I’ve lost count….

I can’t tell you how many times, I’ve had to relive a certain conversation over and over again since my surgery. It all starts out the same:

Friend: Hey, life has been stressful, just have a few glasses of wine.

Me: I’d love to, but I can’t drink.

Friend: Oh yeah, I forgot.

Or how about this classic conversation:

Waitress: Is there something wrong with your salad?

Me: No, it’s fine. Thank you.

Waitress leaves; only to come back less than five minutes later. “Are you sure I can’t bring you something else? You haven’t touched your salad.”

Me: Oh, no thank you, I wait to eat my salad until I’ve had my protein. Waitress leaves with a funny look on her face.

There’s even this classic family scenario that happens at least twice a week in our house.

Oldest child: Hey mom- have a bite of this; it’s auh-maazzzinggg!

Me: Thanks, but no th…

Son, who is 8: Paaaiggaaahhhh! That has sugar in it; you know mom can’t eat that!

Oldest child: Sorry, mom. I forgot!

Gastric bypass, the one thing I’m not allowed to forget. Not for a day, an hour, a minute or a single second. If I do forget, I increase the chances of either slipping into old habits or eating something that will wreck havoc on my system. No matter who the conversation is with or how it comes about; the outcome is always the same.

I wish I had the right answer to alleviate this scenario entirely or the universal answer that would make all gastric bypass patients’ lives easier. I don’t have one. I can only tell you how I handle it and what happens when I do.

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How I handle ‘the conversation’

I don’t think there’s a universal acceptance to handling this conversation. Most people have zero concept of what a gastric bypass patient goes through on a daily basis. Many don’t understand how we religiously read food labels, avoid carbonation, panic and fret when it’s time for parties or family get togethers. Mistakes happen when our minds are not truly focused and when mistakes happen, we generally wind up sick.

So to anyone who thinks this is the “Easy way out” so to speak against those extra pounds; think again! Once we undergo this process, our lives are changed. We live it every single day. We don’t forget. We can’t forget.

Here are some tricks and truths I’ve learned that have helped me in this scenario. I hope they help you as well! If you have any others- please feel free to share!

  • Be honest; don’t hide! Whether it’s a waitress doing her job or a friend who innocently slipped about your habits, don’t be embarrassed. You made a choice to change for the better. With that choice, comes a new set of rules to play ball. I’ve found a smile and a quick explanation goes a long way and most people won’t push the issue. Last week, after going through the drive-thru at Sonic for an ice coffee, the employee tried handing me a straw. Up until the last month or so, I just grabbed the straw and headed home, only to add it to a growing collection of fast food straws in our kitchen drawer. Since our drawer is filling up, I just smiled at the guy and said, “You can keep that; I can’t use straws.” He totally amazed me by telling me something I didn’t expect. He said, “Omg, you are the third person to tell me that today!” I smiled and told him it wasn’t an environmental stand or anything like that; I had gastric bypass and couldn’t use them so they might as well keep them. He nodded and that was it. I wasn’t ashamed. I wasn’t embarrassed and he felt like he was let in on a big secret. A total win/win. Every other person I’ve come across takes it the same way.
  • Like you, it might take your friends and family time to get used to the new “norm”. When I worked in the radio industry, I was always front and center at various events. That usually meant using “liquid courage” to do my job. That habit kind of bled into family functions and parties with friends until drinking and socializing came hand in hand. Last summer, my niece got married and it was the first big social function I had attended post-bypass. I was a wreck. How on Earth was I going to make it through a wedding reception while only drinking water and Crystal Light mix?! I stopped, took a breath and realized something. You see, I have two truly amazing nieces who have shown me over the years to embrace your personality and have fun; no matter what. That’s what I did. I danced like no one was watching. I talked to everyone I could. I smiled the entire time AND I had fun; without alcohol. Gastric bypass diet for the win!! I did have a few friends offer me a beverage or two and I just politely declined and moved on. I understood they didn’t mean anything by it and I didn’t dwell on it.
One of my first post-bypass accomplishments? Celebrating a wedding, sans alcohol. I was tanned, sober and had fun! Plus, I avoided those extra calories.
  • When it’s pushed on you; just walk away. I have had some friends tell me that “so and so” had a gastric bypass and they “drink, eat junk, don’t workout,” etc. etc. Well, good for them. I usually say that. That’s right, I shrug my shoulders and say, “My doctor doesn’t want me to do that” or even simpler: “I don’t want it.” You see, those people who have slipped and are doing “such and such,” you can see that they have gained weight. It might not be as drastic as it was prior to their surgery; but it is noticeable. I’m not going there!
  • Don’t hide it from your kiddos. I do believe that children shouldn’t be brought into adult issues. Sometimes, obesity and failing health falls into that category. When I approached the topic with my children, it wasn’t on an adult level. I informed them from my surgery date on, there were things I had to do to stay healthy and every time they offer me things like a bite of their snack cake or a piece of candy, I just thank them and tell them I can’t because of the sugar content. My husband and I outlined a list of rules that I needed followed in order to stay healthy. For the most part, my kids follow them religiously and don’t make a fuss about them either. Those rules included:
    • No eating in the living room or other family areas in the house. Eating was kept in the kitchen or in their rooms.
    • No snacking in the car. This was more of a move to save my car and not necessarily me.
    • No ice cream in the house at any time. Ice cream is my down fall, period. However, I’ve lightened up on this rule since I found a protein ice cream that makes me feel like I have something to enjoy.
  • Don’t be afraid to ask questions and read food labels in public! When in doubt; trust your gut. About three months after my surgery, I attended a class trip to an amusement park with my oldest daughter’s class. It was a crazy day. I was actually able to ride roller coasters again! Throughout the day, I got really sick of water and wanted something different. We found a stand that offered smoothies made from “fresh fruit”. I asked the employee how much sugar was in a serving because I had special dietary restrictions. She came back and told me it was fruit and there wasn’t any sugar in it. (I knew there had to be some because fruit has sugar in it.) Against my better judgement, I ordered one. I took a small sip and immediately spit it out in the trash can and washed my mouth out with water and spit that out. It was all sugar! You could feel the grit from the sugar against your lips. That was the first time I learned the lesson that to some people, “dietary restrictions” mean absolutely nothing. Last week, I went to the St. Louis zoo with my middle child’s class. The same thing happened. I asked the workers how much sugar was in a drink and I was told they only use 6 ounces of mix- which didn’t answer my question. I opted not to get one. My child, who ordered a strawberry smoothie, told me it was pretty sweet and I should be thankful that I didn’t order one.
Thank goodness I didn’t listen to that employee about the “no sugar” drink! I’d would have been too sick to see the elephants.
  • Focus on the positive! It’s a lot harder to give into peer pressure and cravings when you realize all of the things you can lose if you do! I like to repeat things over and over in my head: size 14 jeans; walking without being out of breath; riding roller coasters; my oldest daughter can now pick me up; etc. It helps!
  • You are going to have cravings, in public, and it’s ok! Just don’t give into them. This winter, during a basketball game, my husband had the nerve to get a Cherry Pepsi and drink it next to me. I’m just kidding about the nerve part. He had no idea I had been struggling with wanting a soda that entire day. Guys- I’m not kidding; I smelled his soda. Once I did that, the memories of Pepsi perfection flooded my mind. That delightfully caramel-colored liquid in all of its glory. I wanted to lick the can. I wanted to bathe in Pepsi. I wanted to drink every single one in sight. Instead, I popped a piece of sugar-free gum, sipped on my lemonade-flavored water and waited for the moment to pass. Later on, I found a root-beer flavored water add in that I use when the cravings get too bad. Two years with zero soda and I’m still getting cravings. They won’t go away entirely. That’s ok. I just know I can’t give in.
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This stuff is a lifesaver!!!
  • A little humor goes a long way! Constantly monitoring what goes into your body and dealing with “well intentioned” people can get a little old. I totally get it. Try to add humor to those situations and they help. I didn’t realize how it could help until one day, my 8-year-old son was in the car and he’s always doing what he calls “impressions” of people. I was having a bad day and we left a place where the service staff had reminded me of my situation. As we were walking my son popped up with: “Hi, I’m mom and if I have too much sugar; I’ll poop my pants.” It was in that moment of laughing so hard that tears were going down my face that I realized having to educate a few people on my life change is a very small price to pay for what I’ve gained post-surgery. I’ve used several things the past few months to get me out of a few, somewhat sticky situations:
    • Sorry, I can’t skip my workout. I’m quite the witch when I don’t hit the treadmill.
    • Sugar goes through me quicker than a rider on the log flume ride!
    • Coconut butter. It’s kind of like a coconut cream pie except it tastes like putty.
    • I love how sugar-free gum has no taste and gets really slimy the longer you chew it.
    • I’m honoring the cow that gave its life for me to have my steak by making sure it’s the very first thing I eat in this meal. The salad has to wait its turn.
    • I avoid alcohol and soda- all the cool kids do!

Finally, the most important thing for me to remember is simple. I am not alone! I have my husband and my kids to help me through it. I have my friends who truly understand me. I have a lot of support. When I’m having a rough day, it’s that support that gets me through this! Just remember- if you’re having a bad day; I’m always here, ready to help!

During a hard day; I just focused on the good things, which included walking around the STL zoo without getting short of breath and seeing these amazing creatures!

What are those? Wrinkles? No way!

Over a year post-surgery and I started having a few extra friends around. No, not the fun kind that make you laugh until soda goes shooting out of your nose. These pesky little buggers just sit there, quietly taunting me about my soon-to-be big #42 birthday in a few weeks.

You know who I’m talking about: the saggy skin around my neck, extra little lines at the corners of my eyes, a few deep creases near my smile. Darn those wrinkles and old-lady skin! If only we could boost our skin the way we can change our hair color to hide gray hairs. Alas, we can’t. I know, I know. I’m being a little melodramatic again. Insert eye roll here.

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A few years ago, I always loved the fact that my skin was as line free as someone 10 years younger than me. The problem is a grape is always flawless when it’s plump. Take away some of the juice, or, in my case, fat and it becomes a raisin.

Lucky for me, I have a wonderful friend, Lana Baclesse who owns and operates Merle Norman Cosmetics Studio in our downtown area of Mexico, Mo. Lana has been a “Merle Girl” since 1965 and trust me, she looks like someone half her age! Her skin is flawless.

If you have never been to a Merle Norman studio before, let me tell you that it is a true “try before you buy” store. Like clockwork, I’m in the studio once a month for a free hydrating facial, skincare talk and makeover using the latest color collections.

Two years ago, when I told Lana about my future surgery, she started moving me towards skincare products that would combat the issues I was going to face. Her biggest prediction? My neck was going to lose elasticity and start to sag as I approached the 100-pound mark. She was spot on! To combat that, she had me start using Merle Norman’s Ultimate Neck Firming Cream. I haven’t noticed the sag or bounce like my other bariatric friends have experienced with their surgeries and recovery.

I use this twice a day- once in the morning and once at night. It’s so rich, I don’t feel like my neck is greasy or oily.

I’ve never been the type of person to worry about makeup or skincare. As a teen, I used good, old-fashioned soap and water. That was it! I’m not big on lipstick. My mom has to literally beg me to put any on. I don’t do the lip liner thing and most of the time, I’m paranoid about that one tooth that always manages to get a spot of lipstick on it. I’m not a person who has five shelves in the bathroom dedicated to skincare and bath products, but I do use and swear by many of the products Lana has shown me over the years.

I start off every morning washing my face with Dove soap and using a toner. From there, I found an all-in-one lactic acid treatment that I use. My next step is the ultimate firming neck cream, followed by a drop or two of Merle Norman’s Dry Oil Serum mixed with the Brillant-C moisturizer, which is made to reduce discoloration. (Remember those times people told you in the 90s that you’d regret lying in those tanning beds. Welcome to that day!) After, I use sunscreen underneath my Merle Norman makeup which includes the CC cream for an even finish. Plus, it’s lightweight, so I don’t feel like I’m wearing a ton of makeup. I hate feeling like a cake that’s just been frosted.

All of my makeup from a recent Sunday photo shoot was Merle Norman products. Look mom- I even wore lipstick!

Q&A with Lana

Not everyone is lucky enough to have their very own Lana and I wanted to devote this part of my blog to skincare advice from one of the best and most knowledgeable people I know.

Me: If someone is suffering from a vitamin deficiency, which happens a lot in bariatric patients, how could that affect their skin?

Lana: When your skin is lacking nutrients, it can become dull and lack-luster which looks tired and may look more lined. This leads to premature aging. So, many of our skincare products have vitamins to combat the lack luster effect.

Me: Are there products that can combat that from happening?

Lana: Our Anti-aging line has been proven to reduce those signs. What we also find is the elasticity in the skin will need more attention. That is where the Dry Oil Serum comes in, to improve the firmness, elasticity and the suppleness of the skin.

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On a personal note: the Dry Oil Serum smells divine!!! It gives my skin a ton of moisture and it feels so silky. I love starting out my mornings with that wonderful smell!

Me: When would a bariatric patient need to start this skincare regime? Should they wait and see if their skin will “bounce” back?

Lana: You will want to start using these products as soon as possible as the weight starts coming off. Don’t wait until you start noticing the issues.
Each person is unique so that is why it is so important for them to come in and talk with us so we can outline a program just for their issues and concerns.

Me: In terms of makeup, is there anything a bariatric patient should avoid or a type of product we should gravitate towards?

Lana: You’ll want products that are not dry appearing and almost dewey. Again, it’s important for us to see exactly where your skin is at.

I try to stay away from makeup that will just “sit” in any lines I might have.

Me: Is there a product that’s a must have?

Lana: Primer is a must!

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I love this primer! After using it and when it starts to dry, I can feel my skin tighten. It’s amazing!

My advice

My advice? Find your own Lana! Losing 25 pounds is a lot. 50 is even more overwhelming, but when we’re talking in terms of 100 pounds or more, it’s a lot on your body. Yes, you feel better, but how do you combat skin that was covering that much weight and has no place to go?

As you age, your skin doesn’t just “bounce” back like it used to and that’s why some steps like skincare products are essential! In addition, we do tend to lack various vitamins and nutrients that don’t get absorbed as they would in a regular person’s diet. That means it’s even more important to “help” our skin as much as possible.

If I need to fill a few wrinkles or hide some dark spots- I’m totally fine with it. I’m all about aging gracefully, but I won’t give it any more help!

Is it important to “mesh” with your doctor?

I recently received a question from one of my followers and I thought it was an extremely valid topic to cover for anyone who is thinking of getting any form of bariatric surgery, now or in the future.

After writing my installment on “My Biggest Loser” experience, I received this question: How important was it for you to feel comfortable with your surgeon? One word? See below.

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What Opened My Eyes…

Let me tell you a little story. When I started on the road to get the gastric bypass surgery, I was supposed to retake a three-month nutritional course to refresh my memory. I had taken a similar course with the Lap Band, about seven years earlier, but Dr. Pitt’s office wanted me to relearn habits I might have forgotten and how nutrition would affect this actual procedure, in the way it might not have affected the Lap Band.

The classes were held in the downstairs of a doctors’ office complex. The room was large enough to hold eight or so tables with seats for two people at each one. It was a little bit before the class started and I was on a high. After all, I found out I had lost 12 pounds between the first class and the second one. As I walked in place, next to my chair, waiting for our instructor to walk in and signify the start of class, I talked to those around me.

I was at an advantage in this class, over the first timers because I had been through a bariatric diet before. In fact, I practiced 80% of the principals even at my heaviest weight. These weren’t new rules to me. For this lady and those around me, the diet was a brand-new lifestyle. It’s full of rules and regulations and things you don’t expect. Nuts? Most people would consider them healthy. Here, not so much. Peanut oil? A definite no. Coconut oil, probably not. Peanut butter, not a great source of protein, etc.

One of the ladies was in tears. She was heartbroken and devastated. This woman, who wanted this surgery so much that she cashed out her 401K to pay for it when her insurance wouldn’t, was in tears because she had only lost two pounds between the first and second class. Her doctor lectured, got nasty with her and subsequently humiliated her because she should have lost a significant amount more than that after a month. Her big mistake? She was adding fruit to her protein shakes in the morning and replacing her typical snacking with fruit. In her mind, she was making a sound choice. In the bariatric world, fruit, while healthy, won’t give you the results you need, which led to a two-pound weight loss instead of double digits.

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I’m pretty sure the look on my face after hearing her story was similar to this one!

This doctor later walked into our class, talked to the nutritionist and left. The nutritionist, who was extremely supportive to all of us, went on to try and help my fellow classmate and others who struggled with suggestions and extra tricks to get the job done. I knew from that moment on that I didn’t like this guy and didn’t want him anywhere near me. Why? I knew enough about my personality to know that I would have rebelled against a tactic like that and sabotaged myself to the point that I wouldn’t have to deal with him anymore.

At my next appointment at my doctor’s office (which thankfully was in another practice), I asked my coordinator if I was going to have Dr. Pitt and no other doctor around me for my surgery and recovery. She verified I would and asked me what happened. When I told her this story, she too was a little surprised and concerned that had happened.

Look at “The Big Picture”

As patients, I think we tend to focus on the qualifications of a surgeon, but we don’t look beyond our initial time on the operating room table. Most of the time, if we can tolerate the doctor and know his or her credentials are solid, that’s it.

Bariatric surgery is a little different. First, you have a preparation period prior to the surgery. Sometimes, your insurance will make you participate in a supervised diet to see if that works and costs less than the actual surgery. Sometimes, the doctor wants to make sure you are ready for change- think Dr. Now on “My 600 pound Life.” Any time, you can prepare and lose as much weight as possible, prior to your surgery, the better off your progress will be afterwards. If you don’t have a doctor you can really talk to and get help from, then you won’t be as successful as you could have been and that makes the journey extremely bumpy and quite frankly, a little miserable!

If you can’t stand your doctor or if she/he tries motivation techniques that just don’t mesh with your personality, is he or she really someone you want to share your 18-month journey (or longer) with or not? After the surgery, it’s not just follow-up visits and weigh-ins that you will have with your physician. You will actually have issues that pop up and you will desperately need medical advice and know-how. If you aren’t comfortable with your doctor, how can you bring up those topics?

Here’s just a sample of things I’ve had to discuss with Dr. Pitt:

  • Constipation
  • Diarrhea
  • Frequent Headaches
  • Insomnia
  • What exactly is an NSAID and how will I know if it’s one or not?
  • Saggy skin
  • Vomiting after eating certain foods
  • Vitamins
  • Exercise
  • Vitamin Deficiency
  • Loss of hair- think handfuls coming out, similar to the scene in “The Craft”. Alright, alright. Maybe it wasn’t that bad, but it seemed like it!
  • Care of incisions
  • Hospital Bills/Payments
  • Skin Removal Surgery
  • Feeling Fatigued
One of my concerns? I lost a tremendous amount of hair three months after my surgery. It wasn’t a vitamin deficiency; it’s something most gastric bypass patients experience and it stops after a few weeks. It was still a little crazy and scary.

This is just a small list of things that gave me concern or I had questions and I needed answers from my doctor. If you go into the doctor’s office and you feel rushed or you feel like you can’t talk to him/her about anything and everything, then find another doctor who you can talk to about the things you need to know as a patient. I tend to tell myself that I found an amazing doctor because I can talk to him about something as horrendous as constipation and it doesn’t seem like the worse thing I’ve had to do that day!

Thankfully, many of our conversations focus on my workouts- and not necessarily, on my bathroom experiences!

Remember, this is a team effort. It’s not just you running this marathon- it’s your doctor, your family, your insurance, the doctor’s staff, a nutritionist, your fitness instructor, even your favorite gastric bypass blogger! We are all in this together so that you can be as successful as possible and feel healthy! There’s a whole world out there- just waiting for the new you to experience and explore it.

My first “Cruise Night”- one of the many things I’m discovering and getting to do since dropping my weight! Imagine all of the great things you will get to uncover and discover.

Vacations- the end of your weight loss? Not a chance!

The sun is shining. Days are longer. The weather is warmer- not too hot; not cold; just right. It’s usually about this time of year when my husband and I have “the talk”. Two years ago when my husband muttered the starting phrase of “The Talk” at the beginning of my weight loss journey, I can honestly tell you that my blood ran cold. It was like ice pouring through my veins and I could see the sky darken because I knew what was looming in my future. What was the phrase you ask? What talk did we need to have? The phrase has 13 little words, 13 innocent words on their own, but when you put them together, they take on a whole new meaning.

“Do you have any ideas where we should go on vacation this year?” Insert horror movie scream right now.

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I’m pretty sure this was my reaction.

It wasn’t that I don’t like going on vacation. I love to travel! There is something so rejuvenating and refreshing about visiting a new spot, discovering new activities, seeing amazing sights, yes, even eating at local hangouts and dives. I love it all. What I don’t love is the end result. In my entire adult life, until two years ago, I have not come back from a vacation without weighing more than I had when I left.

Trip to the Mall of America? You would think with all of that shopping, I would have weighed less between the walking and the lighter nature of my wallet. Nope, I gained. Both times. Ok, the second one doesn’t really count- when I got back, I was well into my second trimester with my son. A lot of that was actual baby weight.

Our first trip to the Mall of America. Welcome home- you’ve gained 7 pounds! Why on Earth did I wear my bangs like that?!

Trips #1 and #2 to Las Vegas- Again, I should have been a stick with the walking we did on these two trips. On the first day during trip #1, since we were novices, we walked everywhere. The very first day, we walked from MGM Grand all the way to the other end of the strip by the Venetian. It didn’t matter. I got home and the scale showed a gain.

Las Vegas. Trip #1- I gained 4 pounds. Trip #2, only 1. That trip (shown in this picture), was at the height of my running and getting healthy kick, so I’m just gonna say that 1 pound gain was probably water weight. Thank goodness my hair looked so much better here than it did in the previous picture!

The family trip to Branson? Good grief- not even going to admit what the scales showed. That was about four months away from my breakdown in Dr. Pitt’s office, which started this whole journey to a new me.

Not every trip was a scale-breaking experience. A few weeks prior to my husband mentioning the vacation talk, I had gotten back from an eastern seaboard trip with my oldest. We visited the sites in Washington, Alexandria, and NYC. We averaged 7 miles per day walking and I was so busy that eating was more of a chore and not a relaxing experience. Plus, I was taking my diet pill, Qycemia at the time, so I was never hungry. I came back from that trip with a nice surprise on the scale. It was the first time, in a long time that I can remember weighing less after a trip. It felt great.

The good-old Washington, DC trip. I came home and hopped on the scale to a dream come true- 5 pounds down!

Enough with the play-by-play on vacations and weight gain. You get the picture. I’d travel, the scale would go up and I’d spend the next few weeks trying to diet those pounds off. Some successfully; others, not so much.

When Scott brought up the idea of a vacation in 2017, I froze. I started shaking my head no and finally said what I was thinking, “I can’t risk it.” He was confused and I started sharing my fears with him.

It was during this conversation that the lightbulb went off in my head. I realized that every vacation we went on, the schedule was always the same. It really wasn’t about the destination or the activities- our focus had always been on the hotel. After all, that’s where you have to sleep; you want to be comfortable. When you stay in a hotel, you are at their mercy on what you eat and where you eat at. Vegas- the city of indulgence = 5-star restaurants. Branson= family-style buffets and overeating galore. Mall of America= fast food, more fast food, and a few nicer places thrown in. For a dieter, it’s a recipe for a nightmare. See what I did there?!

We immediately shifted gears. We talked about activities that we wanted to do while on vacation, which included, time in the outdoors- hiking, fishing, horseback riding (him, not so much on that one), great sunsets, fresh air. Notice that nothing on that list included food? He wrote down five destinations on a piece of paper that he wanted to visit based on the activities and I did the same. When we were done we had a few common ones, but the one that popped for us was Colorado. When we talked to the kids about it; they were instantly in. After all, what other state has cooler things than bears, moose, elk, mountain goats and possibly snow, during the summer?

Neither one of us had ever been to Colorado, but we’ve talked about it off and on over the years. I tried Googling various destinations and was more confused than when I started. I reached out to a friend who visits Estes Park quite frequently and she gave me the link where they stay when their family visits the area. That one little helpful link opened my eyes to a whole new way of traveling and that was the first step, I believe, in making our vacations healthy and friendly to someone living a healthier lifestyle.

Here are a few of my tips that I learned from the Colorado experience, starting with #1, which came from my friend, Kristi Williams.

  1. Avoid the Hotel- Here I was looking at Kristi’s link and I’m pretty sure the heavens parted and the angels started singing, “Hallelujah!” Kristi and Jim rented a cabin, complete with a kitchen in Colorado. It was genius. A true home away from home. I felt like a kid for not having thought of it myself. When you stay in a hotel, everything and I mean everything, is dependant upon the hotel. Hotel rooms typically don’t have kitchens unless you are staying at a place similar to The Marrott Residence Inn, which is another great option and that means eating out morning, noon and night. By renting a cabin or a home in the area you are wanting to visit, you are keeping control of your actual diet. We were lucky enough to find a beautiful cabin, on a lake, next to Rocky Mountain National Park that was cheaper than most hotel stays. We ate breakfast, every morning, in the cabin. To keep with my protein-heavy meals, that usually meant scrambled eggs for me. I think we ate lunch out and about twice during our stay and the rest of the time at the cabin and then for dinner, we had a weenie roast one night with the kids, ate at a restaurant in Grand Lake twice and then cooked the rest of our meals in the cabin. Here’s the thing about this trip, we didn’t miss not eating at a restaurant for every meal. In fact, we loved not having to do so! Yes, we still had to do the dishes, but it was a relaxed setting and we didn’t cook anything that was overly complicated. The best part? Our wallet thanked us! Do you know how expensive it can get to feed a family of five at a restaurant for three meals a day? I highly recommend websites like VRBO, which show you apartments, condos, cabins and homes offered for vacation stays. Plus, if you plan your vacation several months out, there are discounts or easy cancellation policies if something happens and you can’t go.
  2. Plan your meals- Sounds easy enough, right? Ummm.. not so much. I strongly recommend having a flexible plan for meals. In our case, we outlined some things we were going to cook: hamburgers, weenie roast, sandwiches, eggs, etc. We took some groceries in the cooler and bags with us; but this year, we’ve decided to just buy a lot of those items out there. Having a plan helped us not wonder what we were going to do for each meal, allowing us to fall back on the “restaurant” trap. It also kept us from overspending.
  3. Focus on the activities! Most people take a vacation to relax and not constantly go, go, go! When you are on a weight-loss journey, you still have to burn calories to lose weight. It’s not rocket science. We always had a hike in the morning and one in the afternoon and then our mid-day and evenings were reserved for “Relaxing” activities, if we wanted to do so. We also included some unique experiences as well. One day we went on a two-hour horse ride through RMNP. Another day, we fished in the murky depths of Grand Lake and we spent a third day in Estes Park. I marked one of my bucket list items off that day- a visit to The Stanley Hotel and of course, we shopped! I didn’t lay around for 8 hours out of the day; I had work to do and knew it.
Bucket List! The Stanley Hotel Visit. Do you see any ghosts in the window?!

4. Not only do you have to plan your meals; but plan your drinks! I am not a plain water person. I hate the taste. I only put up with it because it’s a necessity of life and I can’t have soda. So…..that means I’m always carrying drink mix packets around with me. I have lemonade and root beer flavors in my car; sugar-free Kool-Aid droplets in my purse; orange Crush mix-ins in my suitcase, etc. Imagine my surprise when I ran into hotels that didn’t offer bottled water to their guests! On the way to the cabin, we stayed overnight in Pueblo and there wasn’t a single bottle of water offered in the whole hotel! I ended up having to choke down tap water and then melted ice from the ice machine to drink the next morning. Necessity can sometimes bring out the Einstein in all of us!

5. Bring along a great pair of shoes- or two. No, I don’t mean a pair of Jimmy Choos or wedges. Bring comfortable shoes- not flip flops. I took a pair of flip flops to wear on the car ride and the rest of the time, I was in sneakers. If your feet don’t hurt, you have no excuses to get out and enjoy life! I didn’t do that on any other previous vacations. I was always in flip flops, sandals and ridiculous shoes and my feet killed me 99.99% of the time. They didn’t hurt at all in Colorado.

6. Pack clothes that will not hinder your ability to stay active. For me, I packed leggings and a few pairs of shorts. It’s cooler there, so it’s not like you need tank tops and swimming suits, but I knew at that point, jeans weren’t my most comfortable thing to wear and if I felt restricted in my movement; I wouldn’t want to move. This year I’m using the same philosophy. Comfy = success!

7. Don’t forget the protein! When you increase your activity, you might find that extra protein is beneficial. I always bring along a few protein drinks to throw in the car. On our stop at Dodge City, KS, on the way out to Colorado, we ate an at Applebee’s. My chicken salad wasn’t great. Every piece of chicken in it was full of cartilage, which I can’t stand. So I didn’t eat it, but ate around it. Since I didn’t get my required protein, I knew I was going to get hungry, fairly quickly after that meal. I grabbed a protein drink out of the cooler and sipped on it to make up for what I had missed. Again, planning is the key to success!

Finally, it’s not really a tip, per se, but more like a philosophy. Just because you are on a healthy lifestyle journey, doesn’t mean that has to be the focus of your vacation! These little things you do can give you a positive outcome on the scale when you get home. But, I can’t stress this enough- Live in the moment. Don’t waste a single second worrying that you ate two Oreos in front of the fire and that means you are failing. It doesn’t! Appreciate every opportunity that God puts in front of you- vacation included. One night, we were driving the main road through Rocky Mountain National Park and noticed a gravel road going off the main drag, in the bottoms of the mountain. We followed it, parked and started walking. Three elk that we saw earlier that evening were on the trail! These two bucks and doe walked within 5 feet of me. As a photographer, I had my camera in hand, snapping away. I tried so hard to be quiet, so hard to breathe very little and prayed those pictures turned out (they did). On another day, we noticed two bull moose off of our cabin deck and again, I was within six feet of them, taking picture after picture. I was so close, I could see the color variations on one of the moose’s velvet horns. People who ask me about our trip don’t hear tales of my diet or that I wolfed down a two-scoop ice cream cone in Grand Lake one afternoon or that my weenie-roast dinner mostly consisted of three smores – they hear the story of the close elk-encounter; they hear of the two bull moose and the sounds they made pulling leaves off the trees; or a million other ones we have from our time there. A healthy lifestyle doesn’t have to be your end all; be all. It’s just one very small piece of your puzzle.

I took this selfie moments before the incident when the elk walked so close to me. It was a “Wow! Just Wow!” moment.

Today marks two years out- what will this year’s vacation hold? I know the destination, which I cannot wait, but you’ll have to find out later. I have my camera ready. I’m even planning on sharing a suitcase with Scott since my clothes don’t take up as much room as they once did! Saving room in the car already!

I have no clue what experiences, pictures, once-in-a-lifetime moments we will have, but I know that I’ll follow my tips because I have changed the curse of the post-vacation weigh in! I know you can do the same!

My Realization

I had a realization a few days ago. As it always does, this particular one came out of left field and hit me upside my head. Even though it’s been a day or two and I’m writing this installment on my blog, I’m still a little numb and dumbfounded by the entire incident.

We left my oldest daughter’s track meet Friday evening and headed to a restaurant for dinner. Partly out of convenience and partly due to it being a celebratory thing. My daughter, Paige was complaining about pulling a muscle in her 400-meter race and asked me to “carry her”. For some odd reason, I enthusiastically agreed.

I’ll let this be known- my daughter is 5’10 1/2″ tall and at 15, her legs were almost dragging the ground as I carried her across the parking lot. Maybe not dragging the ground- but if she stretched and I bent down a little bit, we could have made it happen.

I told her I didn’t know how I was going to make it across that huge parking lot and weave around the cars while carrying her because let’s face it, “you are no longer five.” She laughed and said, “But mom, I only weigh 125 pounds.”

Then it hit me. My brain exploded. My eyes started losing their focus. The revelation was clear. I am currently four pounds- yes, four pounds away from losing an entire Paige. I even laughed and said, “I almost lost an entire Paige!” She thought it was hilarious. Me, not so much. The imagery was devastating and enlightening and without a doubt, makes me so proud- if you put all the weight I lost in a big mound and sculpted it, I could have another teenager.

Every step I took with her on my back was excruciating. My knees felt like they were going to buckle. My back started hurting. I could feel blood rushing to my face and sweat starting to form on my back. I could barely step up on the curb. Yet, two years ago, that was my life. Something I had to live with every single day.

At 305 pounds, I didn’t give up and quit doing things. I pushed myself. I would run at that weight. I’d work in the fields or around the barn. I would shop all day long and come home, exhausted but I didn’t think anything of it. Heck, I spent seven days exploring Branson, swimming in pools, shopping and walking through one tourist attraction after another and I weighed enough for one person and a teenager put together!

At 280 pounds, I walked 7 miles per day during a five-day trip to Washington DC and NYC. When I reached 270, I was hiking mountains in Colorado. As the weight started coming off, I increased my activity levels and did more stuff. Chased cows? Check. Lifted heavy furniture? Check. Landscaping? Nothing to it. Walking around Six Flags- absolutely! Running on the treadmill? Can’t stop me! Hiking around our farm? Of course! Carrying around a teenager on my back? Just conquered that one.

I guess as the weight came off and I got used to it, I forgot how much I originally carried or how badly I struggled daily to do those things I talked about. Here I was sitting in Red Lobster, about to cry, as the weight of this realization came crashing down around me. One thing was clear- I’m never going back to that.

As I sit down and write this, my goal isn’t to hear cheers from people telling me, “‘Good job!” It’s not to toot my own horn or highlight how far I’ve come in two years. It’s a little more complicated than that. If we don’t appreciate the journey and we don’t stop to listen to the little realizations that creep up on us, we are tempting ourselves to slip back into the old habits that made us start the journey to begin with. If we don’t appreciate where we’ve come from, we can’t appreciate where we are going. While my head hurts a little from this one coming out of left field, I’m smiling every time I look at Paige. Partly because, as her mom, I’m just so proud of her and partly because, I’m waving goodbye to all of that weight.

I’ve lost enough weight to equal that of a teenager!

Did you know? I’m a “Biggest Loser” Reject!

Did I ever tell ya about that one time I tried out for the reality show, The Biggest Loser? The object of the show was simple: get a big group of overweight contestants together in a house, workout for 8 hours or more a day, watch the pounds fall off. The person with the biggest percentage of body weight loss won the crown. Other prizes included trips, cash prizes, and my personal favorite, a makeover with Tim Gunn.

Image result for the biggest loser

One day, I was messing around on my computer and came across the casting call information. On a whim, I submitted photos of myself, a short story of my life and voila’!; a few weeks later, the production company called me. They were going to be in St. Louis a few weeks down the road and wanted me to bring a “partner” and try out. It’s not every day that your caller ID shows, “Paramount Network” on it and it’s not every day that I was asked to try out for a reality show, or any TV show, for that matter.

At the time, I was so desperate to get back a life I had lost that I would have done anything to get a little piece of hope back into my life. Let’s face it, looking back, a huge part of my mistake and gaining weight was my nutrition. I could have worked out for 12 hours a day and wouldn’t have lost a single pound due to what and how I was eating. But I digress, this is about a bucket list item.

After I hung up the phone with the producer, I called a relative of mine and we were set. The two of us were going to take Hollywood by storm and show everyone how it’s done. I was determined that I was going to be the winner of the season.

We arrived at Planet Fitness two hours before the producers were going to open the casting call. At that time, there was a line down the front of the building and around the side. Ryan and I grabbed our lawn chairs and camped out, in the sun, in Missouri’s most humid month of the summer, awaiting our turn in front of the producers.

While we waited, we talked to the people around us. It was an insane experience. The duo in front of us were from the St. Louis area and both were bus drivers in Warrenton. The guy had tried out for the show, every year, since the second or third season! He had been to places like Chicago, waiting for his chance at the spotlight and the help he so desperately needed (like all of us). He even made it to the callbacks, once, but the show wanted partners and he didn’t have one.

I met a lady who was by herself, but determined to try and make it on the show. She was there was her kids; to give them a better life. There was a large group of “partners” who wore custom-made T-shirts and hooted and hollered, making everyone laugh. It eased the tension and the nerves and made time go a little faster.

There was a variety of people there. Groups dressed out in work-out clothes to show they were determined to start working out ASAP. Others wore their everyday gear. I chose to go with something that reflected who I was: a blue summer dress, a statement necklace and sandals with a Betsy Johnson designer handbag. My partner and I nicknamed our team, Team Best-Dressed.

Team Best Dressed in Action!

When the line moved, it crawled. The sun was shining, the temperatures were rising and we were sweating. I bet I lost five pounds of water weight that day. Even with the uncomfortable nature of the day, everyone was in high spirits. Our lives were going to change.

Once our spot in line crept to the halfway point, around the side of Planet Fitness, we were given a surprise! Some finalists from previous seasons of The Biggest Loser were greeting people in line. I managed to grab a selfie with one of the contestants, who I thought was a beast on her season, Sonya Jones. She pushed herself farther than any other contestant, past or at that time, present.

Me with Sonya Jones

They would give quizzes to people in line or challenge them to a quick fitness test, if they won, those people could jump ahead into the air-conditioning part of the line. I didn’t get challenged, but it was fun to watch those who did.

Everyone in line was so supportive and sweet and kind. I think that’s what made the moment so great, in my opinion. Even when a truck full of young men drove away from Planet Fitness, yelling and oinking at the people in line (me included), no one let it get them down. No one cried. We didn’t focus on that defining negative moment, we focused on what was in front of us: the chance to change and improve our health and our lives.

When we finally made it into the building, I dashed to the bathroom- it was at least a three hour wait for me at that point. I tried to freshen up with Bath & Body Works spray, baby wipes and more deodorant. Some people tried out the fitness machines while they waited and others just focused on what they were going to say during “their moment”.

After another hour, it was finally our turn. We were put into a large group, which included our new friends and the producers asked us who we were, who we were to each other and then came one question, the only question they asked us: what is your biggest accomplishment? My mind raced. What was I going to say? What was it about me that stood out? I chose my career, after my children, of course.

That my friends is the one thing I kick myself for everyday. My biggest accomplishment is never giving up. In 2004, when I became sick with a mysterious ailment that took doctors months to figure out; I never gave up. When I underwent more than 13 lumbar punctures in a period of three years because of that illness; I never gave up. When I started running and dropped weight and felt great, only to have it taken away from me; I never gave up. When I started Cross-Fit and slimmed down, but had to stop because of a surgery and an eight-week recovery period; I didn’t give up. When I wasn’t chosen to be on the last season of The Biggest Loser; I never gave up. Giving up wasn’t even an option to me at that point.

I still smiled after I was ultimately rejected!

After our time to shine was up, my partner and I left. We had lunch at my hotel and the waiting game was on. If we were chosen for a callback, we would know by 10 p.m. that night. When it hit 10:15, I knew life had other plans. I grabbed my stuff and drove home. Did I mention while waiting for that call of fate, I made sure I had plenty of Diet Pepsi and a dinner of short ribs, complete with a dessert? Yeah, I was ready for change, wasn’t I? Not.

All of this happened in July 2015. It would take two years before I made the step that led me to this point in my life. Two years! Two years of doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. It was insane. I felt insane and out of control and overwhelmed. I truly hit rock bottom.

That’s what I needed. I didn’t need a reality show to make my dreams come true. I needed me. I needed to accept myself and love who I am- the good and the bad. That’s what I’ve done. It’s been a bumpy ride, but man, has it been worth it!

So that my friends, is my brush with potential TV fame! I think I’ll take this journey anyday. But I did manage to check a few things off my bucket list: tried out for a TV show; started a blog; and found the new me! Several items remain on my bucket list including that makeover from Tim Gunn!

While I’m not a reality TV queen; I am a much happier person today! But I’m still holding out for the makeover with Tim Gunn!

Who is that in the mirror?!

I always said when I started gaining weight, I never looked in the mirror and saw someone who was “fat”. I still saw the thinner person I was prior to the weight. Even though my jean size crept up and up and up and my shirts started getting tighter, I just never really saw it.

With the weight loss something changed- I don’t see it as much as I thought I would. Kind of crazy, huh? My brain would trick me into not seeing the fat, but once the fat was gone, I couldn’t see the progress either. What a letdown! Yes, I knew things were changing. I knew the sizes were dropping and people would always give me compliments, but I never really saw it.

This weekend I had one of those life-changing moments. It was the exact moment that my brain finally saw what my eyes were trying to show it and it felt incredible! It was like the skies parted, the sun shone down (even though it was at night) and the angels started singing, “Hallelujah!”

This coming weekend, I am giving a presentation on social media and since it’s March and should feel like we’re closer to spring, I wanted a new outfit to make me feel good and show off the brightness of the season instead of the drab of winter. So my husband and I headed off to the Mall when I walked into Penny’s and started looking around.

My style anymore is quite simple. I’m happiest in jeans and tees and sneakers. When I dress up, I can go from flowy maxi dresses to heels and cocktail outfits or anything in between. I don’t do it very often, so when I finally take the plunge, I’m ready to roll in anything.

As I walked around the store, I wasn’t feeling much. I grabbed a pair of pants, a dressy top and a couple of dresses. I then laid my eyes on a red pencil skirt and matching sweater by Liz Claiborne. They paired it with a jean jacket and I could see myself wearing white tennis shoes to set it off. It looked the most like the “Leslie” I am today. Of course, I grabbed a larger size skirt and a size 14, thinking I’d never fit into it.

Remember me talking about having to fight that habit of constantly grabbing the larger size and not believing I’ve lost as much as I have? Well, it struck again last weekend and I had no idea until I got in the dressing room! As I slid on the large sweater and 14 skirt, I was shocked. I was swimming in both of them! The skirt slid on without unzipping it and the sweater, well, it was hanging off of me, kind of like it did on the hanger.

In that moment, I finally got it! No more settling. I got dressed, walked out of the dressing room, grabbed my husband’s hand and marched (not walked, marched) down to a store that I’ve always loved the fashions, but I never thought I could ever, in my wildest dreams, wear them!

We walked into Alter’d State and I started pulling dresses off the racks- all in a size large! Low and behold, I ignored the XL sizes and picked up the larges. I was so terrified; my hands were shaking. It’s sad to say it was the most courageous thing I’ve ever done because I was that scared. If they didn’t fit, I was going to be devastated. If they did, I’d owe it to myself to realize how far I’ve come. Ladies- I was so terrified that I made Scott come into the dressing room with me so I wasn’t alone!

Amazed, I tried on dress after dress and they all fit! Sure, some weren’t “right” for the occasion, but I wasn’t popping buttons or busting out the seams. Then I spotted it. The most perfect Navy blue maxi dress. It had a lace cutout above the waist and the most beautiful fabric. I slipped it over my head and gasped when I looked in the mirror. Tears appeared in the corner of my eyes as I finally saw what my body has been trying to tell me for months. I saw the skinny me! Oh, how I never wanted to take off that dress. But, alas, I had to pay for it.

As I waited in line, to pay, I think I stood up straighter. I carried that bag out of the store with a pride in myself that I haven’t had in a long time. I might not get to wear “the” dress to my presentation this weekend, as the high is in the 20s, but it’s in my closet, waiting for the perfect moment when I’m gonna shine.

When people say this surgery is life-changing, it really isn’t a lie. It really does change your perspective. Sometimes, it’s a little forced; other times, it’s a subtle reminder; and for a few glorious times, it comes out of left-field and hits you so hard that you see stars. Every single time it happens, it’s always, always worth it!

Image may contain: Leslie Meyer, smiling, standing
Sorry guys- y’all didn’t think I would show you the dress before I got to wear it, did ya? For the record, I’m down five pant sizes to a size 12 and my shirt size is now a medium!