Ryan: Battle Scars

Remember when you were a kid?  As winter approached, our parents warned us about picking up outside toys before it snowed, knowing that once a Maine winter really arrived, it could be months before we see them again.  I still remember pining for action figures or Tonka trucks trapped under snow and the glorious reunion when a glint of metal at the surface signaled their return. They were usually none the worse for wear.  Toys were just made tougher then.  

Through my teenage years and young adulthood, I thought taking off excess weight would be a lot like that.  I dreamed of six pack abs, thinking I was entitled to them when I finally found the right diet. Think about the vocabulary we use for the process.  You just need to lose weight.  Hmmm…..I never had any trouble finding extra pounds, so losing it sounds pretty easy, too.  Just eat this, that or the other, and the weight will melt right off.  I especially liked that one.  I imagined myself as a shiny new GI Joe hibernating until spring. 

Once I figured out that nebulous “how”, life would be sweet.  No lasting consequences. Just an Abercrombie and Fitch model waiting to happen.  

Nope.

After I lost 120 pounds, I realized that my body could change for the better – significantly – but nothing short of a time machine would take me to a pre-weight gain body.  In fact, I have more muscle mass now than ever, and I suspect I do have a six pack, but nobody can see it.  

I considered cosmetic surgery to restore the stomach I thought I deserved.  A surgeon recommended a circumferential abdominoplasty, a particularly involved procedure in which the muscles around the entire abdomen are cut, lifted from the body, pulled tight and reattached.  Oh…and the excess skin is also removed. OH…and the whole thing could be financed by a loan company, an amount that was more than my first car.

I decided pretty quickly that I would not be having surgery, but the imperfections still bothered me.  I soon learned that the damage to my body was more than cosmetic.

A few years ago, I was getting ready to go to a high school graduation when I noticed a bulge in my groin that disappeared when I pressed it.  I knew what it was and hoped to avoid medical intervention, but that wasn’t in the cards. It got worse quickly. I was soon limping my way through the last weeks of school and planning for hernia surgery over my summer break.

My doctor explained that this was a common result after a major weight loss.  The muscles of the abdomen are stretched out by excess fat, and they don’t magically snap back just because I lost pounds.  I probably shared my GI Joe under the snow theory. He probably laughed at my naivete.

Overall I’ve had a good result.  I am at greater risk for future hernias, and occasionally after exertion, I have discomfort around the mesh used to correct the problem.  And occasionally I feel really bummed out about all of it.  

Most of the time though, I choose to look at stretch marks, extra skin and random twinges around a surgical site not as flaws but as battle scars.  They are visible, tangible symbols of how far I have come, and I am fiercely proud of that accomplishment. You see, becoming physically healthy is not about losing or melting anything.  It’s about making better decisions for your life, not for a few random weeks while trying out a diet, but for the long haul.  It’s about confronting the emotional baggage that contributed to the weight gain in the first place. It’s hard work, and hard work leaves some marks.  

Yeah, I have battle scars, but the victory is sweet.  
The whole story of our personal transformation is in our new book, Unbelievable Freedom:  How Intermittent Fasting Transformed Our Health and Happiness, available on Amazon using the link below.