I was overweight my entire life. I went to bed every night wishing I would wake up “skinny,” and left the house every morning with a smile on my face, pretending that I was happy just the way I was. It wasn’t until I was out of college and had scored my first corporate job in New York City that I decided it was time to lose some weight. Deep down I knew I’d never get where I wanted to be in life if I continued down such an unhealthy path. I refused to get on a scale, I had no idea how much I had to lose, but I knew I was obese. I had to do something about it. (Everyone’s aha moment is different. Read 9 Celebrities Who Are Losing Weight the Right Way.)
It was easy at first: I stopped eating fried foods (I was a big fan of anything dredged in breadcrumbs), I went to the boardwalk and walked for as long as I could (those first few weeks, it was never more than 20 minutes). I continued to eat smarter and move more, and the weight started to come off. I started out so unhealthy that the littlest changes led to huge success. Within 6 months, I was finally under the weight limit for a folding bike, so I bought one and rode 20+ miles by the beach at night. I grabbed a spot in the front row of the Zumba Fitness classes I attended as many times as I could each week. I was living a life I could only imagine earlier that year.
A year and a half later I was feeling better than ever, teaching Zumba classes, running, riding 40+ miles at night, and maintaining a 130+ pound weight loss. I was happy with the changes I’d made to my life, but I still had a lot of work to do accepting myself as I was, dating, and really living my life for the first time ever.
When I started this journey, I didn’t know much about the consequences of extreme weight loss. The media wasn’t talking about it in any way other than dramatic Biggest Loser-style transformations, and I personally didn’t know anyone who’d lost a significant amount of weight. I thought losing weight would make all of my problems go away, from the day-to-day stress of life in New York, to my ability to succeed in my career. Not only did those prove fantasies, but there were surprise consequences to my extreme weight loss that I never anticipated.
Like the skin. Lots of extra skin. Skin that hung from my midsection and wasn’t going anywhere, despite my best efforts. I hired a trainer and focused on my core. I thought toning more might help, but the situation only got worse; as I lost more weight, the skin became looser and hung even lower. It became an impediment to my new healthy lifestyle. I developed rashes and back pain. The skin collected in odd places, drooping all over, and was hard to contain in clothing. I had to tuck some of the extra skin into my pants, and it was a time-consuming, frustrating challenge to find clothes that fit well. I was uncomfortable all the time. And I was only 23 years old. I couldn’t imagine living the rest of my life this way.
So, like the weight that once stood in my way, I saw this as just another obstacle on my journey to a healthy me. I’d worked so hard to lose the weight, and this wasn’t how I wanted to look. So I did a lot research, dismissing anything that looked too good to be true. I ruled out miracle wraps, lotions, and salt scrubs, and was left with surgery—expensive, invasive surgery. A full-body lift to be exact. Surgeons would cut me in half all the way around my torso and put me back together again, minus about 15 pounds of skin I no longer needed.
I made up my mind after my first consultation. I wasn’t looking forward to the procedure, the (360°) scar, or the recovery, but I knew that for me, this was necessary. The skin was hard to cover up and it hung where it didn’t belong. It was getting harder to hide and I was already self-conscious enough, having struggled with my weight my entire life. Function was my primary reason for choosing skin removal surgery, but looking better and feeling more confident were also part of my decision.
Slowly, I started sharing my plan with friends. Some questioned my decision. “But what about the scar?” they’d ask. The scar? I’d think. What about the 10+ pounds of skin hanging from my abdomen. To me, both would be battle wounds, but the scar was the livable one. I took all of the money I’d carefully put away since college—previously earmarked for my future—and I booked the surgery.
The surgery was eight hours long. I was in the hospital for one night, out of work for three weeks, and out of the gym for six. Sitting still was torture—by now I was used to spending up to two hours exercising each day—and getting my strength back afterward was hard, but it’s been three years since the surgery and I’ve never regretted it once. I’ve been able to take my workouts to the next level, moving more, and getting stronger and faster. I no longer feel like there’s something in my way when I sit, stand, shower… all the time. The rashes are gone. My bank account is slowly being replenished. And I am far more confident in everything that I do.
Recently, I started a blog, Pair of Jays, with a friend who’s been through her own weight loss journey and now coaches people who want to live a healthy lifestyle. We share lessons we’ve learned that we put into practice, and discuss how we live our lives now, making healthy food decisions as often as possible, hitting our favorite fitness classes five to six times a week, and making activity part of our social live—but still enjoying a few drinks with friends and feeding our cravings when they arise. (Read more of The Most Inspiring Weight Loss Success Stories of 2014 here.)
There are still plenty of reminders of where I came from, and I fight every single day to maintain where I am. I’m still not “skinny,” and there’s still excess skin on my upper abdomen and hanging from my arms and legs. I don’t think I’ll ever be comfortable in a bikini.
But I didn’t go through all of this to look good on the beach. I did it to be more comfortable on a daily basis: at work, in the gym, sitting on my couch. For me, this was just another way of solidifying that I’m never going back, this is who I am now, and I can only get better from here.
By Jamie Schneider