can do with any one moment. I think what most people mean by “Live in the moment” is actually “Live in the next few moments strung together to represent the near-term future.” This is still a forward moving thought.

So it seems to me that God has laid out the direction of life pretty clearly for us… We either move forward, with as much Sisu as we can muster, or we suffer, we lose out on life, we die. There is no use fighting for options that have not been given to us.

As I was riding out of Grayling, Michigan on Highway Old27, I saw a sign in front of a church that said:

“Pray”
“Trust”
“Wait”

Now, I have no idea how the pastor of that church was planning on using these words in a sermon, nor the lesson she may wish to impart. I am not directing this at her or her headline. But reading that sign made me think about how often I experience people who live exactly as these three steps outline… 1) ask God, 2) trust that God will grant, 3) wait for God to deliver.

I don’t feel quite comfortable with that outline. I am familiar with the Bible verse “Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you” (English Standard Version), but I prefer the New Living Translation which says: “Keep asking, and you will receive what you ask for. Keep on seeking, and you will find. Keep on knocking, and the door will be opened to you.”   Don’t ‘ask, trust and wait,’ be active… ask – and keep asking, seek – and keep seeking, and go find what you’ve asked for. Act, don’t wait.

Further, I don’t really believe that God gives us what we ask for anyway. In fact, I think the only thing that She gives us is 1) life itself, 2) the seven billion potential best friends of ours that live on earth now, and 3) the seven continents, five oceans, and hundreds of lakes, rivers, mountains, prairies, fields and woods to explore and experience. After that, God doesn’t give us anything. God prefers:

“Pray”
“Trust”
“Act”

The bike ride was a great example of this. I wanted to get from Westerville to Gaylord, by bike. I prayed I could do it, and I trusted I could do it, but if I had waited for it, I would still be sitting on my bike in my driveway. Instead, I moved forward. I went and got it. I peddled for eight days and guess what, the more I acted, the more my prayer and trust were ‘answered.’

My fellow weight loss surgery friends, riding the rest of the way to Gaylord it occurred to me, we embrace the philosophy of Always Moving Forward. Think about it. We call our experience a ‘journey,’ which by definition is an act of moving forward. We can ask (pray) for weight loss and a fit, healthy body all we want, but it won’t happen if we wait for it. We had to act for it to happen. We may have found strength in Divine support along the way, but our weight loss was achieved, not given, because we acted and didn’t wait.

God gave us only Forward, and it is the only direction She allows us to pursue. The answer to our prayers are always out there in front of us to go and discover, to get for ourselves, Divinely provided, but not to those who wait, rather to those act. Remember, it is also said that “God helps them who help themselves.”

My fellow WLS peeps… We possess the strength to be Always Moving Forward!

3) The Act of Becoming

At dinner that fourth night Ken related how he had described his beds of flowers, vegetation and greenery as being in the process of “Becoming a Garden,” upon an inquiry from a neighbor.

I was instantly mesmerized by the concept of Becoming.

Ken’s beds likely held all of the ingredients of a garden… fertile soil and flowers… maybe a mix of perennials and annuals, maybe a few well-placed ferns or hosta, some early bloomers and some late summer show. He likely regularly watered it and preened the beds of weeds. But even with all of the required parts of a garden being present, it hadn’t become a garden quite yet… it was on its way, it held the promise of being a garden… it was in the process of becoming a garden.

The bike ride was certainly an act of becoming. I wanted a ride from Westerville to Gaylord. I had the bike, a planned route and reservations at campgrounds. My bike was tuned, I was trained, my gear, tools, and spare parts all packed. I had all of the components of a bike ride, but I didn’t have a bike ride yet. But I noticed something as the days passed and I peddled on; the planning and coordination of resources, combined with the people we met, the sights we saw, the experiences we had, the miles we covered were blending, and becoming a bike ride.

And riding the rest of the week it occurred to me, my fellow weight loss surgery friends, that we are all in the act of becoming.

Think of yourself as a constant work in progress – one that will continue until the day you leave this earth. The journey will never end, therefore the goal, while important, isn’t the end-game.

Always be becoming, never have become.

It is one of the most important lessons I’ve come to learn from my weight loss journey. At first I thought my goal was to lose 200 pounds and wear a size 34 pant. But eventually I realized that my goal wasn’t either of these things, rather it was dedicating my journey to becoming a healthy, trim and fit person. The former requires magic, the latter is a way of life.

I look at it this way, I bought into my weight loss journey as a life-changing event, I accepted that for the rest of my life I’ll eat well and exercise, so too, I accept that for the rest of my life I’ll be becoming ‘me.’ That the ‘me’ you see today will yield to the ‘me’ I’ll be tomorrow. That continually becoming Me is as much a goal of my journey as weight loss – and every bit as important.

My fellow WLS peeps… It’s really very simple, we are all in the process of becoming something, someone. Let’s set a goal to always be becoming our best self… happy, healthy and fit.

What did I learn on my ride from Westerville to Gaylord?

In life we often marshal all of our resources (time, energy, mind, heart and soul) to focus on achieving a goal, an end result, or an outcome. And while it is good to set and have goals, sometimes we focus too much on the end objective and not enough on the journey. And while we are in the process of becoming something, we fail to recognize, celebrate, enjoy, and appreciate the beauty we create and that has been created for us. We fail to see the moments we experience as significant learning opportunities. We fail to honor the things we share and the people we share them with.

This ride has reinforced what I’ve learned on every other ride I’ve ever taken… That it’s the journey that makes the effort special, rather than the achievement of a specific end goal. It’s in the journey that the life-lessons are located. They are found and experienced only as they are discovered within the journey, only when your mind, body, heart and soul are ready for them.

This ride was significant for me, not simply because I had a goal to ride 468 miles and I accomplished that goal. No, this ride made an impact on my life because of the people we met, the things we saw and what we learned about ourselves along the way.

I believe a couple of secrets to a cross-country bike ride, to losing weight and changing a life-style, or to living life as full as we can, are:

1) To understand that life often requires us to exude Sisu, a concept of endurance, perseverance, and inner strength that is called upon to overcome incredible odds and overwhelming challenges,
2) To realize that we are made to be Always Moving Forward (the only option God has given us). That to receive the gifts we want to enjoy we must go and get them where God has left them for us,
3) That we should always be in the act of becoming.

There are many ‘secrets’ to a happy and successful life. I can think of others, but none more important than these.

Thank you to everyone who followed the ride and sent support and encouragement. I cannot fully express just how much your support provided a lift in spirits and attitude, often just as it was needed, helping us push through the toughest stretches. Thank you also for your donations to WLSFA. My hope is that these funds will help provide someone the same life-changing tool that has helped me so much.

You can still donate to WLSFA. Go to www.wlsfa.org. Click on the ‘Causes’ tab and then the ‘Tour of Hope.’ Thanks.

Tour of Hope

08:00 Wed, 22 JUN 2016

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

SUCCESSFUL WEIGHT LOSS SURGERY PATIENT TO PEDDLE HIS BIKE 426 MILES TO RAISE FUNDS FOR OTHERS

IMG_4975Six years ago Bill Streetman (then age 54) weighed 404 pounds and his health was failing.  He could no longer do the things he loved such as hike, snow ski, play soccer or ride his bike.  Diets and weight loss plans had not worked for him.  On October 4, 2010 Bill underwent Roux-en-Y1 gastric bypass surgery.  The surgery provided him a tool to manage his eating. He implemented a vigorous exercise program and over the next 12 months lost half his body weight.  He has maintained his weight loss for five years and has returned to hiking, skiing, playing soccer and riding his bike.  He calls his experience a “Journey to Fitness” and today shares his story with people all over the world through lectures and blogging. 

Bill worried that he was too old to make the kind of lifestyle changes that both surgery and ongoing weight management needs would require.   He feared that if eating well would be difficult, exercising, especially at advancing age and after years of inactivity, would be extremely difficult… and painful… maybe impossible. It wasn’t!  

As a result of his weight loss and successful ongoing weight management, Bill has focused on helping others in their personal weight loss journey, with a special focus on the needs of people 55+ years old and those who may not be able to afford the same life-saving surgery that has helped him achieve his goals. 

Making a Statement and Leading by Example

logo draft 4aTo increase awareness of the obesity epidemic in older adults, and to raise funds for the Weight Loss Surgery Foundation of America (www.WLSFA.org), an organization that provides funds to help people without the financial means or insurance resources to have weight loss surgery, and to use his own Journey to Fitness as an example, Bill (now age 60) will peddle his Trek bicycle from his home in Columbus, Ohio, to Gaylord, Michigan.  The ride is approximately 426 miles and will span eight days, starting on July 29th and concluding on August 5th, 2016.  Bill has named the ride the Tour of Hope. 

PWesterville to Gaylord Map 3aassing through dozens of cities in Ohio and Michigan, he will share his story with local press, visit various Weight Loss Centers of Excellence and spread the word that it is never too late to take control of your health, defeat obesity, and reclaim your active, healthy and productive life. 

A public donation page has been established: http://www.wlsfa.org/blog/cause/tour-of-hope-by-bill-streetman/

Fans will be able to view the progress of his bike trip on his Facebook page (www.facebook.com/whsnewlife) where he will document the trip with the use of his GoPRO and the AT&T Network, streaming live from the road and leaving video messages when being online isn’t possible. 

Become a Sponsor

Several sponsors have signed up to support Bill and his ride, including Bariatrix (www.bariatrix.com) and Celebrate Vitamins (www.celebratevitamins.com).  They will be sharing his ride on their social media to increase the fund raising reach. To become a sponsor contact Bill, his contact information is included below.

About Weight Loss Surgery Foundation of America

The WLSFA core mission is to fund grants for weight loss surgery and reconstructive surgery. Founded in 2010, the WLSFA is a 501(c)(3) Charitable Organization powered by donations from weight loss surgery patients, medical professionals and industry partners. Qualified Bariatric and Plastic Surgeons may refer patients to apply for full or partial grants. Completed applications are blinded and reviewed by the selection committee. Finalists are presented to the Board of Directors where funds are awarded. The WLSFA hosts an annual national fundraiser. The WLSFA is a 100% volunteer organization. For more information, please visit http://www.wlsfa.org.

About Bill Streetman

On October 4, 2010 Bill underwent weight loss surgery, with Dr. Sabir performing the Roux-en-Y procedure at St. John’s Weight Loss Center of Excellence in Madison Heights, Michigan. With this life changing tool and Bill’s hard work and dedication, he is now half the man he used to be. Bill is maintaining his 200 pound loss!

“Weight-loss surgery doesn’t do the work for you. It’s just a tool. It doesn’t select the foods you eat or get you get out of bed in the morning to go to the gym and work out. You have to take control.”

But more than simply losing weight – a GREAT accomplishment in and of itself – Bill’s journey has brought him tremendous improvement in health and fitness, in frame of mind and perspective on life, in energy levels and in his relationships with others. Today Bill’s blood sugar, blood pressure and cholesterol levels are all perfect. He attends aerobic and weight training classes three days a week, studies Tai Chi, rides his bike and carefully manages his diet and nutritional needs. Bill shares his journey, by writing and speaking about the topic of living healthy after gastric bypass.  For more information, please visit his blog at http://www.WHS-NewLife.com.

Contacts:

For WLSFA:

Yvonne McCarthy, Media Director
Yvonne@wlsfa.org
415-234-9074

For Bill Streetman:

bill@whs-newlife.com
614-327-7440

Notes:
1. Roux-en-Y Gastric Bypass Surgery.  The Roux-en-Y gastric bypass is the most common and successful type of gastric bypass procedure. The surgeon begins by creating a small pouch by dividing the upper end of the stomach. This restricts the intake of food.

Next, a Y-shaped section of the small intestine is attached to the pouch to allow food to bypass the lower stomach, the duodenum (the first segment of the small intestine), as well as the first portion of the jejunum (the second segment of the small intestine). The procedure creates a direct connection from the stomach to the lower segment of the small intestine, literally bypassing portions of the digestive tract that absorb calories and nutrients.

How Did You Lose Weight?

surprisedWhen you lose a significant amount of weight, heck when you lose any noticeable amount of weight, people will ask questions. People are not shy about asking personal, probing, and sometimes very silly questions.  Many WLS patients are a bit apprehensive about fielding questions – even people who would, on almost any other subject, be an “open book.”  The question that drives this fear is probably the most obvious and logical question someone could ask: “How did you lose weight?”

The apprehension comes from the fear that their answer: “I had weight loss surgery,” will be followed by a response of… “Oh, I thought that you did it yourself,” or the dreaded, “Oh, you took the easy way out.”

It may be that people respond with these types of reactions due to an ignorance of WLS, it may be a reflection of some jealousy or resentment they may hold toward the successful WLS patient, or, at worst, it could be a desire to insult or offend.

Regardless of the reason, such a response is hurtful to the WLS patient and is perceived as totally devaluing their efforts… the costs, pains, risks, fears, and hard work that all successful weight loss endeavors require.

I love being asked the question: “Bill, how did you lose all that weight?”  But before I explain why, and how I answer, let me first suggest that “weight loss surgery” is an incorrect answer to the question.

A person loses weight one way and one way only… they take in less calories than their body burns.  It’s been that way since day one, and will likely be this way till the end of time.  Its simple math, addition and subtraction, learned in the first grade – 54 years ago in my case!  Add the calories eaten and subtract the calories burned to power bodily functions (heart beating, lungs breathing, body temperature) and calories burned from exercise or other physical activity.

Weight loss surgery is not the reason you lost weight.  To believe such passes all of the credit for achieving weight loss to something outside your control.  It would indeed be taking the easy way out.

When I am asked the $100,000 question, here is how I answer:

Person: “Wow, Bill, you look great… you’ve lost a lot of weight!  How did you do it?

Me: “Well, I lost weight the only way anybody can… I took in less calories than I burned up.  To put it simply, on a daily basis, I eat well and I exercise.  I eat well to limit the calories that go into my body and I exercise regularly to increase the calories my body burns.

Most of my life I had difficulty eating well, that is, managing my calorie intake, so to assist me with that goal I had gastric bypass, which helps me limit the amount of food I eat at any one time.  It doesn’t choose what I eat, so I must be certain to choose highly nutritious foods.  It is a lot of work, but well worth it.  And of course to burn calories I work out on a daily basis.  My gastric bypass doesn’t help me with that… it hasn’t once yet got me up off the couch and sent me to the gym!”

At this point, if the person asking me how I lost weight was not familiar with gastric bypass, they likely want to know more.  And if they had any inclination to be less than supportive, they quickly reconsider as my enthusiasm and excitement for what I have achieved is obvious and undeniable.  I am a freight train of unrepentant excitement that nobody wants to try and derail.

Gastric bypass, the vertical sleeve, and the lap band are tools.  Tools compensate for our limitations.

Fifty-four years of life had taught me that I didn’t have the ability to manage my eating. Try as I did (and I tried all the diets and weight loss plans out there), I simply didn’t have the skill, strength, ability, intestinal fortitude, whatever you want to call it, to manage my food intake. Some people are born with the innate ability to self-manage this aspect of their life. I wasn’t.

Consider a short person trying to paint their ceiling. No matter how hard they call on their internal strengths and intestinal fortitude, someone five foot tall cannot paint their ceiling without the aid of a ladder – a tool that allows them to overcome certain physical limitations they face so that they can unleash their skills and energy to achieve their goals. The ladder doesn’t paint the ceiling for them. It doesn’t select the color or neatly trim the moldings. A ladder, like WLS, is simply a tool that someone can use to accomplish their goal of brightening up their home.  The WLS patient simply uses their surgery as their tool to help them lose weight and maintain weight loss for the rest of their life.

Does this conversation make any sense?:

Person 1: “Wow, your room looks nice, you’ve done a great job of painting.  I like the style and color of what you did to the ceiling! I really… hey, wait a minute, is that a ladder I see over there in the corner?”

Person 2: “Yes.”

Person 1: “Oh… [sounding less than impressed] I thought you did it yourself.  I guess you took the easy way out.”

Ridiculous.  🙁

Be proud of what you have done for yourself.  NEVER feel bad about using the correct tool for the job you’ve undertaken.  You have accomplished something that very few humans are capable of.  You turned your life around and now lead a healthy lifestyle because you were smart enough to select – and utilize – the tool you needed to accomplish a goal you set for yourself.  You did that.  YOU!

I am often asked for lessons learned.  Here are my three running rules:

1) Never, never, ever give up,
2) Remember that you’re doing this for YOU and you’re worth the effort and investment, and
3) You will make mistakes and suffer a setback or two – when this happens refer to #1 and #2 above.

And above all know this:

You are capable of more than you can imagine,
You can do this,
Don’t overcomplicate things,
Eat well and exercise,
Believe in yourself,
Do a little better today than you did yesterday.
It’s the journey that gets you there, not the surgery.
A better life, a new life awaits… GO CLAIM YOURS!!

What I Learned After Biking 525 Miles to Speak at ObesityHelp2015

Five years ago I was 54 years old and the prospects of a 55th birthday seemed bleak. I weighed 404 pounds and my health was failing, obesity was putting my life at risk. Countless diets and weight loss plans had not worked.  But on October 4, 2010, I underwent Roux-en-Y gastric bypass surgery and my life changed forever.

IMG_4975 Bike RideToday, I weigh 200, and instead of watching life pass me by, I embarked on a 525 mile bike ride to increase awareness of the dangers of obesity, specifically in people aged 55 years and older.  My destination was the 2015 ObesityHelp annual conference in Cary, North Carolina, where I was a speaker.

It’s important that people realize that it’s never too late to take control of their health. You can defeat obesity and reclaim your active, healthy and productive life, even in your senior years.  I am living proof that it can be done.

The Planning and the Anticipation

The time that goes into planning these things. The details, the specifics, the decisions. Trying to imagine what it will be like… what I will need…. how it will feel… how I’ll react. Planning not only the agenda, but for the resources I’ll need for contingencies unforeseen. Knowing it will be work. Hard work. Knowing I’ll be tested. Afraid of the possibility of failure but excited about the chance to feel success and accomplishment.

There was a point when my mind switched from the images conjured and formed during the planning process, to the cold hard reality of implementation.   The planning process being full of hazy, vague and often romanticized thoughts, images and feelings of what I was about to do, which were quickly replaced by the stark, bold, distinct, and often ugly facts that present themselves when I actually took action.

For me this point of demarcation came on Thursday morning October 1st as I jumped on my bike and began to peddle away from my home in Westerville, Ohio. My stomach was in knots. My mind raced with thoughts, not the least being: “Can I actually do this?”

The Implementation

I was off and riding. It didn’t take long for a feeling of comfort to overcome me and I relaxed and began to enjoy the ride. But that level of anxiety, of discomforting worry and fear, would return, almost nightly, as I reviewed the agenda for the next day. Would the weather hold? Would there be hills that might defeat me? Would the wind turn against me and beat me into submission? And my most personal and private fear, “Will I have the strength to ride as far as I planned?” But each day I got up and peddled my bike – and each day brought a new level of accomplishment, of wonder, and a sense of personal achievement and victory.

I was having the time of my life. The trip far exceeded my wildest dreams. I was having a great time viewing wonderful parts of America as I rolled by at 10 to 15 miles per hour.  It had been years since I had felt so alive and had such confirmation of proof of life… proof that I alive – felt ever so viscerally through testing my inner strength against challenges I couldn’t see coming, but knew were out there… Of the daily cycle of fear of the unknown being overcome by the accomplishment of doing and achieving.

There is a tremendous sense of freedom while traveling around by bike. Your spirits soar, the shackles of everyday life are lost, and you cannot help but feel a joy for life, a lifting of limits, the elation of living LARGE.

Things I’ll Never Forget

· Being up in the mountains of West Virginia looking down on clouds that filled the valleys leaving the mountain tops exposed above them like endless waves upon the ocean.

· The absolute fear and rush of careening down a Virginia mountain at 35 MPH on a narrow road that twists and turns and has no shoulders, a rock wall on one side and a 300 foot drop on the other, holding the handlebars for dear life and praying that there aren’t any potholes or out of control cars ahead.

· Spending time in Mt Airy (Mayberry RFD) with thousands of people celebrating their Autumn Leaves Festival and meeting some special people who sat and talked and laughed with us.

· Riding for miles along Paint Creek in West Virginia, observing beauty so profound that words cannot describe it and photographs cannot capture it.

· Getting up each morning and facing the fear of not being up to the task of the miles and the climbs, and then the feeling of success and victory that came when the day ended and I’d defeated every obstacle I faced.

And I Wept When It Was All Done… For Being Done Too Soon

Then, after months of planning, 12 days of riding through four states, the Appalachian Mountains, 400,000+ revolutions of my bike wheels, one flat tire, a bee sting, being chased by a half-dozen dogs, temperatures as low as 40 degrees and as high as 81, riding in the rain, being watched online by over 40,000 people, burning 25,000 calories, making dozens of new friends and hundreds of memories… the ride was over.

I had accomplished what I had set out to do.

What I Learned

The hardest part of the ride was the mountains. The ascents were difficult and the descents were scary. But I found them a perfect metaphor for what can come from the challenges we often face in life… Right in the middle of the worst of them came the most beautiful views… The beauty of the mountains revealing itself to me as I crested each peak, something that I never would have experienced had I avoided the challenge.

We face challenges all throughout life.  Some are imposed upon us, others we impose upon ourselves. My Journey to Fitness has had challenges of both types.  Both have tested me, but also gifted me with beauty and joy.

Right in the middle of my life, I accepted the challenge to get healthy.  I never would have experienced my rebirth into a healthy life, the joy of riding through the mountains, or the honor of meeting so many wonderful people from the WLS community, had I not accepted and faced this challenge… if I had not ‘Dreamed BIG and Dared to Fail.’

We are capable of far more than we can imagine. There are no limits except those we impose upon ourselves. Age has nothing to do with possibilities – who is too old to dream?

Thank you to everyone who prayed, supported, encouraged, cheered, coached, followed and believed in me (even when I doubted myself).  You are part of the beauty that this challenge has revealed to me and I am infinitely wealthier for the experience of knowing you.

Do I Wish I’d Have Had WLS Earlier in Life?

I was recently asked if I wish I had undergone WLS earlier in my life.  At age 54, after two decades of trying to manage my weight – and failing miserably, I underwent the RNY procedure and in one year lost one-half of my 404 pound body.  Better yet, I’ve maintained that loss for four more years.

Old Man and Young Man optical illusionYou lose weight by taking in fewer calories than you burn up.  This is accomplished by managing the food you put into your body, and by managing the energy you burn through exercise and activity.  Until I weighed 350 or so pounds, I had no trouble with exercising.  I played sports, rode my bike, hiked, and kept active with my three sons.  But I couldn’t seem to manage my eating.  No matter how much I exercised, my calorie intake continued to exceed my calorie burn, and over time I went from 190 pounds to 404 pounds.

The last straw in my decent into an unhealthy life came when I went above 350 pounds and it became almost impossible for me to engage in the types of physical activities I loved and regularly enjoyed.  The decrease in exercise only made the situation worse and soon I weighed over 400 pounds.

WLS gave me the tool I needed to manage my food intake.  From the day my surgery gave me the gift of food management, I have eaten well and exercised, causing a calorie deficit that facilitated a 202 pound weight loss.  Today that same tool helps me manage myself such that I’ve maintained the weight loss and built a strong, healthy and fit body.

So with all of my success coming at the end of my 50’s (I’m now 59 years old – almost five years post-op), it would seem a logical question for someone to ask me: “Don’t you wish you’d have had WLS earlier in your life?”

The Author of My Life Story

Of course I’d have preferred to have stayed at 190 pounds through my 30’s, 40’s and early 50’s.  It would have allowed me to have even more fun with my kids, play sports even more intensely, explore the world more completely, avoid a couple of health issues, and saved me tons of embarrassment and heartache.   Yes, I wish that I hadn’t become overweight and obese.  But do I wish I’d have had WLS earlier?  Maybe, but probably not.

In the WLS world we say that with surgery we’ve made a life-style choice to travel a different path. We describe this path as a new life-long Journey.  And we have.  And it is.

However, since surgery only gives us a tool we can use to self-manage our journey, our success with WLS depends on us being able to use the tool for that purpose.  And our being able to use this tool is a direct result of the things we’ve learned in life, our outlook, our attitude, our mental toughness, our resolve to accomplish this goal.  It’s the total of all we are that gives us the resources we need to overcome the weaknesses and failures we’ve suffered.  That and the tool of WLS.

At thirty years of age there was much I hadn’t yet learned… I hadn’t faced the adversity of building a career, the challenge of fatherhood, I hadn’t gained a true and honest picture of what and who I am, I still possessed the idealized vision of myself I held in my teens and twenties.  I hadn’t grown to understand me.  And without that background, I wouldn’t have been able to use the tool that WLS gave me to make the changes required for my Journey to Fitness.

It’s all Part of the Journey of ME

To me, my life before WLS and my life after ARE my life.  My only life.  WLS is simply a point of demarcation – a date on the calendar of MY life.  An important date for sure, but not one that can stand alone.  I don’t believe that WLS would have worked for me at forty years of age any more than getting married at fifteen or retiring at thirty would have worked for me.  I wouldn’t have been prepared.

My grandfather used to have a colorful saying: “There are some things you just can’t explain to a virgin with words and pictures.”  WLS is something that worked for me at fifty-four years of age because I was ready for it, my experiences giving me the experiences to manage the process.  I believe that until I possessed these experiences, WLS would have been another failure in my attempts to manage my weight.

So while it is interesting to ponder, I really don’t waste much time looking back.  I am who I am because of what I’ve done, what I’ve experienced, and how I respond to the twists and turns that life throws me.  To wish it any different is to wish I was other than who I am.  And I’ve got to say, I’d miss me if I was anybody else!

Tools for the Journey

What it takes to Get You There

I’ve noticed a large number of online journals, blogs and Facebook pages being written and published by people who have undergone weight loss surgery. It seems many WLS patients are keen to write about some aspect of their experience utilizing these online mediums. I understand why. Writing can be cathartic. It’s a process that many, including me, use as a form of therapy, where we work through personal issues, exorcise demons that challenge us, and work to realize our resolve to change our lives for the better.

For the last couple of weeks I have been cruising the Internet looking at hundreds of these sites.

One thing I noticed is that WLS people frequently use the word “Journey” in the title or subtitle of their blog or Facebook page, with names such as: ‘Journey to Health,’ My Weight Loss Journey,’ ‘Journey to a Skinny Me,’ and my own blog, ‘My Journey to Fitness.’

Journey: It’s More Than a Word

I can’t ‘prove’ what I am about to write… that is, I haven’t done any statistically valid market research nor has anybody else to my knowledge, but here goes:

From what I see, people with the word ‘Journey’ in the name of their blog/webpage are more successful at weight loss and ongoing weight management than people who don’t.

IMG_0638aNot that its 100%, not at all. There are plenty of successful WLS patients without a ‘Journey’ blog. But my thesis is this: People who describe their weight loss and weight management efforts as a Journey, understand that WLS is a tool they have selected to help them take control of their life. They accept that they have elected to follow a life-long, life-changing path to a better life. They don’t look at WLS as a fix, or a solution in-and-of itself. They don’t look at WLS as THE answer. Surgery is not something that happened to them, rather it was a conscious decision to acquire a tool that fits a need they have.

Tools Compensate for Our Limitations

Fifty-four years of life taught me that I didn’t have the ability to manage my eating. Try as I did (and I tried all the diets and weight loss plans out there), I simply didn’t have the skill, strength, ability, personal fortitude, whatever you want to call it, to manage my food intake. Some people are born with the innate ability to self-manage this aspect of their life. I wasn’t. I needed a tool to help ME on my Journey to Fitness.

Consider a short person trying to paint their ceiling. No matter how hard they call on their internal strengths and intestinal fortitude, someone five foot tall cannot paint their ceiling without the aid of a ladder – a tool that allows them to overcome certain physical limitations they face. The ladder doesn’t paint the ceiling for them. It doesn’t select the color or neatly trim the moldings. A ladder, like WLS, is simply a tool that someone can use in their journey – to continually brighten up their home, or to lose weight and maintain weight loss for the rest of their life.

Remember, it’s the journey, not the WLS that gets you there. It’s YOUR tool. It’s YOUR journey. Enjoy the ride!

 

 

Former Obese Man to Peddle his Bike 600 Miles to Speak at National Weight Loss Conference

Five years ago Bill Streetman (then age 54) weighed 404 pounds. His health was failing. He could no longer do the things he loved such as hike, snow ski, play soccer or ride his bike. Diets and weight loss plans had not worked for him. On October 4, 2010 Bill underwent Roux-en-Y gastric bypass surgery. The surgery provided him a tool to manage his eating. He implemented a vigorous exercise program and over the next 12 months lost half his body weight. He has maintained his weight loss for four years and has returned to hiking, skiing, playing soccer and riding his bike. He calls his experience a “Journey to Fitness” and today shares his story with people all over the world through lectures and blogging.

A National Conference on Weight 

ObesityHelp (OH) will hold their 2015 annual conference in Cary, North Carolina October 16th and 17th. The annual OH conference is the premier event focusing on bariatric weight loss, weight management and obesity concerns in the USA, with a lineup of speakers and presenters including weight loss experts, bariatric doctors, and hundreds of pre-op and post-op patients and weight loss surgery veterans that are navigating their own weight loss surgery journey.

Mr Streetman has been selected to speak at the conference and will be sharing his “Simple, not Easy” presentation in which he outlines the strategies he used to make his weight loss journey easier and shift the odds of success in his direction. (http://events.obesityhelp.com/oh2015-speaker-william-h-streetman/)

Bill worried that he was too old to make the kind of lifestyle changes that both surgery and ongoing weight management needs would require.   He feared that if ‘eating well’ would be difficult, exercising, especially at advancing age and after years of inactivity, would be extremely difficult… and painful… maybe impossible.

While childhood obesity is itself a major issue in the USA, Bill found that the needs of obese seniors are unique and often not adequately addressed by the weight loss industry.

As a result of his weight loss and successful ongoing weight management, Bill has focused on helping others in their personal weight loss journey, with a special focus on the needs of people 55+ years old.

Making a Statement and Leading by Example

Route to Conference

Route to Conference

To raise awareness of obesity in older adults, to highlight avenues of weight loss success that seniors can follow, and to use his own Journey to Fitness as an example, Bill (now age 59) will peddle his bicycle from his home in Columbus, Ohio, to the conference site in Cary, North Carolina (about 600 miles) in advance of his speech.

Passing through a dozen cities in Ohio, West Virginia, Virginia and North Carolina (riding over the Great Smokey Mountains), he will share his story with local press, visit various Weight Loss Centers of Excellence and spread the word that it is never too late to take control of your health, defeat obesity, and reclaim your active, healthy and productive life.

Fans will be able to track the progress of his bike trip on his weight loss website (www.WHS-NewLife.com) where a Where’s Bill “Follow Me” app will track his progress and instantly show his location on a map. Additionally, his body vitals (heart rate, calorie burn, etc.) will be monitored and posted on the website. Lastly, he will document the trip, with his GoPro, streaming live from the road where possible and leaving video messages when being online isn’t possible.

The Route and Schedule

Bill will leave Westerville, OH on October 2nd arrive in Cary, NC October 14th. During his ride he will pass through or nearby the following cities:

Ohio:                     Lancaster, Logan, Athens

West Virginia:      Charleston, Beckley

Virginia:                Roanoke, Danville

North Carolina:   Greensboro, Chapel Hill, Raleigh-Durham, Cary

Visits are being scheduled with local press and media such as radio, TV and news print outlets to discuss the special weight loss and weight management needs of people aged 55 and older. Additionally, he will be visiting various weight loss clinics and hospitals with Weight Loss Centers of Excellence.

 

“Am I the Same Person I was Before I Lost Weight?”

“Am I the same person I was before I lost weight?” Many people who have achieved significant weight loss ask this question. I’m one of them. We want to know if, and if so, how much and in what way, the significant physical change that we have undergone has changed us as a person.

Perception

A ‘person’ is a complex concept. But let’s make it easy and use a basic definition. A person is me or you or any of the hundreds of other people we interact with or cross paths with every day. Each of these people are unique and the result of a special but ever-changing blend of many variables, such as:

  • Their physical body, shape, skills, looks/image
  • Their mental capacity, education, intelligence
  • Their self-image, life roles, environmental feedback
  • Their moral and character values
  • Their personality, preferences and likes, life experiences

In my case, I’m half the person I used to be, having lost 200 pounds and kept it off for four years. I now wear a large shirt versus the 5XL that I used to wear, while my pants and sport coats are similarly reduced in size. My body is fit from daily exercise and I stay very active, running, riding my bike, and playing soccer. I look, feel and act totally different than I did before I lost weight. Some people, upon seeing me for the first time after I had lost weight, didn’t recognize me. They didn’t know that I was me! One person, whom I had known for six years, even introduced himself to me, believing that we were meeting for the first time. There are times that I don’t recognize myself, as when I see someone walking toward me and prepare to move out of their way or say hello, only to realize that I’m actually looking at a reflection of myself, and I hadn’t even recognized it as me.

So, as most of the physical ‘me’ has completely changed, am I still the same person I was when I was fat? Have the extreme physical body changes I’ve sustained been a catalyst for changes to the other variables of my personhood? Are my moral and character values still the same? Has my personality changed? Do I have a different mental capacity/intelligence than before? To what extent has my self-image changed?

Self-Image

According to David Schlundt, a psychologist at Vanderbilt University, over the course of our lives, our sense of self-image develops through a complicated interplay between cultural ideals, life experiences and accumulated comments by others. The result is, inevitably, a distortion of reality.

My self-image is influenced by:

  • How others see me (and what they see has obviously drastically changed)
  • How others react to me when they see me (and their reactions have changed greatly)
  • How I respond to the reactions of others when they see me – (my emotional reactions)

Yes, my self-image has changed as a result of my weight loss.

  1. I love physical challenges… I’m not afraid to bike, hike, or ski any new or more difficult trail or path.
  2. My size is no longer a defining factor in who I am. My physical image is one I embrace and do not wish to deny or shun.
  3. Now nobody can realistically look at me in my gym and wonder why I’m there or think that I don’t belong there or that I don’t fit in (regardless if anyone ever did that when I was large)

My self-image has to have changed, because I don’t look or move the same, and I’m more capable, confident and self-assured. People perceive me differently and therefore react to me differently than they did before I lost weight.

Fitting In

In years past, I sometimes found myself playing the “Big Guy” stereotype. It’s not a totally bad role to play, when owning that ‘space’ is granted to you by the people around you. Example: When my wife Colleen and I would travel by car with two or three other couples, I always rode in the front seat of the car (even when I wasn’t driving). Why? Because it was always offered to me by everyone, probably because I was 100 pounds bigger than the next biggest person, and everyone could see that I’d be more comfortable in the front seat.

Yes, sometimes it was just easier (or maybe I had just mastered it) to play into the stereotype, to just work the Big Guy persona into my self-image, than to fight it and try to replace it with another image, role, position, etc. The role was known and practiced, even if at times socially or physically awkward and uncomfortable. And although I had become good at extracting the good or useful parts of the role and limiting the downside, it was still a handicap and a burden that I always had to deal with in every personal interaction.

But stereotypes often create a situation called self-fulfilling prophecy. This happens when an established stereotype causes one to behave in a certain way, which leads the other party to behave in a way that confirms the stereotype. [M. Snyder, E. Tanke, E. Berscheid]

Now, physically I’m normal, even average. I automatically fit in. I don’t have to overcome the reality of being abnormal. As such, in every personal interaction in which I now engage, there is less stress and less of a burden on me to prove my worth and establish an identity (other than one tied to my weight) before the conversation or relationship can move on. Now I enter a new personal relationship with much more room to present a ‘me’ I want others to see.

Bias and Prejudice of Others

Six years back, I was sitting on board a Delta flight scheduled from Ft Lauderdale, FL to Columbus, OH. I had boarded early and was already settled into my aisle seat about eight rows from the front of the plane. I was watching people board the plane wondering who would draw the seat assignment between me and the window. A woman entered the plane, walked down to my row and indicated she had the window seat.

It was a very pleasant flight and we struck up a long conversation, discussing everything from our children and our careers, to politics and our personal philosophy on life. A couple of gin and tonics for each of us likely helped the conversation flow and the time fly.

As the plane was in final approach to land, I turned to her and mentioned just how much I enjoyed the flight and our interesting conversation. What she said next was worth hearing. She agreed that it had been an enjoyable flight, and then said: “When I was walking down the aisle I looked up and saw you in the seat next to mine and though ‘Oh, he’s a big guy, but then you ended up being a nice guy,’ who knew?”

I’m a nice guy? Hey thanks! Wait… what? So it’s a surprise when a big guy is a nice guy? Big guys aren’t usually nice guys? I wasn’t sure what she meant, and I really didn’t want to know. I enjoyed the conversation so much I didn’t want to ask and potentially get upset by hearing her reasoning and logic. I didn’t want to spoil the moment by suddenly gaining insight on how people might see me as not nice simply because I’m larger than the average person.

Her words have stuck in my head for six years now…. because even if the gin and tonics were responsible for her actually saying it out loud, I believe what she said reflects what she believes and perceives about people of size, and therefore controls and directs how she acts towards large people – and by my reaction, would shape how I see myself.

The way we perceive ourselves in relation to the rest of the world plays an important role in our choices, behaviors and beliefs. Conversely, the opinions of others also impact our behavior and the way we view ourselves. – Kendra Cherry, Psychology Expert

The feedback I receive from other people today is greatly different from what I had received previously. Today, nobody recoils at the thought of sitting in the airplane seat next to me. I don’t start every personal interaction with the burden of proving that I’m not a “grumpy fat guy.” I don’t have to work hard to receive the ‘benefit of the doubt’ from strangers – even for things that have nothing to do with weight or size. I don’t have to work against anybody’s preconceived notions about what or who an overweight person is, to gain their trust, acceptance and favor.

Bias and Prejudice in Ourselves

When I was seven months post-op, I sat down to write a blog post about what I was experiencing as my body morphed from fat to fit. I was trying to document how it felt to be a different sized person, a different looking person, a person who took up less space and stood out in a crowd much less than before. I was having some trouble putting my thoughts down on paper when I came across the blog of ‘Lisa,’ a gastric bypass patient who had lost a significant amount of weight. Lisa said:

Does completely changing your appearance change who you are inside? I think somewhat it does. Especially to the extent that you allowed yourself to be defined by being overweight. If you saw yourself as fat, and let that image dictate your behavior to any extent, then suddenly becoming skinny will literally blow your mind.  Imagine waking up tomorrow as a different race than you are now. Yeah, you’re still you. But then again, you’re not. You fit into society differently. People treat you differently. You see yourself differently.Lisa, Blogger

Imagine waking up tomorrow as a different race or gender …noodle on that for a while.

More than just changing my starting point of each new personal interaction I engage in, I’ve changed my relationship with myself. I see me differently. I start my relationship with myself at a different point also. I see that I no longer have certain barriers, specific burdens, real handicaps to overcome, or to explain to myself (lie?), in order to gain my own trust, acceptance and favor. It’s easier to be me.

Bias and Prejudice of Others – Again

I am the only man in four of the five exercise classes I take each week. Just me and 15 to 25 woman. It works for me, and I don’t believe that the women have a problem with me being in the class. It’s taken a year or so, but I’ve gotten to know a few of them, and they’ve come to accept me as a part of their class. We talk a lot before and after class, speaking often about our children, work, parents, the city, schools and such. So it was exciting for me when I ran into my kickboxing classmate ‘Karen’ one evening at an uptown event. It took a minute for us both to be sure we recognized each other – being that we weren’t dressed in our workout spandex. A few minutes into our conversation I mentioned my wife, Colleen. Karen stopped me and said, “You’re married?” “Yes, I am,” I said, “31 years now.” “But you don’t wear a ring,” she said. I told her that I do have a wedding ring that was too small for me to wear when I was 400 pounds and too big now that I’m 200 pounds. And, I mentioned that I don’t really like wearing jewelry, watches, or other accessories. I reminded her that I had mentioned Colleen in several previous conversations. But she was stuck on the ring. “That’s false advertising,” she said. “There are lots of single women that see you without a ring and will think you are available.”

The last thing that would ever cross my mind is the thought that a woman in one of my exercise classes (or anywhere for that matter) would look at me and think “I wonder if he is available?” That just doesn’t happen to 400 pound guys. It’s not an event that I needed to consider, to prepare for. Yeah, today I weigh 210 pounds, but that reality hasn’t caught up to my mentality. I still react, in social situations, as I would have when I weighed 400 pounds.

All I could say to her was, ‘Why would anyone be interested in me being available?’ She totally turned my world upside down when she said, “Well, because you’re a really good-looking guy.”

Oh. Wait, what? Say that again!

Just a year ago I had to worry that a woman walking down an airplane aisle would object to being seated next to me, seeing that I took up lots of space, and fearing (apparently) that I wouldn’t be nice. This was the uphill battle position with which I started every personal interaction. 12 months later I was expected to understand that being seen without my wedding ring was ‘false advertising’ because a single woman may well want to know if I am ‘available.’

It plays with your self-image.

Building the Image I Want

About 12 months ago I was shopping in Kroger, walking around the store with a hand basket, gathering some fruit for smoothies, low carb yogurt, bottled water, cheese and some salad ingredients. I had gone straight to the grocery from my workout at the recreation center and therefore was still wearing my exercise clothes. As I walked up to a checkout aisle, a woman, about my same age, walked up at the same time, but then looked at me and commented, “Oh you go first, you’ll have a lot healthier items than me I’m sure.” It stuck me that she had quickly draw a whole bunch of conclusions about me from a little bit of evidence. She could see my level of fitness and that I was wearing exercise clothing. She may have seen some of the fruit and veggies that were in my hand basket. So from this she had built up a whole story in her head about who I was and what I was like – to her I was an exercise fanatic, lived and ate healthy, made better choices than most shoppers – and because of this*, I was someone she respected enough to deferentially yield her spot in a supermarket line, allowing me to proceed through checkout ahead of her.

I just might be wearing the persona of the ‘healthy guy’ more often. Looks like it gets respect and admiration from others, and I like it!

* (And maybe partly in contrast to what she felt about herself?)

So Who Am I?

I am a complex algorithm of formulas and variables, ever-changing by nature, and changed significantly by weight loss. Affected by the same fears, opportunities, love, wants, needs and desires as most people. Molded by my own experiences and the specific stimuli that barrage me daily, the education I derive from life, and the things I hold above all else… the moral truths and character values that sustain me.

I believe that when most people who have lost a significant amount of weight ask the question: “Am I the same person now that I was before I lost weight,” they mean to focus on non-physical traits. That is, they want to know if they still have the same values, the same spirituality, the same sense of right and wrong, the same moral character as they did when they were large.

It has been four years since my surgery. I’ve grown, experienced, evolved and changed during that time. Some of those changes were tied directly to my weight loss journey, but other changes would have happened naturally anyway, the result of events such as the death of a friend, our retirement, and extensive world traveling. So, are my moral and character values still the same as they were before I lost weight? No, they’ve grown, evolved, and changed over the past four years.

So am I a different person now than I was before I lost weight?

My answer is that, yes, I am a different person than I was four years ago. I cannot be the same person. Neither I, nor the people I interact with every day, will let me be the same person. My image of me has changed. The image others project or assume about me have changed – and therefore much of the world to which I react has changed. My physical transformation has leached into much of my personhood. Am I different? Yes, easily.

Reflecting on the question now, it seems rather silly to ask. Of course you become a different person when you lose 200 pounds. How could you not change? Let me suggest that this is not the question we should be asking. Maybe instead of wondering if we’ve changed, we should just accept that we have and then ask “What now?” Now that you’ve lost 200 pounds and remade yourself, what are you going to do with the rest of your life? You’ve proven that you are up to great challenges, that you can accomplish things that many other human beings cannot. So, what now?

Look at it this way, you bought into your weight loss journey as a life-changing event, you accepted that for the rest of your life you’ll eat well and exercise, so, too, accept that for the rest of your life you’ll be developing ‘you.’ That the ‘you’ we see today will yield to the ‘you’ you’ll be tomorrow. That discovering who you are is every bit as much a goal of your journey as weight loss – and every bit as important.

Enjoy!

Public and Private Victory

tee shirt3Victories of Various Sizes

There are many victories that I got to savor as I lost weight and my body shrank in size. Victories such as fitting into the backseat of a car, flying comfortably in a center seat of an airplane, or shopping at a regular store and not the Big & Tall. Most who have faced the battle of being a large person in a normal sized world (and possibly some who have not) will understand these events and the joy of the experience.

There are other small and important victories I experienced along the journey that are known by only me. My favorite of these events occurred about a year into my weight loss. I was rummaging through a storage bin where, as I was gaining weight, I had placed clothes that no longer fit. Most people who have battled weight gain have a similar bin of clothes that they save because, “I’ll lose this weight and wear them again.”

Public Victory

Blessed to have been successful in my gastric bypass weight loss journey, I actually did have the opportunity to wear these clothes again as I began to reduce in size. My pants shrank from size 54 to 34, while my shirt size shrank from a 5x to a large, or even a medium. A medium! I opened the clothes storage bins and began what my friend Jo called “shopping in my closet.”

Private Victory

My greatest joy came when I found an old tee-shirt at the bottom of the bin. I remembered how much I loved wearing it with a pair of jeans and tennis shoes on a Saturday afternoon, back before I’d really gained weight. I slipped my left and right arms into the tee-shirt and through the arm holes and raised them above my head into a V to draw the shirt down. It’s what happened in the next five to ten seconds that was so special.

The tee-shirt, pulled by gravity, simply fluttered as it descended over my head, down my chest, and it continued to descend past my stomach until totally unfurled. It hadn’t been held up by a distended stomach, requiring that I pull and stretch it across a wide expanse of belly in order to get it down. No, it fluttered. It descended on its own, capturing a pocket of air between itself and my body which caused it to flap and flutter as it fell into place. It felt like success. It was a reward. I felt it deeply and savored the moment.

Victory Shared

When you lose 200 pounds, you’ll experience many victorious moments. These moments can bring great joy and happiness, fulfillment and reward. Some victories will be big and public, while some may be small and known by only you. The experience of having my tee-shirt flutter down my body, unencumbered by a distended stomach or rolls of fat as it fell to its full length, was my favorite private victory that, until now, was known by only me.

What are some of your favorite moments of victory?

Travel and Adventure

Traveling Through Time

My wife Colleen and I recently took a trip across the eastern part of the U.S. to visit several family members and friends. We drove from our home in central Ohio through Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Washington DC, Maryland, Virginia and West Virginia over 11 days. Our stops included an old friend and co-worker I hadn’t seen in 27 years, a niece and her new baby born while her husband was deployed with the U.S. Navy, an old friend of the family who grew up just down the block from me and was my little sister’s best friend, a college roommate and good friend of our youngest son, a nephew and his three children, two of whom we’d never met, and several other old and dear friends.

Each of these visits were unique as the people involved. Their ages ranged from twenty-six (26) to pushing sixty (60), their lifestyles varied from single to married with children to empty-nesters, and our histories are just as diverse and varied.

It was an excellent trip. We shared wonderful memories, told and retold stories, looked at photos, met children and ‘significant others,’ remembered people who have since left us, and reconnected in a way that made it feel like no time had passed since we last met. Truly a blessed trip.

Food and Fellowship

And interestingly, in each case, our reunions occurred around meals. Isn’t it fascinating how sharing a meal is so instrumental in helping us share, connect, and relate to each other? The simple act of sitting down together, over a meal, provides us comfort in finding common ground and at the same time provides us a safe environment to celebrate our unique differences. I understand why the act of breaking bread together has such strong symbolism and invokes our spiritual senses.

If you really want to make a friend, go to someone’s house and eat with him… the people who give you their food give you their heart.    – Cesar Chavez

Our Daily Bread

For the weight loss surgery patient, this situation can present important issues that must be faced. In our lives, food has served several purposes. We must eat to live, that’s a fact. But eating and eating well are two different things. It’s very easy to get caught up in the celebration of friendship, family, and connectedness that dining together facilitates. It’s easy to lose control, becoming swept up in the euphoria of the moment, and to give into a ‘more is better’ approach that may have gotten us into trouble in the first place.

Control is a Blessing

I found my control over food by implementing two tactics. First, I waited five or even ten minutes after the food was served to begin eating. During that time I focused on what this reunion meant to me, on how fortunate I am that I hadn’t eaten myself to an early grave, and that Divine Providence had kept my friend or family member safe from harm and available to sit with Colleen and me on this day. Second, I pictured being allowed the gift of having this person as a guest at my house sometime in the future. This helped me remember to eat right, so that I might stay healthy and fit for their visit. In these tactics, I found the ability to manage myself and control the urge to overeat.

Celebrate YOU

As the end of year holidays approach, and with them the abundance of foods that are offered as we eat and dine together, remember to the share fellowship, acknowledge the blessings, celebrate the pageantry and spirituality that these holidays bring, and reflect on the words of Anthony Bourdain when he says:

Meals make the society, hold the fabric together in lots of ways that were charming and interesting and intoxicating to me. The perfect meal, or the best meals, occur in a context that frequently has very little to do with the food itself.  

There will be food, and there will be You. You are the important element in that pairing. You.