The Scale Doesn’t Define My Success

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This is one person’s story; everyone will have unique experiences on their own path to recovery and beyond. Some stories may mention eating disorder thoughts, behaviors and symptom use. Please use your own discretion. And speak with your therapist as needed.

Chris Camburn has been in the professional social work helping field for over 15 years. She is a wife, mom, cat lover, and an avid consumer of audiobooks. Her passions also include connecting with her spiritual side and other like-minded, passionate people.

This is a story of binge eating disorder, weight loss surgery, and recovery.

Three years ago, after so many years of gaining and losing weight cycles, I made the decision to make a permanent change in my life and have weight loss surgery. I thought this would be the answer to all of the problems and I would NEVER have to worry about food or weight issues again. I thought that “controlling” my diet by weight loss surgery would put me in control of my life, but I soon found out how wrong I was.

During the preparation work for the surgery, I met with a psychiatrist to discuss my issues with food. During the first visit, she said that I needed to view food differently and learn a new way of being healthy. The second visit, she wrote the approval letter to my surgeon during the entire session. There was no conversation about eating disorders at either appointment. Now remember, I was in the mind frame of I will make this work NO MATTER WHAT. I knew how to answer questions in acceptable ways. And even though it took one year of jumping through hoops—convincing myself, my doctors, and my health insurance that this was necessary—I was approved to have gastric sleeve surgery.

Gastric sleeve surgery is when 80% of the large part of your stomach is removed. I did so much research on how this helps to save lives and learned the positive aspects of the surgery. I am the type of person that once I make my mind up on something I don’t stop, no matter what. No negative thoughts or “what ifs” came into my mind. I even had doctors tell me what could go wrong but I tuned them out and said, “Nope that’s not going to happen to me.” This surgery was my golden ticket to success and I wasn’t going to let anyone tell me anything different!

From the beginning, my surgery was not the “normal” two day in and out surgery that it should have been. The day of surgery I was under anesthesia for close to eight hours, instead of the standard two or three. I woke up feeling the most extreme nausea and started to dry heave. My surgeon was extremely worried about me vomiting and risking damage to the delicate stitching she just completed, so I was basically sedated for the next two days, unable to keep any fluids down. Following this, I developed a partially collapsed lung and pneumonia. These medical issues kept me in the hospital for nine days, when this should have been an easy two-day stay. I had very little understanding of what was happening to me because I didn’t really prepare for the potential complications because failing or sickness was not an option that I had planned for! I had not properly prepared myself for the risks and complications of the surgery.

Thank goodness, I was able to slowly eat and digest food again. I did start to lose some weight but it was not coming off as quick as I had hoped and that I heard it was supposed to. I was seeking my old friend, food, to comfort me again and I felt lost without it. Such a slippery slope losing weight can be. The praise for my weight loss was confirmation that starving myself was working. I started avoiding social situations so I wasn’t tempted to eat.

After about five months, I felt so out of control… I didn’t know what to eat or how much to eat, so I sought the advice of my surgeon’s on staff nutritionist.  While in the waiting room of the office, I heard the staff, including the nutritionist, order a lunch of pizza and chicken wings. I was called into the office and asked to write down what I ate last night, which just happened to be one slice of pizza for dinner. She continued to tell me that I was never going to get to the weight they wanted me at if I ate pizza.

She told me that I could only eat a very small number of calories a day and that made me feel like a huge failure! I asked her to write down on a piece of paper what I should eat and it said an incredibly low amount of calories a day—mostly from protein and very little fat. I left the office crying knowing that I would never go back to that office again and I haven’t.

I started gaining weight fast, and started feeling lots of self-hate. I just needed to eat and to be a part of the world that eats pizza! I didn’t want to restrict my food. About six months later, I read an article about Binge Eating Disorder and something clicked in my head. I was like “check, check, check!” I identified with all of the traits of binge eating, self-hate, shame, restrictive eating, binging, using food as a form of self-hate or self-worth, labeling certain food as “bad,” and losing self-control when bingeing.

I couldn’t believe that I and the doctors missed this diagnosis! With my newfound knowledge, I was able to find a treatment group close to my home. From then on, I attended weekly group therapy, individual therapy, and saw the nutritionist for an entire year. It was a scary year of self-doubt and brokenness but I was able to see how truly unhealthy my relationship with food was. I worked so hard on self-love and my body image. I built trusting relations with people just like me. I learned so much about myself and the world of food! I am so grateful to know there are other people like me out there! I am not alone in this fight for self-worth.

Now that I have gained all of my surgery weight back, I struggle with not using the scale as a sign of success. It’s a battle that I win on most days, but old habits die hard. How I measure my recovery and my success now is by measuring how much I do love who I am today! Even in this bigger body, I am ok! I can eat what I want, when I want, because there is no good or bad food. I have given myself permission to be ok with food again and to enjoy it! I am sure that at some point my weight will even itself out, but I am not depending on that to be happy.

I have flooded my social media accounts with role models who aren’t thin: Allison Kimmy, Whitney Way Thore, and Ashley Graham. Looking at real, unedited people and real lives that are big like me helped me to shift my reality about what happiness looks like. My story is not over! This is a journey that I am on where I have the power to make decisions for myself and for my happiness.

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