On January 21, 2016

Weight-loss feat takes grit but pays off in many ways

By Mikie Perkins

Lisa Navarrete decided not to wait until the dawn of the new year to lose weight. She started her journey on the path to good health more than a year ago and since then has walked herself all the way to “One-der Land.”

“I wasn’t just fat,” said Navarrete. “I was morbidly obese.”

Tipping the scales with nearly 280 pounds on her tiny 5’ 2” frame, Navarrete said it was time to do something about her weight. Her favorite dress was a size 26, and she struggled to complete even simple physical tasks.

“I took a long, hard look at myself in the mirror one day and realized I was killing myself,” said Navarrete. “I was slowly just killing myself with my food addiction.”

The 52-year-old said she was so obsessed with food that she would go to bed at night thinking about what she was going to eat the next day. She says she was a stress eater and ate whatever she wanted and as much of it as she could. “I loved anything with heavy cream, chocolate or salt. I probably ate more than 3,000 calories every day.”

In August of 2014, Navarrete said her weight became such a serious health issue, she believed medical intervention was the only way to save her life. She decided to take the first of many steps toward a future that would include a stint in the operating room to undergo gastric bypass surgery. And while she knew the surgery would not be a quick fix, she found out very quickly just exactly how tough things were going to be.

As part of her introduction to surgery, she attended the bariatric program at Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center in Hanover, N.H. A team of physicians personally met with Navarrete and other potential candidates to lay down ground rules to follow in order to even be eligible for the surgery. They were required to attend classes on nutrition, pre-operative and post-operative procedures; and each candidate had to undergo a psychological evaluation. Navarrete said the hardest requirement of all was that from that day forward, for the next six months of her life, she could not gain any more weight.

“I was an emotional eater, so knowing I couldn’t even get the surgery if I put on more pounds was daunting,” she said. “Despite being given all the tools to keep from gaining weight in the next six months, I was the one who had to do all the work,” said Navarrete, “but I was determined not to be the person who failed.”

Changing the way she viewed food—learning what to eat and understanding the role certain foods play in fueling the body—was something Navarrete said was really difficult. Her two-week pre-operative diet consisted of 1,000 calories a day with a mandatory 60 grams of protein. After a lifetime of eating whatever she wanted, she said just maintaining her weight caused her to obsess.

“Overall, I think I did a pretty good job of sticking to a healthy eating plan, but I found myself bargaining with myself just to get some comfort food,” she said. “I’d sneak in a chocolate pudding and tell myself it was okay because I could substitute it for a piece of turkey later on in the day. It was so tough.” Even those little cheats proved dangerous, though, as Navarrete gained almost two pounds during the final phase of her six-month “no gain” period.

In February 2015, not only was Valentine’s Day looming on the horizon, but so was her scheduled surgery date. She knew if she did not lose those pounds, she would most likely not be granted the surgery. So she buckled down, got serious, andby eating sensibly shed what she had gained.

“My husband and I typically went to our favorite restaurant on Valentine’s and pigged out on German food,” said Navarrete. “We had to rethink our normal date for that day, though, because my surgery was scheduled four days later. We ended up grilling chicken at home,” she said.

On Feb. 18, 2015, Navarrete was admitted to the hospital. At 3:30 that afternoon, her surgeon began the procedure to divide her stomach into two pouches: a small upper pouch and a lower and larger remnant pouch. Her small intestine was then rearranged and connected to both pouches. The procedure resulted in a stomach capable of holding a mere three ounces of food, equivalent in size to a golf ball. While Navarrete came through the surgery successfully, she said when she awoke she was in horrific pain.

“If anyone had asked me how I felt about the decision to have that surgery while I was lying in that hospital recovery room, I would have told them it was the absolute worst decision of my life,” said Navarrete. “It was a total nightmare for the first 24 hours.”

Upon returning home, her post-operative diet consisted of nothing but liquids for one week. She drank shakes made with skim milk and whey isolate protein powder packed with a whopping 80 grams of protein. Navarrete says she was allowed to drink water between her daily shakes, but just getting the shakes down was tough and took all day. She had no appetite.

“Even though I never once wished I could eat real food, I had what I called ‘head hunger.’ I had the psychological craving for food, but I wasn’t actually physically hungry,” said Navarrete.

She started walking every couple of hours to alleviate the post-surgical bloat she felt and to move her body. Her husband even plowed paths in the yard and driveway for her just so she could get around. Within a week of surgery, she was upgraded to a soft diet, and Navarette said she was never in her life more thrilled to eat yogurt and a soft-boiled egg.

“For the first time since my surgery I had to think about how I eat food. I couldn’t just eat anything,” she said. “I had to get 50-60 grams of protein into my body every day, and do it with tiny portions. The reality was that I only managed to eat half of that first soft-boiled egg.”

It took time to figure out what to eat, but she experimented with some recipe concoctions. Ground turkey with gravy was a favorite, but she also made a bad mistake one day when she put berries in her yogurt, which made her violently ill.

Slowly, Navarrete began acclimating to her new lifestyle full of restrictions, and by May of 2015, she had lost a total of 54 pounds. By early June, 44.6 percent of her body weight had melted away. She said it wasn’t just about eating less that was critical to losing the weight, though. It was about moving her body every day.

“I started to walk a lot,” she said. “I walked every single, day.”

Navarrete was so excited about her success and confident about her progress, she said she turned into a bit of an exercise “loony.” She joined a gym and started doing cardio kick-boxing twice a week, took step aerobics classes and continued to walk, either on a treadmill or outside, every day.

By mid-June of 2015, Navarrete said she finally managed to walk her way to a place she had never been before as an adult, a place where body weight begins with the number one.

“I call it One-der Land,” said Navarette, “It’s a magical place where, when your weight drops to 199 pounds or less, you feel a sense of happiness, accomplishment, and confidence you’ve never felt before if you’ve been overweight your entire life.”

Navarrete continues to walk and is currently training for a half-marathon. She said her journey has been a tough one, and although she understands food is necessary to fuel her body, she doesn’t have the cravings for junk food and sugar she once did.

“Nothing tastes as good as skinny feels,” said Navarette, “and I never want to go back to where I was. I’m so proud of myself,” she said. “One-der Land is indeed a wonderful place to be.”

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