Fulfilling goals of a lifetime, with help from bariatric surgery

Story highlights

  • A year ago, Marilia Brocchetto wrote about her decision to pursue bariatric surgery
  • Now, she has lost close to 100 pounds and is a triathlete

Marilia Brocchetto is a news editor on the CNN International Desk. She is on Twitter: @mabrocchetto.

(CNN)Nothing prepares you for the feeling of walking into a store and finding something that fits, off the rack, after years and years of having to order from specialty stores. No one can prepare you for the feeling of being able to sit down in an airplane seat, cross your legs and not need an extender for the seat belt. And absolutely nothing in life prepares you for the feeling of sleeping without snoring, walking up a flight of stairs without getting winded and exercising without feeling like you're dying.

While that may not be much for some people, for me, being able to do those things is a huge step.
    About a year ago, I wrote a story in which I described how Reddit "bullies" pushed me to fight my weight gain. I had reached rock bottom. I was 26 and 323 pounds. It was then that I decided to do two things: get gastric bypass surgery and change my eating habits while seriously focusing on making exercise a priority.
    In the six months since I've had the surgery, it's been small victory after small victory. I've lost close to 100 pounds and am much healthier overall.
    I was even able to finish a triathlon, something I thought I would never, ever be able to say.

    Shedding 'fatlogic'

    The weight loss surgery process can be a very lengthy one. For me, it was a six-month period of introspection. The insurance company required me to do six months of guided weight loss, as well as a visit with a therapist. This period of time, while nerve-wracking, forced me to look at my health in a new way. In the months leading up to the surgery, there was a barrage of doctor visits to look at everything, no stone left unturned.
    I couldn't hide from the doctors anymore. I couldn't hide from weigh-ins or from the scale. Once I looked at my blood work, reality set in.
    I was slowly killing myself with food.
    One of the things those months revealed was my unhealthy relationship with food. Food was my antidepressant, my drug. When I was sad, I ate. When I was happy, I ate. When I had a bad day at work, I ate. My life revolved around my next meal.
    Going to therapy helped me to identify some of these habits and identify trigger points.

    Envy

    During those six months, I also had to confront the green monster growing inside of me. Since I started my weight loss journey, my friends kept encouraging me to read success stories to help keep me motivated, but there was a point when those stories depressed me.
    I was so envious. When you're fat and someone you know is losing weight, you can't help but compare yourself. It's a horrible feeling. The idea that someone could do something I couldn't do hurt, and the envy fueled excuses and hatred. I did all that sitting on the couch watching TV or on Amazon, shopping for miracle weight-loss cures.
    I would think, "Is that person heavier than me?" and when the answer was yes, I breathed a sigh of relief. OK, at least I'm not the heaviest person here. And If I were fatter than them, I would always rebut with "well, but I'm starting a new diet on Monday that will fix everything." Instead of focusing on losing the weight, I just kept focusing on comparing myself with other people's weights.
    Only after a lot of introspection did I turn that envy into fuel for change.

    Surgery

    I armed myself with all the tools to succeed in this journey by following the program and reading all the books and blogs. I was ready, or so I thought, and for a while, I was doing really well.
    But as with every journey in life, weight loss surgery has its ups and downs.
    I had to learn how to eat again, because a lot of the foods that I used to love, like candy and fried foods, now make me sick. Sometimes, even sticking to my diet and eating healthily -- tomatoes and veggies -- will make my body go through a process of "dumping," in which it literally dumps out the food. I also had to learn portion control. I can eat only about 6 to 8 ounces of food at a time.
    Focusing on my health meant that I also had to give up a few more things. I passed up a really fantastic work opportunity about two weeks before the surgery. I still consider it one of the hardest decisions I have ever had to make in my adult professional life, but I knew there was no way I could take the opportunity and do the surgery at the same time. I had to prioritize my health.

    Getting fit

    Surgery is not a miracle drug, by any means. In the same way it helps you lose weight, you have to be willing to put in the work. When looking at things that I could do to stay active, I was looking for something that would actually motivate me.
    I trained for and finished a sprint triathlon last month, which was a goal of a lifetime. My brother, who's a triathlete, had toyed with the idea of us doing a triathlon together and encouraged me to sign up for the New York City Triathlon lottery. As luck would have it, we got picked, and I started preparing around the time I had the surgery.
    Today, with a little less than two months to go to the triathlon, I look at how far I've come. I'm now swimming, biking and running all of the time. I'm still huffing and puffing. But each day it gets a little easier; I get a little stronger and can go a little farther. I have more energy and feel better than I have ever in my entire life.
    My next goal is now the triathlon in New York in July, on my birthday weekend. I honestly couldn't think of a better gift to myself than crossing that finish line in Central Park.

    Shedding pounds

    The surgery and the exercising have caused the pounds to fly off. Every 10 pounds, it's a whole new life experience.
    At 20 pounds down, I could start to see my collarbones. I hadn't seen them in years.
    At 30 pounds down, I could sit, comfortably, in an airplane seat. I buckled up with no assistance.
    At 50 pounds down, I could fit into jeans and shirts at regular stores. I no longer have to shop online at specialty stores.
    This part of the journey has been amazing: celebrating every pound lost, cheering for every "achievement" and giggling every time someone calls me "skinny Minnie" or tells me that I look great.
    While some days I look in the mirror and see my old self, other days, I look in the mirror and realize how awesome the new me is.

    Weight isn't everything

    Weight loss is a beast, and it takes time to get adjusted to all the changes that come with it.
    For a while, I suffered from a mild form of "post-surgery depression syndrome." Apparently, it's a very common thing.
    I was so happy and excited about the weight loss and my training that I started a training blog, sharing my training routine for the triathlon with the world. I also went through two complete closet makeovers. All of this brought in compliments left and right.
    Yet, for many months, I was miserable. I had lost the one thing that was always there to comfort me: food. I had nothing to turn to.
    Being less fat didn't suddenly make all my problems disappear. I wasn't suddenly more popular or smarter. I wasn't better at my job.
    I can see how so many people who have the surgery gain all the weight back.
    It's incredibly hard to cope with all the changes to your body at once. You're going through physical and emotional changes while trying to learn to cope with losing food as an escape mechanism. I found solace in exercise and social media. Keeping a blog and staying accountable through sites like Instagram and Reddit have really helped me through the tough times. Social media also helped me to see that I wasn't alone in my struggles.
    Your hormones are also raging during this period, and everything is out of whack. Your head is a mess, and your body is a mess, and all the while you're trying to learn how to ski on a log that's on fire.
    But the successes far outweigh all the setbacks, and the setbacks are minor at best.

    Going forward

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    I'm as committed to my training as ever, committed to therapy and committed to not letting depression dictate my life. Losing the weight has helped me in so many ways that I'm thankful for each and every day of my life.
    When people ask me about regrets, I tell them I have only one: not prioritizing my health and having this surgery sooner.
    I'm nowhere near the end of my journey, but when I look back, I can see just how far I've come.