Weight Loss Solved: How a Social Worker Had Bariatric Surgery and Lost 145 Pounds
After bariatric surgery helped her lose 145 pounds, Colleen Pringle says "the support and education was the most important" part of the process. Photo: Courtesy of Colleen Pringle
Many Canadians have tried hard to lose weight — more than 60 per cent of us are obese or overweight, according to Statistics Canada — and been frustrated by the lack of results. But instead of giving up, perhaps they should try something else.
Not every strategy works for every person, and science backs that up, says Dr. Shahebina Walji, medical director of the Calgary Weight Management Centre. As one of the co-authors of the upcoming Canadian Clinical Practice Guidelines for the Management of Obesity, Walji has been combing the literature.
“A big theme we have come across is that weight-loss approaches need to be tailored to the individual,” she says. “There’s no cookie-cutter approach that works for everyone.”
Here we introduce you to social worker Colleen Pringle of Burlington, Ont., who has struggled with her weight since high school, even though she enjoyed cycling and hiking. Over the decades, she tried numerous weight-loss programs. “I would lose the weight. But then not only would I gain it back, I’d gain more.” By the time Pringle turned 40, she was on medication for high blood pressure and no longer had the stamina to keep up with her teenage daughter.
In our Weight Loss Solved series, we hope these personal stories inspire you on your own journey to happiness and health.
The Situation: Yo-Yo Weight Gainer
The Solution: Bariatric Surgery
None of the programs Pringle turned to were providing the emotional support she knew she needed, and she felt this was a gaping hole. “They don’t
address the psychological side of why you’re gaining weight. But for many people, eating is a coping strategy.”
What Worked For Her
As a last resort, Pringle consulted her doctor about bariatric surgery, which reduces stomach size and may also bypass part of the small intestine. Getting approved for surgery meant a year of screening, classes and counselling, and appointments with a range of professionals including a nurse, social worker and dietitian, all to help Pringle prepare. This was gold. “The support and education, for me, was the most important piece of it. I felt I had every question answered, every possible scenario covered. It was so helpful.”
She also received extensive follow-up care. In her psychological counselling, Pringle was able to explore and work through weight-related issues from her past, such as self-esteem and family expectations.
Almost six years later and 145 pounds lighter, Pringle is no longer on medication. For the rest of her life, she must eat nutrient-dense food in small amounts, restrict sugar and take supplements to prevent malnutrition. It’s worth it, she says. She has returned to the physical activities she loves and has even run a half-marathon. “My life just completely did a 180,” she says. “I finally found that the person I felt I was on the inside now matched the person on the outside.”
The Doctor Weighs In
Pringle’s experience makes perfect sense, says Walji. “There’s a strong link between emotional health and obesity.” The way we feel can influence our eating patterns and even affect biological mechanisms. A good surgical program will have the kind of multidisciplinary education and support offered to Pringle. “They’ll also have a post-operative program to follow you, to make sure you’re not getting micro- or macronutrient deficiencies.”
You may be a candidate for bariatric surgery if your body mass index is over 40 or if it’s over 35 and you’ve developed a weight-related complication like diabetes. Be wary of private clinics or out-of-country treatments, which may not be as strictly regulated, can carry higher health risks and may not offer adequate preparation and follow-up. Talk with your doctor about the options.
A version of this article appeared in the Jan/Feb 2020 issue with the headline, “Drop It Like It’s Hot,” p. 66-72.