Deirdre St.Luke

Deirdre St.Luke

I’m no good with numbers. Give me an Excel spreadsheet, 2 + 2 and I will cheerfully come up with a different answer every time. When it comes to math and numbers I’m… well… special. So it’s amazing to me that I spend so much of my time focused on numbers.

A few years ago I was put on anti-anxiety medication which turned out to be a spectacularly bad idea. Not only did it make the anxiety worse but I gained an unbelievable amount of weight. I’ve always been an active person and I enjoy doing physical activity. However, when I gained about 100 pounds in an eight month period and was too out of my mind to think, I spiraled out of control. My weight gain finally stopped at 275 pounds.

Yes, you heard me correctly. I currently weigh 275 pounds.

I make no apologies for that, though.

Let me give a bit of background here. I was a competition swimmer at a young age and later became an avid rollerskater. As I grew up, my activities included cycling, walking (all over the place) and I continued swimming. These weren’t occasional activities, these were daily things I did. Not because I was focused on my health but because I liked them. As a teen, I learned my body issues hard and fast. I was a D-cup by the time I was 14 and an EE-cup by my early 20s. By the time I had two breast reductions I swelled to approximately an I or J-cup. By then it was impossible to measure accurately. Until I was 35 I didn’t even realize that my face was a part of my body. No one looked at it. Not even women. I’ve even had people walk up and grab my breasts. Complete strangers. Once, a woman in her 40s at a bus stop grabbed both my breasts in her hands, squeezed hard and asked, “are they real?”

By the time I reached 275 pounds, I wanted to make a change. So, I went to the Edmonton Adult Bariatric Specialty Clinic. This is the clinic that Dr. Arya Sharma, professor of Medicine & Chair in Obesity Research and Management at the University of Alberta and the Clinical Co-Chair of the Alberta Health Services Obesity Program, is a part of. I was excited to be finally in touch with people who were experienced in dealing with obesity. I could get tools to help me lose the weight. Dietician, exercises, help.

At first I was interested in a surgery called a Roux en y. This is where most of the stomach and large intestine are removed. Then I found out what the complications were. I could wind up with a colostomy bag, I could never eat more than a half a cup to one cup of food at a time, I’d take vitamin supplements for the rest of my life, certain foods would forever be off-limits, I’d have to each approximately every 2 hours or so just to take in enough calories and, if things went wrong, I could die if things went wrong. Finally, no one could tell me what would happen when I was 80, had digestion problems that comes with age and the supplements weren’t as effective as they once were. I was horrified.

When I confronted Dr. Sharma with my fears, I was given more horror. A doctor with his reputation and experience told me that if I didn’t get the surgery I was going to lose my feet, lose my eyesight, be on dialysis, have a heart attack, get dementia and a whole list of other problems from my diabetes. Great idea. Let’s scare the shit out of the woman who already suffers from anxiety. When I asked about medications or diet and exercise assistance he got angry. He told me they’d fail and the only way to manage my diabetes was with the surgery.

I left in tears.

Terrified, I called my friend in the midst of an epic anxiety attack. Barely able to breathe, I told him what I’d been told. After he helped me to calm down, he told me to see my family doctor, a woman I trust and respect. It was the best advice I’d ever been given. I went to see my doctor and repeated what I’d been told. She smiled and confirmed what I already believed; that surgery should be a last resort.

My doctor sent me to a new place where I saw a kinesiologist and made an appointment with a dietician. I still can’t pronounce kinesiologist. After telling him my story, he smiled and said, “let’s get you moving. We’ll start there and move forward.” He then said something that was a revelation for me; losing weight shouldn’t be my goal. Angels sang at that.

So often we equate thin with healthy and that just isn’t the case. In my case, aside from the diabetes, I’m fairly healthy. Good cholesterol, good heart, good blood pressure. I don’t smoke and eat amazingly healthy. When he told me to stop losing weight, the light went on. My goal shouldn’t be to lose weight, it should be to get healthy.

I may or may not lose weight. That’s not important. I’ve learned to love this body I have and if it’s the one I have for the rest of my life, I’m good with that. I’ve been given an exercise regimen which is fairly simple at this point but will get harder as I get better at it. I love this regimen, although the treadmill still bores the snot out of me. I feel good and I like being active.

My goal now is no longer to lose 100 pounds or to get to a size 8. That should never have been my goal. My only goal now is to get healthy. Surgery is no where in sight at this point to accomplish that goal. There are times when surgery is necessary but it shouldn’t be the first go-to solution and doctors shouldn’t be in the business of using fear to coerce their patients to doing something they don’t want to do.

Sorry, Dr. Sharma, numbers have never been my thing.