"My personality was being swallowed by the fat just like the rest of me," says Lindsey Friedberg, a 23-year-old graduate student at the Academy of Art University in San Francisco. Friedberg, who grew up in Ocean City, N.J., surrounded by "slender and tan" girls, has battled her weight all of her life. Her high school years were spent counting calories, eating raw food, drinking 12 bottles of water a day and writing down everything she ate, including the gum she chewed and number of mints. But nothing worked.
When Friedberg's mother, who Friedberg watched struggle with her weight all of her life, decided to have bariatric surgery, Friedberg was a sophomore in high school. Friedberg was inspired. "I watched her transform in front of me," Friedberg says. "So when I moved to San Francisco for graduate school, I knew I wanted to start over. I wanted a fresh outlook and started looking into bariatric surgery at age 21."
A year later, in April 2011, Friedberg underwent bariatric surgery at UCSF.
Have you always been overweight?
All through elementary school, I was very active. I did gymnastics every day and I danced three times a week. I went to summer camp and had lots of time to play outside. As I got older, I started to slow down and that's when the pounds started to pile on.
What challenges did you face as a severely overweight teenager?
I was teased a lot. I grew up in a beach town and I didn't look like everyone else. I was bigger, not slender and tan. It was tough knowing that no matter how hard I tried to be like everyone else and fit in, I was in such a different boat than they were.
How much did you weigh at your heaviest and when was this?
At my heaviest, I was 275 pounds. That was right around the time of my surgery. I felt like there was no hope. It was really sad for someone my age (I was 22 at the time) to think that there would never be a way out, that no one would like me the way I was, and that I couldn't be happy again.
How much do you weigh now?
I am currently 190 pounds and still losing. It's a battle every day, but the better I feel, the easier the battle.
Some research has found that over-eating is a genetic addiction. Do you agree?
Growing up, my whole family was big. It wasn't a single person teaching me bad ways, or a single person buying the food for the family. My mom never bought us sugary snacks. I never had Lucky Charms or Twinkies as a kid. Both of my parents cooked meals and a lot of times, I ate school lunches. I think that while I agree that fat is a family affair, I also believe that being fat has something to do with genetics.
My dad had two heart attacks before he turned 50. That prompted him to lose weight and exercise every day. My brother and I were probably the same weight at our heaviest (he's an inch or two taller), but, he found that he loves to run and has lost 70 pounds doing so.
I don't see my family very often because we are so spread out, but now, instead of having big restaurant meals out as a family, we will cook at home and go walk around the art museum or go bowling.
Do you and your mother try to lose weight together?
During my youth, I had tried every diet I could think of. Some of them I did with my mom, and others I tried on my own. I thought that one of them had to work and some of them did for a little while. But even when I stuck to them, they started failing me and that was a really depressing thing.
Nothing helped me and I felt like I was slipping away from the person that everyone knew me as. These were all things I internalized. I didn't need the entire school knowing my business, but, at the same time, I just wished someone would notice all the struggling I was going through. Though health class taught us the basics of nutrition, there was no one I could talk to about the things I was going through.
What advice would you give to other severely overweight young adults?
My mom used to tell me that no matter how many different diets I did or how many days I went to the gym, I would only lose the weight when I was completely ready. I give that advice to people my age who aren't sure about their future. I've been there, even if I don't look like it as much anymore. It's a long road to walk when you get out of breath so easy.
What has been the hardest part of life after the surgery?
The hardest part for me was learning how to "re-eat." It's tough at first because you aren't hungry, but at the same time, once you feel like eating again, it's equally hard. For me, "re-eating" meant that just because I thought I was hungry, didn't mean I was.
I had to learn to eat smaller amounts of food, and at first, all I could have were liquids and Jell-O. Part of me wanted to test myself and try different foods, but I told myself no. After my surgery in April, I was on liquids for three weeks. After three weeks, I had lost 22 pounds. It was such a weird thing for me.
Part of me wasn't hungry, and part of me was just bored, so I had to really sit and think before I ate (or slurped) my soup and my protein shakes. It's still somewhat of a "sit and think" time for me before I eat. I always think of what's best for me and what will make me regret my decisions.
What has been the best part of life after surgery?
I think the best part by far were my pants. They fell off, more than once. It's frustrating, but such a wonderful feeling, knowing that they used to fit and to some extent, these are the pants I thought I would be in forever. It was empowering being able to throw them away.
What are your eating habits like now compared to before surgery?
Since the surgery, I have to be careful and make sure I eat nutritious foods. I do have a special diet that consists mainly of protein-rich foods to ensure my body has enough of that particular nutrient to function. Most bariatric surgery patients are on high or higher protein diets. What makes it difficult for me is that I don't eat red meat or pork products. That's my own choice. I stick to eggs, beans, chicken, fish and other protein rich foods. There are many things I steer clear of, just to be safe, such as candy, chocolate and ice cream.
Sugar makes me super sick. I was told about this being a side effect, but to me, it's interesting because it helps keep me in line. I feel bad after eating just about any amount of sugar. That isn't to say I can't have a cookie when I want one, but, I can't have my old, usual of five or six cookies. I'll end up sick. It was really a good learning process for me. While I knew sugar might affect me like this, I know that it doesn't for some people. I tested myself. I spent a good deal of time paying for it (in the bathroom), but I learned some valuable lessons about my body and my limits.
How has your relationship to food changed?
I see food completely different now. I know that I am partly responsible for my issues with my weight, but I believe that I am not entirely to blame. I never used to read labels before. I never really cared what was good for me or not. Now I pick and choose my foods very carefully. I make sure that I know exactly what is going into my body to give me the optimum results for my health and well-being.
How has the surgery changed your life?
I can shop with my friends now and not at the "special stores." I can go out in a tight dress and feel confident instead of wearing a big cover-up. For someone my age, these are all important aspects. But also, as a growing professional, I like knowing that people won't look at me and pre-judge me just by the way I look.
Also, I would like to say that it's just so important to listen to your body. It means so little to some, but, I don't think I'd be where I am now — almost 100 pounds free — if I didn't learn to listen to my body and what it had to tell me.
How has your outlook for the future changed?
I feel like I can start over. I can be who I want to be now and not who society labels me as. I am very positive about the future now.
My goals include editing television and major motion pictures. I am currently in graduate school for my master's in Television Editing.
Interviewed by freelance wrier Abby Sinnott.
Bariatric Surgery Center
400 Parnassus Ave., Sixth Floor, Room A-655
San Francisco, CA 94143-0338
Phone: (415) 353-2804
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