Jeff Grubbs, of Galt, Calif., describes his old self as a "ticking time bomb." At his heaviest, the 48-year-old — who is 5 feet, 7.5 inches tall — weighed 311 pounds. He had a body mass index (BMI) of 47, qualifying him as morbidly obese. The extra weight took a dramatic toll on his health. Grubbs suffered from type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, thyroid problems and back pain, requiring him to take up to 15 pills a day.
Now at his ideal weight of 180 pounds, he says he has more energy and self-confidence than ever before. "If I hadn't had the surgery," says Grubbs, "I probably wouldn't be here."
When did you decide to have bariatric surgery?
My doctor mentioned it to me a couple of times, but I was working so much that I didn't have time. Then I got laid off and decided it was finally time. It took a long time to prepare — about six months. I had to have a psychological profile, lose a certain amount of weight, have a certain BMI, to be sure that I was healthy enough for the surgery. In the end, I was very thankful that I had to go through all of that.
Have you had weight issues all your life?
My weight has always been up and down, depending on what I was doing for work. I've worked as a bartender and cook in restaurant kitchens, so my weight always increased during those times. When I was doing construction, it went down.
As a sous chef at a popular steak house, how do you cope with being surrounded by food all day? How do you resist popping a few french fries into your mouth while you're working?
My strategy is to eat what most people would consider a quarter of a meal, six or seven times a day. Sometimes I do eat a few onion rings, but they're so few and far between that it has no bearing on my weight. And working on a kitchen line that's 130 degrees certainly helps keep the weight off.
I've lost so much weight that I'm now able to wear the clothes I was married in.
Was there a turning point, when you decided you had to have the surgery?
At the time, I was taking a pharmacy of drugs every day. About seven to 10 pills at night and four to five pills in the morning for my health problems, all caused by being overweight. I took different medications for diabetes, high blood pressure, thyroid problems.
One night I was watching TV and an infomercial about the diabetes medication I was taking came on. It warned against the dangers of the drug. I knew that you weren't supposed to take it for a long period of time, and I had already been taking it for five years. I knew then that it was time I had the surgery and that I had to change my life.
Recent research has proven that bariatric surgery can actually cure type 2 diabetes caused by obesity. Did your surgery "reverse" or cure your diabetes and other health problems?
Yes. My diabetes, high blood pressure, back problems and pinched nerve problems have all gone. I've slowly stopped taking all of my medications. It's amazing.
How else has the surgery changed your life?
Well, whenever I walk down the street now, my pants keep falling down — it's horrific! But seriously, when I walked down the street before, I caught sight of myself in building windows and would say — WOW! I was so big. Now that doesn't happen to me. I have so much more self-confidence and energy, and I'm much more comfortable with myself.
My family was also affected by the surgery. I have two kids, a 20-year-old and 16-year-old son, and I know that they were just waiting for me to have a stroke or something. I was like a ticking time bomb.
Why did you choose to have your surgery at UCSF?
My insurance company only allowed me to have the surgery at a hospital of excellence, and UCSF was the closest one — thank God! Everyone there was fantastic. It was an awesome experience. I would recommend that no one go anywhere else for bariatric surgery.
You're a great cook and still love to cook. Has it been hard to adjust to your new dietary restrictions?
I've heard horror stories from other people who had the surgery, how they were starving afterward. But I haven't had any problems because I can still eat just about anything. The main difference now is that I eat much smaller portions, and more often throughout the day. I'm very satisfied and comfortable with that.
I still do most of the cooking for my family. My specialty would have to be my prime rib, twice baked potatoes and corn on the cob. I make this for Christmas dinner. In my free time, I like to cook for charitable fund raisers for the New Men's Club of Galt.
What advice would you give to other people who are morbidly obese and contemplating having bariatric surgery?
Why wait? It will change your life. The surgery has been all positive — there haven't been any negatives for me.
Interviewed by freelance writer Abby Sinnott.
Bariatric Surgery Center
400 Parnassus Ave., Sixth Floor, Room A-655
San Francisco, CA 94143-0338
Phone: (415) 353-2804
Fax: (415) 353-2505