It’s a question we get asked constantly here at the Winnett Specialist Group and while we can advise patients on what they will experience, only someone that has been through the actual procedure can offer a true insight. For legal reasons, we can’t publish the story of a Winnett Specialist Group patient so we asked an anonymous sleeve gastrectomy recipient about her experience. It is important to note that while this is one person’s story of gastric sleeve surgery, everyone’s reasons, reactions and path to recovery are vastly different. This is Lauren’s* individual journey of a gastric sleeve procedure and how it has dramatically changed her lifestyle.
Lauren’s gastric sleeve journey
I was always told by doctors I was an unhealthy weight. I was shown by the media that I was an unacceptable weight. I tried every type of diet and exercise, so I did a lot of yo-yo dieting and lost and gained hundreds of kilos, always gaining back the weight that I lost and then some on top of that. I found that for someone with my build, diets and exercise are not sustainable for weight in the long term. They go through cycles of rebounding because my body wanted to go back to its set point weight.
The decision for me to undertake weight loss surgery was because I wanted to make a positive, permanent difference to my health. I also wanted to get pregnant and was unable to conceive naturally, so needed to become an eligible candidate for IVF. My BMI was in the unhealthy range so I did not qualify for this. So, I started the process of looking into options and researching surgeons.
Why did you choose gastric sleeve surgery?
It was explained to me that different surgeries have different benefits, and I made my choice for gastric sleeve based on a number of factors. Gastric sleeve was also recommended to me by the surgeon I chose as the most suitable option for my situation. I wanted something permanent, but I didn’t want a gastric bypass. I wanted a solution which meant I could lose weight quickly, but still get all the nutrients I needed. This meant I could enjoy food and my digestive tract would still be intact, I would just need to control my portion sizes. I didn’t want a LAP® BAND because while it is removable and adjustable, it isn’t technically permanent, and I wasn’t comfortable with the idea of having a foreign object in my body.
Most importantly, I wanted to qualify for IVF and get pregnant. Gastric sleeve would still allow me to eat the amount of food I needed to sustain a foetus. This is especially why I didn’t want to change my digestive system or risk deficiencies, as that would risk the health of my unborn baby.
Because I wanted to qualify for IVF, I not only needed to be the right weight but I was also at an age where my fertility was already decreasing. My egg count was lessening so I needed to lose weight within a short time frame. You also need to wait a minimum of 12-18 months until after the procedure before you can begin IVF. I was already in my late 30’s so time was critical. About a year and a half after the procedure I was able to start IVF treatment.
What was the gastric sleeve procedure like?
Before I had the procedure I went on a two-week liquid diet. I was told this was to shrink my liver because it is near the stomach so this helps it to be out of the way. It also got me used to the liquid diet that I knew I would have to go on immediately after the surgery. I was in hospital for a total of three days and two nights. I could have been in just overnight but as I had a long drive back after the surgery, the surgeon wanted to keep me for that extra night. The procedure itself took about an hour. They made five small incisions and because the procedure was laparoscopic it wasn’t super invasive. I felt a bit nauseous when I woke up from the anaesthesia and the surgeon came to see me directly afterwards. I was walking around the next day without much pain. I received some discharge information and had a follow-up appointment on day five, then on day seven, I had another check-up on the wounds.
For the first five days I was on a completely liquid diet. After day five, and as long as I was comfortable, I was allowed to try soft foods. I was very lucky to have a textbook procedure with no complications or negative side effects. Some people can develop food aversions, intolerances or gall bladder issues but I can still eat everything I did before.
How does your stomach feel post-surgery?
While liquid didn’t really fill me up, in the first few weeks I felt full really quickly when I started eating soft food. I could have just a quarter of an avocado and feel totally satisfied. I wasn’t uncomfortable at all when eating, just experienced a bit of tightness and my body telling me it didn’t want more food. I went back to a varied diet as quickly as possible for my gut microbiomes. I tried to make sure I was getting enough protein and vegetables and carbs. In the first three months my stomach was still healing so I had to be careful. A couple of weeks after the procedure I tried having a coffee and it didn’t sit well at all. A few weeks later it was fine.
Six months down the track I began eating portions similar to a small child, but in comparison, probably a tenth of the size of meals I was eating before. I found it better to have multiple small meals. Because you have less of an appetite, you do have to remind yourself to eat so you don’t get the negative side effects of hunger such as headaches or being irritable.
Has a gastric sleeve affected your ability to enjoy food?
I found that because I could eat whatever I wanted, having a small amount and feeling full, I still got to enjoy the things I wanted but just in smaller portions, and that was enough. And rather than eating things I might used to eat in whole amounts, I might just have a bit and save some for later. Like if I’m having a brownie and think ‘Oh my god this is the best brownie ever but I can’t finish it’, that doesn’t mean I have to throw it away. I can save it and have the rest later so a brownie now lasts three sessions instead of one which is awesome (unless my husband finds it and eats it first which he has quickly found out is not acceptable behaviour). Because food goes further it saves you money on your groceries as well.
How much weight did you lose from gastric sleeve surgery?
I lost around 60% of my excess weight or about 95 kilos, which was half my body weight. I also made sure I exercised so I kept losing the weight or I would have plateaued. It’s now been four years and I’ve kept most of that weight off. I did get pregnant and gained about 15 kgs which is normal. I lost about 10 kgs afterwards but with a baby it is harder for me to get the exercise I need. I can now eat average meal portions and go out for dinner with friends, I have more energy and I feel more beautiful. I also have a baby daughter which never would have happened if it weren’t for the surgery. While my surgery was really successful I think it’s important that people know that this isn’t a quick fix. It takes dedication. You can still overeat from a calorie perspective after surgery so you have to want the change and commit to it to see a true, long-term, quality of life improvement.
*Name changed to protect identity
Gastric sleeve surgery with Winnett Specialist Group
Jason Winnett and the team at Winnett Specialist Group specialise in weight loss surgeries including gastric sleeve. If you would like to know more, get in touch with our team by calling 03 9417 1555 or contact us online.