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When Your Weight Loss Story Is Not a Happy One

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I have lost almost 90 pounds in the past two years. You are probably thinking this is going to be one of those weight loss stories about overcoming, working hard, using diet and exercise to lose the weight. This is not that story.

In 2014 I got really sick. I was having severe stomach pain and burning in my esophagus. I was going to go home to rest but my coworkers convinced me I needed to go to the emergency room. I ended up needing to have my gallbladder removed. I had been dealing with chronic pain before surgery but nothing would prepare me for the horrors that came after surgery. For a year, I was so sick I couldn’t eat anything but chicken and rice, and even that made me sick. My stomach was so bloated it looked like I was in my second trimester and every day I woke up severely nauseated and throwing up. I was in constant pain and so sick I couldn’t sleep. Nights were the worst. I would lie awake in bed counting the hours and praying for the morning to come.

I had countless medical tests done and saw many doctors, all of which brushed me off, stating it was irritable bowel syndrome. I felt so alone. It’s hard to admit but some days death seemed like the only escape from the severe, disabling pain I was dealing with every second of every day. I was throwing up every hour, severely bloated, nauseated, unable to eat, unable to use the bathroom and I had no idea what was wrong with me.

Within the first year I had lost almost 70 pounds. The second year I lost another 30. I had just received my master’s degree in social work and was starting my professional career. I landed my dream job in a psychiatric unit at one of the best medical centers in the country. I had to give it up. I found another job I thought I could manage, but again the illness forced me to give that up as well. I felt defeated and had no real medical support until I met a compassionate primary care doctor who took my pain seriously. I was finally diagnosed with small intestinal bacterial overgrowth (SIBO), a chronic stomach infection that not only affects your gut but your entire body. If you search SIBO on Facebook, you will find a whole community of people struggling with this illness, many unable to work and disabled.

Food is something people take for granted. I certainly did when I wasn’t ill. But just like many other chronic illnesses, diet is key with my SIBO. Many foods exacerbate my symptoms, especially gluten and sugar. Eating clean, healthy unprocessed food is a crucial part of taking care of myself and managing symptoms. I have learned that is food is medicine and I am very careful with what I put into this body.

With my new diagnoses and a caring doctor, I started on the road to recovery. I still struggle every day but I am better. I have a doctor that is caring, understanding, knowledgeable and empathetic. I cannot stress how important it is to have a good doctor. I work part-time now as a school therapist, providing therapy to traumatized children and have not given up on my goals even if they take longer to accomplish.

Everyone who sees me now tells me how great I look since I lost the weight. I appreciate the sentiment but the truth is, losing the weight was extremely painful. I really don’t know how to respond to the compliments, especially when people ask how I lost the weight. Honestly, I was happier when I was heavier because I felt healthier. I may have struggled with body image issues, but I wasn’t so sick and was able to eat like everyone else.

When you see a person who has lost weight, don’t assume they are happy about the weight loss and should be congratulated. Although I understand people are coming from a good place when they compliment me, they don’t know what I went through to lose the weight. Their compliments are reminders of my illness and that horrible time in my life after surgery. This is especially true when people ask how I lost the weight. People are usually so happy and positive when asking this, but my weight loss story is not a happy one. The truth is, I don’t know how to respond because answering honestly means reliving those dark times. I understand that in this image-obsessed society, losing weight is seen as a triumph over will, but not always. Sometimes weight loss is a symptom or consequence of a physical or mental illness.

So next time you see someone who has lost weight, think before you speak. Please don’t assume weight loss is always an accomplishment of some kind, because you don’t know what that person has gone through to have that “new” body.

If you are struggling with an undiagnosed illness and it seems that no one understands, know that there are others like you out there. You are not alone. It may take time, but with proper medical treatment and a compassionate, caring medical professional, you can begin to heal.

Originally published: July 27, 2016
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