Patient Story

Not A Simple Fix: A Worthwhile Weight-Loss Journey

"My daily goal now is to prioritize me, stay calm, and enjoy the ride." —Esther Grenz

The first time I sat with Brent Sorensen, MD, at Saint Luke’s Center for Surgical Weight Loss to discuss gastric bypass surgery, he read through a list of weight-loss programs and diets, wanting to know which ones I’d tried before.

The one with points? Several times.

The one with freeze-dried meal plans? When I was 12.

Shakes? Of course.

High fat? Yup.

Low fat? Duh.

Over-the-counter diuretics and certain now-banned prescription anorectics? Let’s not discuss the ’90s, shall we?

He could’ve also mentioned never-used gym memberships, unwatched aerobic DVDs, herbal supplements, nutritionists, and hypnosis. Check, check, checkity-check!

My husband, Chris, had been saying for years that he thought gastric bypass seemed too drastic.

“You don’t need it anyway,” he said, bless his soul.

On the drive home from that appointment, however, Chris said he was stunned at how many diets I had said “yes” to. He suggested going back to the points. Or try a new diet! He confessed he had never realized just how many new ones I’d already tried.

I’d tried it all. I'd been overweight since I was 7 years old.

That was a big moment. Chris now truly understood my desperation. Since I’d been a little kid, I’d been in a long, dark tunnel. Gastric bypass appeared as a tiny pinhole of light at the end of it.

I weighed 279 pounds at my final pre-surgery appointment in November 2018. My jeans, size 24. I was a 42-year-old arthritic, pre-diabetic mother of two, managing chronic acid reflux, lower back pain, and urinary incontinence. Not to mention stumbling around daily with a pretty-serious lack of self-esteem.

It was so much more than being unhappy with my plus-size body. I was sick and sedentary. When it came to how I looked, dressed, and felt about myself, I had surrendered long ago.

Does this story sound familiar? If so, I have good news. There’s a happy ending.

After three years, 142 pounds, nine dress sizes, 15,000 minutes of meditation, dozens of behavioral therapy sessions, two finished 5Ks, and one global pandemic—I’m proud to say I know a few things about pulling off a successful surgical weight-loss journey.

I’d never tell anyone they need bariatric surgery. That’s a decision for you and your physician, only.

I can, however, offer a few tips on how to approach the process:.

1. Find and assemble your people.

Maybe it’s a best friend, a sibling, or a support group. It doesn’t matter who they are, as long as they’re who you need during those hardest times. Not the person who says gastric bypass is “the easy way out” because, trust me, it’s not. When those hard times come, your support system will be your salvation. For me, Chris and our kids were my cheering section, my daily motivation, and my rock—all wrapped into one.

2. Remember your mental health.

For many struggling with years of obesity, the hard truth is it’s often not about the food. Not really. That’s why, for real long-term success, the solution must be more than surgical. Working on your mental health with a qualified therapist will help you tackle the deeper issues that created the unhealthy and unhappy you. With hard work and the right tools, you can shed some demons with those pounds permanently.

3. Pick the right team.

Surgical weight loss doesn’t just happen in the surgical suite. It’s a lifetime of maintenance with your surgeon, nurses, dietitian, and exercise physiologist. Choosing the right team means finding the qualified experts you like and trust. You’ll need that expertise when the questions keep coming, day and night. You’ll want someone reliable weeks, months, and years down the road.

4. Keep calm and trust the process.

Think of surgical weight loss like a road trip. For the first long leg, the surgery will be in the driver’s seat, deciding not only where you’re going, but also how fast you’ll arrive and how many pitstops you’ll make along the way. You’re the navigator. Make sure the tank is filled with the right fuel. Rest and move your body frequently. Stay on the right road by following the directions closely. There will be times when none of that will seem like enough. Sometimes you’ll be in the passenger seat, frustrated by everything out of your control. It's all part of the journey. All you can do is your part, which likely will change and change again, just like your body. Turn up some music, relax, enjoy the ride.

5. Make YOU the priority.

Consider your top three priorities in life—the things for which you would work, fight, and sacrifice. Is health and happiness on your list? Is it in the Top Five? Top 10? Massive weight loss comes with massive change. Making yourself a top priority in your life is a crucial part of that change. It has to be for long-term success. You must learn to say yes to what helps you reach your goals, and, maybe more importantly, you have to say no to what doesn’t.

There’s no magic in weight loss success. After decades of diets and disappointments, I’m so grateful I learned Saint Luke’s Center for Surgical Weight Loss had a formula that worked for me like it has for so many others.

My daily goal now is to prioritize me, stay calm, and enjoy the ride.

Esther Grenz is a Saint Luke’s Surgical Weight Loss patient. She’s a freelance writer who lives in Shawnee, Kansas, with her husband Chris, two children, Sam and Maddie, and their two dogs, Piper and Nala.