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'Drastically overweight' lawyer finds drastic solution

By Holly Hughes, Special to CNN
updated 9:15 AM EDT, Fri May 31, 2013
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Holly Hughes weighed close to 300 pounds at her heaviest
  • Seven years ago, Hughes decided to undergo gastric bypass surgery
  • Since then she's dropped from a size 24 to a size 4

Editor's note: Legal analyst Holly Hughes is a commentator for CNN, HLN and TruTV.

(CNN) -- Like many Americans, once I hit the big 4-0 I decided it was time to take inventory of my life.

Good job, check. Own a home, check. Dependable car, check. Great family, check. Wonderful friends, check. Health and fitness, not so much.

I weighed almost 300 pounds and was out of shape. Luckily, I had not yet developed what the doctors like to refer to as co-morbidities. That's a fancy term for the long list of terrible diseases you can develop when you carry around too much weight.

Diabetes runs in my family, so I knew I was predisposed. Being morbidly obese -- 100 pounds or more overweight -- also put me at risk for sleep apnea, heart disease and all sorts of joint strain and pain.

I had been blessed in other areas of my life. My career as a prosecutor was on track, and for years that had been my sole focus. I wanted to hone my craft and become successful as an attorney. I was well on my way to accomplishing that goal, but I realized if I wanted to continue to live this wonderful life I needed to make some drastic changes.

Over the years, I had tried all sorts of diets and programs to tackle my weight problem. They only proved to be temporary solutions. I would lose a few pounds and then something would explode at the office and all of my dietary goals would get derailed. It is an easy trap to fall into. We are all so busy taking care of home, job, family and friends that we neglect our own health.

I had to take a step back and have a long, difficult conversation with myself. I knew I would not be any good to the people who loved and relied on me if I developed diabetes and had to have a limb amputated or lost my eyesight. At 150 pounds over my "ideal" weight, I knew I couldn't continue on this path.

I was drastically overweight and decided this called for a drastic solution.

After considering all of my options, I decided on gastric bypass surgery. It wasn't as hard of a decision as some might think. As a lawyer, research is my forte. It was time to combine my professional skills with my personal life.

I read about the surgery, talked to people who had had the surgery and then attended a monthly seminar held by Dr. Titus Duncan at the Atlanta Medical Center. I spoke with some of his patients and his entire staff. After arming myself with all the information I could get my hands on, I decided to take the plunge.

I needed a solution that would be quick and permanent. But make no mistake -- weight loss surgery is not a silver bullet. The surgeon can perform a gastric bypass procedure in 45 minutes; you must perform behavioral changes for the rest of your life. It is a small price to pay for the amazing changes you will see in your body and mind.

The reason gastric bypass worked so well for me is that it was a permanent, physical solution. The surgeon makes your stomach the size of a thumb, as opposed to the size of a normal stomach, which is like a 2-liter soda bottle. It is hard to fit a lot of food in that tiny, reconstructed stomach. It was a physical "switch" that flicked on and said, 'Enough."

Before the surgery I had girlfriends who would say, at 8 p.m. some nights, "Oh, gee, I forgot to eat today." That never happened to me. I woke up thinking about what I was going to eat that day. I loved food. Forgetting to eat, to me, would be tantamount to forgetting to breathe. I marveled at people who didn't let food rule their life.

After the surgery, though, the most amazing thing happened -- a little bit of food was enough. If I ate too much, I knew it immediately because I would feel sick.

I compare it to that Thanksgiving Day feeling when all you want to do is go lie down somewhere and let it all settle. I wouldn't get physically sick, although that can be one side effect if you eat too much. But I learned pretty quickly how much was too much.

Having that physical mechanism signaling me to stop was a godsend. The weight started to drop off in miraculous numbers. In two months, I was down 50 pounds.

I was diligent about following my surgeon's directions. I only ate small portions, took my vitamins daily and started exercising. At first, it was just walking a short distance every day, but as the weight went down, my energy level went up.

Weight loss surgery is not for everyone, but for those who are morbidly obese, it is definitely an option worth looking into. When you have more than 100 pounds to lose, dieting can be frustrating and disappointing.

I looked at it this way: if you break your foot, you go to the doctor and get it put into a cast. If you have an infected tooth, you go to the dentist, and if it can't be saved, you have it pulled. No one goes to the dentist these days and says, "Do it old school, Doc -- just tie a string around it and slam the door shut."

When we have a medical problem, we go to the doctor and ask for the latest medical technology to address the problem. So why not use the same approach with weight loss?

Having gastric bypass was the best decision I ever made. I have lost a total of 160 pounds. I now wear a size 4 instead of a size 24. I am healthier than I have ever been and have prolonged my life by immeasurable years.

I am also treated better by total strangers. As sad as it is, we are a visual species and we judge people by what they look like. The problem with being overweight is that when we walk into a room, our "problem" walks in with us. People assume they know certain things about us. They assume we are lazy or unambitious or unmotivated. It is emotionally freeing to walk into a room and know I will not be prejudged for my weight -- that I will be given the same opportunity to prove myself that others are given because my weight is not a distraction.

One of the biggest misperceptions about overweight people is that they don't like themselves. Society looks down on overweight folks and assumes we do the same to ourselves. Thankfully, I was raised in a very supportive family and was taught to believe I could do anything I wanted. I never let the weight stop me from doing what I wanted to do and going where I wanted to go.

The biggest change my weight loss has brought about in my life is in my "life list." As long as you are overweight, the No. 1 thing on your list of things to do is lose weight. When I was finally able to cross that off my list it opened a whole new world of possibilities. I can now add new dreams to the list and go after them with gusto.

Losing weight and the method you choose to do it is a personal choice, but for me, surgery was the answer. I have never regretted it. My surgery was seven years ago, and today I can safely say I will never go back.

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