Friday, February 12, 2010

What If Your Digestive System Is Broken?

By: Linda Rohrbough

You’re struggling with your weight, right? Consider this. What if your digestive system is broken?

What does that mean? What would it look like?

Let me tell you what it looked like for me.* For starters, it meant no matter what I did, I was still hungry. I drank less water, avoided sweets, ate veggies until they were coming out my ears, cut carbs, worked out, and didn’t eat anything bigger than my head. But all I could think about is food, and not food that’s good for me.

Let me give you an extreme example. A mother had a sleep-over birthday party for her teenage daughter at her home and unbenounced to her, the invited guests brought Ecstasy. Her daughter tried the drug for the first time and in between the partying and the raucous laughter, her daughter got incredibly thirsty. So thirsty she ended up in the bathroom drinking straight out of the faucet. Her friends hid that from her mother, because clearly they thought they’d be in trouble (and they were right). The birthday girl ended up passed out on the floor from drinking so much water. She was rushed to the hospital and died. Like I said, this is extreme - who knew you could die from drinking too much water? But it’s a good example of a broken digestive system. Ecstasy misguided the feedback loop. No matter how much water this girl drank, she was not capable of judging when it was enough.

Something similar happened to my digestive system. There are a number of theories for how it gets broken, but no amount of self-discipline, self-esteem coaching or “character” will fix a broken digestive system. My body told my brain I was starving when clearly I was not. It made me miserable and drove me to do things not good for me.

And I felt like a total failure, guilty all the time. I blamed part of it on being a writer. But it wasn’t because I’m a writer. Granted, writing tends to be a sedentary job. But writing didn’t do it. After all, there are lots of thin writers.

No matter how disciplined I was in other areas of my life, nothing I did about my weight worked for very long. I could fight the hunger sometimes for an entire year, but eventually I ended up back to my old habits and the pounds packed on. Each time I quit a diet, I got bigger than before I started. I don’t know what my top weight was because my primary care doctor’s scale maxed out at 350 pounds. I do know I wore the largest size clothes Catherine’s and Lane Bryant made.

According to the National Institutes of Health, anyone’s odds of losing weight and keeping it off by dieting are five percent. That means I had a ninety-five percent chance of putting the weight back on. If in Vegas someone gave me a ninety-five percent chance that I’d win $100, would I take those odds? Sure. What if it was eighty-five percent? I’d take those odds, too. Well, there’s an eighty-five percent chance, according to the NIH, that if I had weight loss surgery, I’d lose the weight and keep it off.

Bottom line is it took surgery to fix my digestive system. For me, though, surgery was a big pill to swallow. My initial problem was the expense. (As it turns out, I got all the money back and then some because, as I discovered, it is much, much cheaper to be thinner.) Second, I was afraid to die. I felt certain types of bariatric surgery are very high risk, like gastric bypass. After doing research, I got an adjustable gastric band (LAP-BAND®) in January of 2003 and now seven years later, I’ve lost 130 pounds. I now wear a size 12 and I started in a size 32. My BMI is 33 and it was 53. It still surprises me how differently people treat me.

During my band journey, fill was removed from my band (meaning they removed some or all of the saline water that tightens the band). And just as sure as the sun rises, I gained weight. The weight did not go back off until the fill was put back in. This happened no matter how self-disciplined I tried to be and despite the “lessons” about eating I learned by having a band.

When I was so heavy, I received lots of advice, (most of it unsolicited) and tried most of it. One thing helped. I had a doctor tell me to forget dieting, start drinking one hundred ounces of water a day. It took me two years of concentrated effort to do it consistently, and my weight dropped down to 335. Nothing to write home about, but at least water drinking was a habit I could maintain with some success.

It seems to me no matter what I do with food combinations or exercise, it’s the total food intake that makes me gain or lose weight. But when my band is properly adjusted, I don’t count calories. However, I have trouble just sitting all day now that I’m thinner. I feel better when I move. So I write for fifty minutes, then exercise for ten minutes, usually yoga. To track the time, I use Cool Timer, available for free download on the website. This program also allows me to add my own alarm sound. I added ocean waves, which keeps me in the “zone” rather than be jarred by a loud, irritating noise.

Bottom line is I discovered obesity isn’t a character flaw; it is a symptom of a broken digestive system. The band surgery provided a fix for me, a lifestyle change I could manage without fighting every moment of every day. For that, I am eternally grateful.

I’m not a doctor, but I do know some of the things that break a digestive system, why drinking water works for weight loss, and some tips I learned about how to eat by having a band. If you’re interested, post here and I’ll share them with you. And feel free to share your story.

* Disclaimer: I’m not a doctor or any kind of medical expert. I’m relating here my theories and experiences based on what I’ve seen and heard and based on my results. This is not medical advice. I advise you to consult a doctor about your own situation.

Linda Rohrbough has been writing professionally since 1989, and has more than 5,000 articles, seven books, and numerous awards for her fiction and non-fiction. Linda’s latest book is Weight Loss Surgery with the Adjustable Gastric Band (Da Capo Lifelong Books, March 2008). Visit her Web site:


Michelle Butler on February 12, 2010 at 11:16 AM said...


Thank you for joining us today! I'm very intrigued by what you said about people treating you differently since you lost the weight. How so? How did you handle that emotionally?

Michelle Butler on February 12, 2010 at 11:25 AM said...

Note: I had posted a very dramatic before and after photo with this piece, and I'm not sure why it was stripped out. I will try to get it back up later today.

Linda Rohrbough on February 12, 2010 at 3:31 PM said...

When I lost weight, one of the first things I noticed was my personal space zone diminished to about twelve inches. This was disturbing and I felt claustrophobic. People I don’t know will come up and stand right next to me or want to give me a hug when they first meet me.

Men hurry ahead of me to open doors. When that started happening I looked around to see if there was someone behind me. But it was me they were trying to help.

I’ve toned down my wardrobe considerably because now I’m getting more attention than I’m comfortable with. I’ll be waiting in line and a clerk will pass over three people ahead of me to ask if I need help. I am sensitive to this and am careful to point out others were ahead of me.

Plus, my credibility is way up. I have a much easier time selling myself to get work, including speaking engagements.

Most of what I’ve done to handle these changes is to learn to calm myself. With the help of a therapist I learned if I get surprised, I have a tough time.

If I get into a situation I don’t know how to handle, the first thing I do is work on my breathing. Slow deep breaths in and out help a great deal. Then I can think. If I can’t do this in the moment, I ask for a bathroom break and do it there.

I have a number of other coping tools as well.

Michelle Butler on February 12, 2010 at 4:25 PM said...

Thanks for sharing. I've noticed that people have started to treat me a little differently since I've lost weight too (men are much friendlier, women not always), and it can be an adjustment at times. Very fun at times too though. But, it's a change. One that I'm aware of and sometimes have to be thoughtful about my response.

Linda Rohrbough on February 12, 2010 at 8:54 PM said...

The world become a very different place for me. And it's an adjustment. Having gained and lost significant amounts of weight before, I at least knew weight loss wasn't going to solve ALL my problems.

But the concept that something wasn't inherently wrong with me as a person, that there was actually a physical cause and I wasn't suffering because I had some black character flaw, was very freeing. And finally loosing the weight and keeping it off made me so glad to myself and to God that I held out hope and didn't give up.

Regina Richards on February 13, 2010 at 8:22 AM said...

I lost 120 pounds 15 years ago. It was a slow loss - about 1.5 pounds a week - so my skin shrunk back naturally, not much sagging. I didn't change my eating, just my exercise level and I stopped drinking sugar water and started drinking real water. I kept the weight off for several years until a doc started feeding me steriods to heal an injury. Then I began gaining again fast.

Like you I noticed a distinct change in the way people treated me when I was slim. Strangers were much friendlier. Those close to me said they were glad I'd lost the weight, but they behaved in ways that said my weight loss disturbed the balance of their world.

Interestingly the two people closest to me (one male, one female) who seemed the most upset by my weight loss were thin themselves. Both were much happier with me and treated me better when I began regaining the weight. I am now 150 pounds overweight and I hate it.

Michelle Butler on February 13, 2010 at 9:44 AM said...

Regina, thank you for sharing your story. I know I haven't had as dramatic a weight loss as you did, but I have experienced folks' changing behavior. I'm not sure why relatives can be so challenged by someone's weight loss, but they can. When my sister saw me at Thanksgiving, the first thing she did is force me to stand sideways to see if her butt was still smaller than mine. It was to her great relief, but part of her does not like me getting close to her size.

Given that her journey and what has happened to her is a big part of why I started to overeat this could have sent me into a tailspin. I've figured out some of the dynamics between us (jealousy and guilt), so I did not let this make me overeat. I really am bound and determined to lose this weight - no matter how uncomfortable folks get with it (including me). But, it's hard. And, for me, it takes a lot of awareness on a lot of levels - such as what and how much am I eating and why as well as what and how am I feeling and why.

Best wishes, Regina, on your journey!

Michelle Butler on February 13, 2010 at 9:51 AM said...

Note: Linda will be back on this Friday to share more of the lessons she learned on her journey.

Linda Rohrbough on February 13, 2010 at 2:36 PM said...

I've seen a lot of overweight people in very competitive family or work situations. I learned from a top psychologist, Dr. G. Dick Miller, that I need to be willing to live with some (or a lot) of emotional discomfort at various times, including when people around me are uncomfortable with how I eat or who I am. Oddly enough in my case I lost a number of my overweight friends when I got thinner. But thank God I have a band. If I have a bad day or the Dr. puts me on steriods (and that's happened too) the band provides a firm limit. It gives me a chance to pull out of a downward spiral before it overwhelms me.

I wish both of you, Regina and Michelle, GREAT losses. I know how much courage this takes and I admire what you're doing.

Andrew on May 17, 2010 at 11:14 AM said...

Hi if the digestive system is broken you will lose a lot of weight and that is no good cause them you will feel bad and weik even you can use generic viagra to enojoy of youre lose energy .

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