26 May My Weight Loss Journey
Since I was about 12 years old, I have struggled with my weight. Up and down, trying all the fad diets, anything to help me lose the extra weight. Atkins, Weight Watchers, HCG, Dr. Bernstein, I also had a personal trainer and a nutritionist-made food plan. I lost weight, yes, but never enough and never for good. I think partly because I wasn’t mentally/emotionally ready to, and also after years of my weight fluctuating so drastically, I don’t think my body knew what “normal” was anymore. I had also gone on the birth control injection back in 2010 and it increased my appetite so much I gained 80 lbs that year.
In the fall of 2017, a friend of mine told me she had this “magical surgery” done in Mexico… I was intrigued when she said she has lost 25lbs in just her first month, and was basically just not hungry and couldn’t eat as much. At this point, I hadn’t really looked into surgery as an option and this sounded too good to be true. Anyways, I didn’t really do anything with this information as the idea of surgery, let alone in Mexico, was sort of absurd to me.
About 3 months later, in early 2018, another friend of mine said she was having the SAME SURGERY, except hers was being done locally in Canada, covered by our health care system (MSP). I thought “wow, ok so apparently this procedure is actually more common than I thought and not some unheard of rare new thing’. So… I looked into it. I researched and researched, checking out hospitals and prices, reaching out to people on IG that had done the surgery and kept gathering any info I could.
The procedure is called “VSG” (Vertical Sleeve Gastrectomy) aka “Gastric Sleeve Surgery”. From what I researched (don’t quote me), to qualify through Canada’s medical system, your BMI (Body Mass Index – aka a very general formula used to calculate how much you should weigh based on your height) has to be over 40, or over 35 with another comorbidity/health issue (diabetes, sleep apnea, high blood pressure). Luckily, I had no other health issues, but at my heaviest my BMI was about 37, therefore not able to qualify to have it covered by MSP. I wasn’t quite ready to pull the trigger on this, but it stayed in the back of my mind for sure.
Fast forward to Spring 2018, Keith (my significant other) and I tried The Keto Diet. Very similar to Atkins, being low carb, no sugar, high fat. I am a savoury lover so it wasn’t very hard for me to cut out sugar, and I already didn’t eat a lot of wheat anyways since it usually bothered my stomach. I lost about 20lbs in 2 months and then stalled, Keith lost nearly 40…which was SO annoying as I worked my ass off and he was doubling my weight loss.I kept trying, but couldn’t drop more than the initial 20lbs. Despite my efforts, I wasn’t seeing results… meanwhile both my friends that had VSG were losing SO MUCH weight!
Unable to qualify through MSP, I looked into having the surgery done privately in Canada. Ummm… yea … $20,000 – $25,000! I didn’t just have that laying around. So, I was basically in this awkward limbo state… significantly overweight but not quiiiiite overweight enough to be covered through MSP. WTF, how annoying is that. I wasn’t about to gain MORE weight just to qualify, plus the wait time once you qualify is anywhere from a year to two years!
Frustrated with Canada’s medical system, I started interrogating my friend who had the surgery it done in Mexico, got all the details on where, how, who. Turns out in Mexico the requirement is a BMI of 35, or 30 with another comorbidity/health issue. Yay! I qualified 🙂
(Please keep in mind this was my experience and I am by no means an expert on the qualification process or surgery nor is anything contained in this blog an endorsement, or medical advice)
Being apprehensive about having surgery abroad, I didn’t really trust anywhere except the same place my friend went. So, I booked my surgery for the same location, hospital and surgeon.
You basically have to fill out an online form with your health history etc, they got back to me to tell me if I qualified and then I put a $500 deposit down to secure my date.
Done ! Holy crap! I was booked in! My friend Jenni (who’s an amazing producer/director) came with me and we discussed filming and documenting the journey so I could share it with all of you! Keith wanted to be there for me but unfortunately wasn’t able to get the time off work and I wanted to go when we had a break in our filming schedule at work so I didn’t have to take any extra time off!
If you’re considering this type of procedure, my suggestion would be to bring someone with you, but be selective. You want someone you trust, who supports the decision you’re making, but also someone who can handle possible stressful situations and keep their shit together to be your rock!
This is very personal decision and not one to be taken lightly. You need to be informed, do your research and be mentally and emotionally ready as well as have a good support system around you.
The surgery I had done is called VSG (vertical sleeve gastrecomy) aka Gastric Sleeve. There are a few bariatric surgery options such as Gastive Sleeve, Gastric Bypass, Duodenal Switch and Lap Band. I chose VSG because I wanted my body to function normally. With gastric bypass, I believe they reroute your esophagus so it attaches to your lower intestines and bypasses your stomach. I think this surgery is more common for people with stomach issues or people with diabetes, where it’s best to bypass the stomach altogether. It has a higher retention for long term weight loss, but also poses more risks in terms of malabsorption and vitamin deficiency. The bypass surgery is quite a bit more invasive and also has a longer recovery period. I personally wasn’t having digestion or stomach issues and wanted the least invasive/drastic surgery possible.
The general idea behind VSG is a reduced stomach size. The smaller the stomach, the less food you intake, therefore you are satisfied with less calories consumed. That being said, you can’t just eat a chocolate bar and drink a can of pop, you need to be quite diligent in making sure you’re consuming healthy foods especially since your stomach is so small. You don’t want to risk filling up on empty calories and not taking in the proper nutrients your body needs.
Something to know about VSG vs Gastric Bypass:VSG is IRREVERSIBLE. They remove 80% of your stomach and it cannot be undone. Where as Gastric Bypass they leave your stomach attached inside so it stays alive etc therefore the procedure can be reversed.
Stomach stretching post op: you need to be diligent with the amount of food you’re eating. I believe the reason bypass surgery tends to be longer term weight loss is because with VSG, your stomach is very small to begin with, but like most tissue – can be stretched out. A lot of patients who aren’t conscious of portion size can slowly eat more and more and stretch out their stomach after a few years which defeats the purpose of the surgery.
The cost of my surgery was $4,900 USD, and included 2 nights hotel (night before surgery and night after your hospital stay) and your night in the hospital, of course. I took my friend Jenni with me and we extended our hotel stay as we wanted to spend a little time enjoying the sun 🙂 I think it was around $100/night for the hotel. I also paid for the hotel for Jenni the night I was in the hospital. I guess a lot of people travel alone for this surgery, so the room isn’t booked/needed the night/nights you’re in the hospital.
The hotel that’s included in the surgery price is called “Paradise Village” and it was pretty cute, not the nicest hotel I’ve ever been to but far from the worst! It is NOT an all-inclusive resort (I imagine it would be absolute torture to stay at an all-inclusive resort with food and alcohol surrounding you, when you can’t eat or drink anything ha). There was a grocery store that was a 3 minute walk from the hotel, this is where I stocked up on juice and broth for prep and recovery.
Single incision: I paid an extra $1,500 USD to have only 1 incision made through my belly button. This meant less scars as they normally do 5 small incisions on your upper abdomen. From what I researched, the scars from the 5 incisions are small and fade fairly well within a year or 2, but personally I thought, if there’s ever a chance i’ll show my stomach in a bikini, I’d rather have less scarring to accompany my already stretch marked tummy lol
Depending on your BMI, you start your pre-op diet anywhere from 10-20 days before surgery, and the liquid portion 3-10 days prior.
I was on the 10 day pre op diet – The first 7 of which were basically protein shakes during the day, and a salad with lean protein for dinner. The last 3 days before surgery was a clear liquids only period;broth, juice, tea, popsicles.
The clear liquid stage wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be. The chicken and vegetable broth really helped as I love savoury foods, but juice all day gets to be a bit much. Also, mind over matter – I could do anything for 3 days. The worst of it was the night before my flight to Mexico I attended a friend’s wedding… and had to sit there sipping my cranberry juice pushing food around my plate while everyone else ate delicious food and drank wine lol.
The flight to Mexico was quick and easy, didn’t have a direct flight to Puerto Vallarta because of the time of year I went (early October) but it didn’t matter to me. As long as I had a direct flight on my way home after surgery (which we did).
When we arrived in PV, Dr. Leo from the hospital met us at the airport. I found it a little odd that a doctor was driving us around, but it made sense when we got to talking. They used to hire a driver to shuttle people back and forth from the airport to the hotel, but after so many patients, like myself, spent the entire ride asking a billion questions about the surgery, what to expect etc, they decided it would be nice if the doctor was the person to do pick ups/drop offs. This was actually SO relieving and such a good idea. Dr. Leo completely put me at ease. How unreal is it that an actual DOCTOR comes to pick you up at the airport to answer all your questions…. ummm that would NEVER happen in Canada!
The Lead Up
The morning of surgery, Dr. Leo picked us up at the hotel and took us to the hospital. Holy gorgeous hospital! Sooo nice, modern, clean, absolutely beautiful. Dr. Leo walked us through our check-in and about 5 nurses were there, taking my weight, blood pressure etc. Then… it was time to go upstairs!
OK, so, I haven’t spent a TON of time at hospitals in my life (thank goodness) but enough to know that this was not your average hospital experience. I had a massive private room, massive bathroom, and right away I had more nurses than I could imagine there. Jenni (who is Scottish and had never been to Mexico, was swooning over how gorgeous the nurses and doctors were. “Omg….these male nurses are gooorrgeeousss” lol). They took my blood to run pre op tests, put an IV in, monitored my stats etc.
I spent about 4 hours in the room just hanging out and waiting, during which time the nutritionist/patient coordinator, anesthesiologist, pharmacist, post care doctor, and surgeon came by to speak with me. They went over their part in the whole process and explained everything to me in detail. This was also a very relaxing experience, getting to meet all the people who were involved made me feel completely taken care of and at ease.
When it was my time, the anesthesiologist took me downstairs to the OR, put some of the good shit into my IV line to keep me relaxed, and off I went! Before I completely passed out I remember seeing the OR which was super cool. Really clean and sort of looked space age like. All these big lights and cool equipment.
To be completely honest the recovery was pretty easy for me! Immediately after surgery when I woke up at the hospital my upper body was pretty sore. They ask you to walk every hour for at least 10 minutes. They use gas during the surgery to inflate your stomach so they can see inside with the scope, so the walking helps get you breathing and lets your body expel that gas. I was released the next day in the later afternoon and then I spent the next 5 days relaxing poolside. (You can’t swim in the pool after surgery but you can definitely enjoy the sunshine!) We walked around Puerto Vallarta 2 days later, taking it easy when sitting down and standing up, but walking itself was pretty easy!
The incision in my belly button wasn’t painful really, I was a little obsessed with looking at it all the time and making sure it was clean. Jenni kept on me about leaving it alone so it had time to heal, but I had to fight the urge to kind of lift my belly and creep on it lol. It healed really well and it’s now a small little scar that isn’t seen.
Follow up back home – Here in Canada our healthcare system will look after me even if I’d had surgery abroad. So I’ve had my follow up bloodwork and check ups done here and it’s been totally fine! At my 6 month post op check up my vitamin D levels were slightly low (Doctor said with the amount of sun we don’t get it’s common for it to be low anyways) So he increased my Vitamin D levels and I’ll need to go back for another test here shortly. All in all it’s been a breeze!
Post Surgery Eating
After the procedure I am definitely in a different frame of mind. I’m not “obsessed” with food like I was before. I used to CONSTANTLY think about food, what I was going to eat, when I was going to eat… planning out my days around food. I feel like I’ve got such a different outlook on eating now. Of course, I still love food and enjoy eating and going out with friends, but I view it differently now. I think because now I can eat a small portion of food and be satisfied, I’m not gorging myself until the point of over fullness and uncomfortableness.
I used to think more food meant more satisfaction. Myself, and I’m assuming like a lot of others, have been taught from a young age to “finish what’s on your plate”, not to blame my parents but we are preconditioned to continue eating even after we are full. I’m not really sure how or why the surgery has helped with this, but maybe because I can’t physically eat like that anymore or I will literally throw it up… so it takes that “more equals better” equation out of it. There are definitely times when I wish I could eat more because the food I’m eating is so yummy, but I’m not constantly hungry anymore and I can eat a small healthy portion of food (and occasionally a small portion of UNHEALTHY food) and be satisfied. So now, I stop eating when I’m NOT HUNGRY instead of stopping when I’m STUFFED!
The instructions after surgery are to continue a healthy lifestyle: low carb/sugar, moderate protein and low fat. Of course, this is a good guideline to follow, but let’s be honest with ourselves… FOOD IS DELICIOUS! I don’t know if I’m doing it the right way or the wrong way, but I’m doing it how I feel is maintainable for ME and will be something I can feel good about long term. I eat clean about 80% of the time, and the other 20% I drink wine and eat carbs. I don’t overeat, and I still have to make conscious decisions to choose good foods…. let’s be clear here, it’s not like this surgery all of sudden makes you dislike chocolate and suddenly love kale and carrots… so you still have to practice self control! But what this surgery DOES give you is the ability to eat a healthy and realistic portion of food and feel SATISFIED! AHHHMEENN SISTA!
Side note – They suggest protein shakes as a good snack or meal replacement in the beginning. They’re supposed to be a certain amount of carbs and protein. My favourite is Premiere Protein – I really liked Chocolate, Vanilla, Peaches and Cream, and Cookies and Cream. However – they do contain milk products and I did find that being slightly lactose intolerant, they did make me a touch nauseous. (I also didn’t love the protein powder, the pre mixed single serving shakes were better.)
Writing this blog and I’m now 7 months post surgery and feeling amazing! Everyone is different, obviously, but I’ve barely had any issues. My 3 complaints…
Heartburn – I had heartburn before surgery, and they say VSG can either make it better, or make it worse. In my case it made it worse. I think it’s because my stomach is now so small that there is nowhere for the bile to go so it pushes up into my esophagus (I’m no doctor but that’s my hypothesis lol). But that being said, I have a prescription for Nexium and taking that every morning I have ZERO heartburn issues.
Vomitting – My new stomach is small, like small small, can fit roughly 3/4 – 1 cup of food at a time. For the last how many years I’ve been able to eat MUCH much more and much faster. Working as a makeup artist there isn’t always a lot of down time between clients and I was so used to stuffing my face as fast as I could so I could get back to work. Well after the 3 weeks of liquid and soft food stage when you start eating solid foods again, it definitely takes some getting used to how fast you can eat. If you eat too quickly your stomach pouch can’t handle it all and I tend to vomit. I find this happens more often at restaurants when I’m not being conscious of how quickly I’m eating, more caught up in conversation and end up not taking as many breaks in between bites. Good news is, because of the Nexium that I take, I don’t produce as much bile and my puke doesn’t actually have that nasty puke taste! Just tastes like I’m having round 2 of dinner HAHAHA.
Pooping – I don’t poop nearly as often now *insert sad face* I used to poop every day, and I love pooping lol. Now because of the small portions I just don’t have as much food waste in my body, therefore less food waste means less poop! It’s not exactly a BAD thing, but I definitely do enjoy being more regular. I did find that right after surgery when I started eating solid food again, they emphasize how important it is to eat your protein first before the veggies etc. Makes sense, they want to make sure you’re getting as many nutrient based foods in you since you can only eat such a small portion. This however, only made the poop situation worse for me. Once I figured this out and started adding some fibrous carbs back into my diet I was much happier to visit the bathroom more regularly LOL.
Probably the biggest concern I had. Loose skin is definitely becoming an issue the more weight I lose. You see a lot of women who get pregnant, gain weight and then have their baby, lose all the weight and they have basically no stretch marks or loose skin (lucky!). Well there’s 2 factors there… genetics, and time. The duration of a pregnancy is 9 months, so even though your skin stretches to accomodate your new baby bump, it’s only doing so for a short period of time. If you’ve been overweight for years, unfortunately you’re much more likely to have excess skin after a large weight loss. Your skin has been stretched for so many years and the elasticity just isn’t the same anymore.
With that and plain old genetics, some people are just luckier than others when it comes to stretch marks and elasticity. Some research I’ve done says that sun exposure also plays a small role in how quickly or how well your skin will tighten back up, but the down and dirty is that you really just don’t and can’t possibly know ahead of time.
That being said: yes my boobs have deflated, yes my tummy and arms and inner thighs are a bit on the saggy side. I still have some chub in my lower belly, so I imagine the floppy skin is only going to get worse when I lose that extra fat – but yes… when I lean forward my stomach gets a bit wrinkly and crepe-y. Would I take all the extra weight back just to have tighter skin?? HELL NO! Hopefully with time, the collagen and biotin supplements I take, my skin will tighten up a little… but if it doesn’t… then I can either choose to accept it or explore the option of skin removal surgery! Either way, I’ll take my loose skin over the excess fat any day!
Another concern I had since I already didn’t have the thickest of hair. It happened just as they said – at the 3 month post surgery mark. It lasted about 3 months all together. I normally brush it when it’s dry – before the shower (so I don’t get a bunch of hair clogging my shower drain) but the strange part is even though I felt like I had SO much hair come out in the shower, I didn’t actually ever feel like my hair got thin. I feel like this must be directly related to the amount of Collagen and Biotin I was taking. I must have had new growth coming in as I started taking these supplements 1 week after surgery.
My friend who had her surgery done in Canada also experienced a LOT of hair loss – except hers was noticeably thinner than before – but I think the difference was that she wasn’t taking Collagen Powder or Biotin supplements.
At the hospital in Puerto Vallarta they give you the option of purchasing the “bariatric go” kit – which I did. I love the supplements and it’s almost impossible to find vitamins in Canada with the same amounts/levels of vitamins. However – the kit you get from them also has Collagen/Biotin powder and protein powder – which I DID NOT like. The Collagen/Biotin powder is Tutti Frutti flavour and I couldn’t even choke down 3 sips of it – not to mention it didn’t fully dissolve so it was like drinking an artificially sweetened cup of sand water.
I would HIGHLY recommend ordering your supplements through Bariatric GO before your surgery, but I would just order the Multivitamin and the D3/Iron. My favourite Collagen powder is WithinUs TruMarine Collagen, and I take the Nature’s Bounty Biotin capsules.
Was it worth it?
1000% worth every penny and every bit of loose skin. Self elective surgery is a very big, very serious decision to make, but I feel like I have my life back. Not only do I feel a huge boost in my overall confidence, but I PHYSICALLY feel better. My knees and lower back don’t hurt like they used to, I’m more flexible and don’t tire as easily. I can walk up a hill with my makeup bag over my shoulder and I’m not huffing and out of breath. My SKIN is clearer! My digestive system is better (although I don’t poop as often as I’d like anymore, it’s definitely not a running to the toilet from indigestion situation anymore). There are SO many reasons I wish I’d known about this surgery 10 years ago! That being said, I have grown into the person I am today because of everything I’ve gone through, and I am grateful for all the crazy ups and downs that have made me ME… but to sum it up… yes, it’s only been 7 months and it has definitely changed my life for the better!
Why I’m sharing
A lot of people who have weight loss surgery tend to keep it to themselves, whether they’re embarrassed or afraid of being judged, or maybe they’re just private about their lives. Having this surgery isn’t a light hearted decision, you need to really be ready for it and I was. I was tired of struggling with my weight and although I’d finally reached a point of good self worth and self esteem in my late 20’s with who I was, I still at times struggled about my body. I’ve always been a confident and outgoing person and feel very passionate about loving yourself at every stage no matter what. Our bodies take us through this crazy journey of life and we need to appreciate them for all they do.
That being said, I don’t ever think there’s anything wrong with wanting to change your body, whether that be for health reasons OR purely for aesthetic reasons. I believe everyone is entitled to be who they want to be and look how they want to look. This doesn’t mean that I think anyone who is bigger should be skinnier or should want to lose weight, it means that everyone has a right to DO THEM!! No judgement. My body is MY BODY, and no one else’s and I choose to do with it what I please. I understand that everything I do with my body like Botox, lip filler, tattoos, dyed hair, surgery etc., is not for everyone and not everyone will agree with it. But that’s the best part of being me…. I get to decide what I want 🙂
I am choosing to share my experience with all of you as I hope I can inspire you to do what feels right for YOU! Maybe you have struggled with your weight and surgery is something you have looked into or want to look into. I am merely just sharing my journey with you and if I can help someone along their journey than I am grateful for that! If out of all of this I can help even ONE person, then that is worth being vulnerable and sharing this part of myself with you.
Hospital – San Javier Riviera (Nuevo Vallarta, Mexico) 20 minute drive from central Puerto Vallarta, 10 minute drive from PVR airport
Hotel – Paradise Village Hotel (Nuevo Vallarta, Mexico) 5 minute walk from Hospital
Airport – Puerto Vallarta International Airport (PVR)
Surgeon : Dr. Alejandro Lopez
Price – $4,900 USD + $1,500 USD if you want the single incision.
Hiatal Hernia Repair – $350 USD – determined during surgery if you need to repair the hiatal hernia
Payment – $500 USD deposit – paid by credit card upon booking. Remainder paid in person at the hospital
Process – Everything was done online through Anakaren – their patient coordinator/nutritionist. I filled out the form on their website (medical history, health stats) and Anakaren got back to me via email with everything I needed in order to book
Medical Tourism Insurance – $136USD for $5000 emergency medical coverage (You can choose your preferred coverage amount)
Flight – I chose to fly direct so I didn’t have connections to make on my way home after surgery. You are instructed to walk every hour – up and down the aisles
Minimum length of stay – 3 nights (hotel night before surgery, hospital night of surgery, hotel night after surgery)
Maximum length of stay – As long as you like! I stayed an extra 5 days post surgery to enjoy the sun and city!
Ground transport in Mexico – One of the doctors from the Hospital picks you up from the airport and takes you to the hotel, takes you to the hospital on surgery day, takes you back to the hotel after surgery and takes you back to the airport when you leave.
What is the surgery – Gastric Sleeve/Vertical Sleeve Gastrectomy – removal of 80% of your actual stomach (the organ, not the belly)
Purpose – To decrease your food intake by reducing the amount of food you’re able to eat, which allows you to lower your caloric intake
Type of surgery – laparoscopic (1-5 small incisions in the abdomen inserting illuminated tubes that are equipped with a camera and attached to a computer screen) I had the “single incision” – 1 incision through my belly button, instead of the 5 on my abdomen. Additional $1500.00 USD
Length of surgery – 90 minutes or less
Hiatal Hernia – During surgery they can see if you have a hiatal hernia (when your stomach is pushing through up into your esophagus – 75% of overweight patients have this) This was $350 USD
Pre/Post OP Diet – Depending on your BMI, you are instructed to start your pre-op diet anywhere from 10-20 days before surgery, and the liquid portion 3-10 days prior.
Pre op diet – My BMI was under 40 so I was on the 10 day. The first 7 days are protein shakes/broth/juice during the day, and a salad with lean protein for dinner.
The last 3 days before surgery was a clear liquid diet only. Clear broth/juice/tea/popsicles/Jello
Post op diet – Week 1 – clear liquids only, week 2 – thicker liquids, week 3 – pureed/soft food, week 4 – normal food (being cautious and eating SMALL portions and chewing well and eating slowly)
Length of stay at hospital – 1 to 2 nights post surgery
Pain – Everyone’s pain tolerance is different, I would say mine is average to low. Pain immediately after surgery for the following 5 hours was approximately 6/10. This pain was NOT in my stomach – it was in my shoulders and upper body. Apparently the gas they use to inflate your stomach during surgery ends up in your upper body. It is suggested to walk every hour for 10-15 minutes to help your body release the gas through your breathing. That in combination from your arms being placed above your head during surgery can cause some soreness (sort of feels like you slept funny all night and your body is tight and uncomfortable)
Pain from day 2-5 was around 3/10, only felt when moving from sitting/standing. Most of this was a bit of tenderness in my abdomen (felt like i’d done 1000 sit-ups and my belly button incision was a bit tender). The main reason I took the oral pain killers they provided, was lower back pain. I think because I’m a side sleeper and I felt like I wasn’t able to sleep on my side properly because my belly button felt funny. I feel like if I had gone home 2 days after surgery instead of extending my stay – I would have had my body pillow and my cushy bed and been much more comfortable.
I lost a big chunk of weight in the first 30 days:25lbs. In total I’ve lost 74lbs to date. 20lbs from the Keto diet/pre surgery diet, and 54lbs post surgery. Weight loss has definitely slowed as I get closer to my goal but I’d like to lose another 40lbs or so and build some muscle and get in better shape.
If you have any questions or want to talk, please feel free to email me!