Joe Hickry has lost 56 kilograms in just six months after having weight loss surgery - but there's a part of him that wishes he'd never done it.
I’m Lebanese, and if you’ve ever met a Lebanese person you'd know food is at the centre of everything we do – I’m not exaggerating.
It’s the way we bond as families, it’s how we celebrate Christmas and Easter and just about everything else. It’s huge Sunday barbeques every weekend, rich stuffed zucchinis and salty kibbeh and creamy hummus – food is the very essence of our culture. In fact, I will go as far as to say it’s the way your mother shows you love. And that can be a beautiful thing.
But I just couldn’t stop.
When it came to food, I ate anything and everything. I’d lie to my wife and go through KFC drive-throughs for dinner, part one, and then go home for dinner, part two.
There was always that little devil on my shoulder and the temptation is too much when you love food the way I do.
When I got to 130kgs I had weight loss surgery because I felt I had no other option.
My doctors told me I was eating myself to an early death and after yo-yo dieting for years I just knew I didn’t have the will power to stop. I needed to lose the weight – and I needed to do it fast. This was my permanent fix.
Today, six months after gastric sleeve surgery, I am 74kgs.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m happy, I knew it was what I needed and I am so much healthier now. But here’s something they don’t tell you in the feel-good weight loss surgery success stories…you lose a lot more than the weight.
I’ll preface it with this… I’m sharing my experience, my opinion – and it’s just that. I don’t want to discourage or deter anyone from considering surgery as an option when there’s nothing else left to do, and their health is at risk.
I just wish I had tried harder before I jumped into this drastic, life-changing and irreversible measure.
Since the surgery, I’ve lost the ability to sit down with my family and have a meal with them, and actually enjoy it – I’m done with my tiny portion in about five minutes, while they’re all around me still eating. I can’t eat the same things they eat and I miss the food and the flavours. I avoid going to family gatherings now because of all the food around me, and losing that social part of my life is hard.
But it’s not an easy road to recovery, or a smooth transition into a healthy lifestyle.
Some people say they lose their cravings for food after surgery, but I haven’t. I miss the way I used to eat, and the enjoyment I took from it. And despite knowing I shouldn’t, and physically cannot, ever go back to that – part of me regrets my decision.
I describe it to my friends as bariatric surgery being, for me, the equivalent of cutting the nose off a cocaine addict. You can take away the stomach, but you can’t so easily take away the addiction.
It’s not just the social aspects, though. Most people have a drink with their meal and you can’t do that after the surgery. Picture drinking by accident because you’ve just eaten and the natural thing to do is pick up a glass of water – and then you vomit. And breaking the habit is hard, so you do it over and over again. Or you poo your pants by accident because you can’t control your bowel movements the way you used to.
I think people need to know that bariatric surgery is hard work – far too often we hear only about how wonderful it is and how amazing people look afterwards. But it’s not an easy road to recovery, or a smooth transition into a healthy lifestyle. It wasn’t for me, anyway.
In recent weeks, things have picked up a little. I’ve just started being able to re-introduce protein into my diet – which I’m relieved about. Six months after surgery, I am still in the early, difficult stage of getting used to what this all means, and the changes I’ve had to make. So I’m hopeful that things will continue to get better, and I can slowly learn to live healthily and happily with my new, smaller stomach, body and portion sizes – because as much as I love food, I want to be alive to enjoy it in the future and I’m grateful this surgery has allowed me that.