LAKE PLACID DIET: Getting back to a normal life … whatever that means

Lake Placid News Editor Andy Flynn takes the stairs at Adirondack Medical Center on Friday, Sept. 16 prior to a doctor’s appointment on the second floor, instead of taking the elevator as usual. (News photo — Andy Flynn)

May 10: 490 lbs.

May 31 (surgery): 460 lbs.

Sept. 20: 396 lbs.

Total lost: 94 lbs.

I’ve had problems with mobility for so long, just the mention of the word “stairs” sent chills up my spine.

“No! I can’t do stairs!” I’d say.

But things are changing now that I’ve lost a lot of weight again.

Carrying around almost 500 pounds everywhere I went these past two years, the cane was my constant companion. It helped me get out of bed in the morning, move around the house, pick up laundry from the floor and get up and down the stairs at home. It helped me reach items from the top or bottom shelves at the supermarket, walk around at work and stand in lines before my knees buckled and I had to sit down.

One of my goals for 2022 is “get off the cane.” And, with more than 90 pounds lost since my prebariatric surgery diet in May, I’m getting closer to that goal.

I’ve already hit a few of my goals since having a vertical sleeve gastrectomy on May 31.

– I was finally able to “tie my sneakers by myself” on June 28 after more than two years of not being able to do so.

– I could finally “fit in my car” — a tiny 2012 Ford Focus — on July 4 after two years of driving my wife’s car because I couldn’t fit in my own.

– I can finally fit into my “skinny” pants — two sizes down from my “fat” pants — after seven years.

– In May, my belt almost couldn’t make it around my waist, as I was on the last notch. Now I’m starting to punch more holes in the belt, and I’ll soon have to buy a smaller one.

– I can comfortably fit into shirts one size smaller than my go-to 6X “fat” shirts after seven years, and I can almost fit into the 4X shirts I still have in storage.

On Sunday morning, Sept. 18, I was in my home office in the dining room, about to get up from the desk/table, and I looked around for my cane.

“Where the hell’s the cane?” I said.

Apparently, I’d left it in the kitchen. That’s a sure sign of success; not being able to find the cane. I’m relying on it less and less each day to move around. I try not to bring it to the office, grocery store or doctor’s office anymore.

One goal I recently postponed was “walk a 5k.” The biggest problem I have now is an intestinal issue common with bariatric patients: constipation. I don’t eat nearly as much as I used to, and it’s hard to stay regular. Now it could take me days to eat what I used to eat in less than an hour on a cheat day before surgery.

A McDonald’s dinner alone, I’d eat four double cheeseburgers, two large fries and dessert — maybe a pint of Ben & Jerry’s ice cream, six Dunkin’ doughnuts or a box of Little Debbie Swiss Rolls. If it was Chinese night, I’d have an order of General Tso’s chicken, half a quart of beef lo mein, a quart of white rice and five egg rolls. Now it takes me more than 30 minutes just to eat a cup of Greek yogurt, and I’m full.

So there I was on the morning of Friday, Sept. 9 — my 53rd birthday — parked at the North Elba Show Grounds about to walk the 3.1 miles I’ve been training for and looking forward to for three months. I gawked at the sunny skies, sitting next to my CamelBak hydration pack and walking poles. But I was afraid to get out of the car; my intestines were gurgling, and I wasn’t sure I could make it to a bathroom in case I had an accident. I’d been plugged up for several days. Hitting that goal, I decided, wasn’t worth the risk of soiling myself. So I went home and put off the 5k for another day.

That was a pivotal moment in my recovery. A huge burden was lifted when I chose to stop training for a 5k and start living a “normal” life.

For me, living a normal life is walking around without a cane. Not having to sit down after standing for less than 5 minutes. Not having to park in a handicapped spot. Doing chores around the house. Or taking the stairs when an elevator is a much easier option.

Instead of saving my energy for a training walk, I’m now doing normal things every day.

At the hospital last week, for my annual doctor’s visit, I took the stairs instead of the elevator to and from Dr. Buck’s office on the second floor. I drove my own car to the appointment. I didn’t park in a handicapped space. And I left my cane at home.

In the two weeks before the decision to set aside a training regimen in return for being active every day, I only lost 2 pounds. In the week after the decision, I lost 7 pounds. While weight-loss stalls are normal after bariatric surgery — as the body adjusts — I have to marvel at the numbers and admit that this new strategy may be working better than training for a 5k.

I definitely have less stress now. Walking a 5k was a personal goal, but people kept saying, “The 5k is coming up soon”“Two weeks until the 5k”“One week until the 5k.” Due to my intestinal issue, I wasn’t 100% sure if I could walk the 5k when I wanted. I didn’t want to disappoint anybody or feel like a loser; therefore, being public about that goal was causing me a lot of stress.

On Aug. 28, I walked 2.3 miles at the Show Grounds, and I’m proud of that. I certainly won’t be in shape for the Lake Placid Classic 10k race on Oct. 8, which was an early goal for my weight-loss program. Maybe I’ll walk the 5k on my own that weekend. Maybe not. For now, I’m much happier living a more normal life than training for a race. I can always do that when I’m ready — physically and mentally.

For a moment, let’s look at another weight-loss milestone, one that gets forgotten because people tend to concentrate on the weight just before starting a preop diet (490 pounds) and the weight on the day of the surgery (460 pounds). Let’s not forget my heaviest weight recorded — 499 pounds in June 2021. In the past 15 months, I’ve lost 103 pounds. That’s a number I’m extremely proud of, and being under 400 pounds again feels great.

People are asking me, “How do you feel?” My short answer is, “I feel great.” My doctor asked me this last week, followed by, “Do you have less energy?” “No,” I said, “I have a lot more energy.”

And I’m using that energy to catch up on the yard work I that’s been piling up for the past seven years. In 2014, I lost more than 80 pounds and kept most of it off for another year — walking the Lake Placid Half Marathon in June 2014 at 390 pounds and in June 2015 at 400 pounds. That’s the last time I was around 400 pounds; I started gaining all the weight back in the summer of 2015, landing on 499 pounds six years later.

As I lose more weight, I’m constantly reminded of the words my late Uncle Joe wrote to me several years ago: “Keep trying new experiences.” I’m trying to live up to those words. I try new experiences every week. While they’re not new in the sense that I’ve never done them before, they are new in the sense that I haven’t done them in a very long time.

Trimming the hedges. Cleaning the yard. Taking the stairs. All normal activities that haven’t been normal in years.

I’m also trying to stay true to a promise I made to myself in 2014 when I lost a good friend, Randy Lewis of Paul Smiths. After she died of cancer, I promised to stay active, in homage to the title of her newspaper column and book, “Actively Adirondack.” I can safely say that I am a lot more active today than I’ve been in years — even if it’s just working in the yard. And I feel great about it.

On June 5, five days after my bariatric surgery, I went back into the operating room. I had a major complication — bleeding from my surgery site — and my surgeon, Dr. Michael Hill, fixed me up. Several days later, after he cleared me to go home, I thanked him for saving my life.

“Don’t thank me now,” he said. “Thank me after you lose 80 pounds.”

On Monday, Sept. 19, during my three-month follow-up visit with Dr. Hill, I reminded him of that conversation, and I was finally able to say, “Thank you for saving my life.”

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