Chelsea Perry on Weight Loss, Surgery and the Struggles of Living with Obesity
College is where you're supposed to meet the people you'll be friends with for life, and I was lucky enough to meet a person like that named Chelsea Perry. We met in journalism class we both had to take during a summer semester, and we gravitated toward each other because there weren't a whole lot of other options. That turned into a real friendship, though.
One of the things that is so inspiring about Chelsea is her constant effort to be the best, healthiest version of herself she can be. Recently, that led her to make the decision to get weight loss surgery. Chelsea has struggled with her weight her entire life, but now she's taking a huge step to fight that battle, and I couldn't be more proud to call her my friend. I could write a whole post about her on my own, but for now, I'll let her do the talking.
JORDYN: Tell me a little about the surgery and what it entails.
CHELSEA: So basically, there are three main types of weight loss surgery: the Vertical Sleeve Gastrectomy (what I'm getting), Lap Band and, the most common one, Gastric Bypass. For VSG, they go in laparoscopically and remove about 80% of your stomach. After surgery, the stomach can hold only a tenth of what it could before (about 4-6 oz). With that part of the stomach they remove, they also remove most of the ghrelin hormone (also called the "hunger hormone"), which is what controls your appetite, so appetite is extremely reduced after surgery as well. They also remove the stretchy part of the stomach, so your stomach can never stretch to the capacity it was before. It will stretch a little bit after about a year, but not much. The VSG is also completely irreversible and is the only weight loss surgery that cannot be reversed, but its side effects and complications are much less than the others.
J: What led you to the decision to get the surgery?
C: I have been obese since I was 10 years old, and I've tried countless weight loss methods in the past. I've been successful with some, but always ended up regaining weight back. I don't have any comorbidities other than a high BMI. I don't have high blood pressure, cholesterol, diabetes, joint pain or anything else really related to being obese, but I'm only 23. My dad has sleep apnea and hypertension and my mom had breast cancer. While I know cancer isn't caused directly from being overweight, your chances are higher the heavier you are. My dad's high blood pressure is definitely a result of his weight, so I'm afraid of what my health may be like 20 years from now. Plus, I just don't feel good about myself! I get out of breath quickly, I sweat easily, I'm incredibly self-aware all the time. My weight has held me back from doing so many things I want to do, and I know I would be so much more outgoing if I weren't overweight.
J: What weight-loss methods have you tried?
C: I have tried so many things. When I was in 5th grade, yes, 5th grade, I went on Weight Watchers. I went to meetings and everything. I lost maybe 9 pounds (which felt like 100 at that age) and for some reason or another I stopped going. Then, in middle school, I started gaining a lot of weight. I tried Atkins, South Beach; you name it, I probably tried it. I would always lost 20 pounds. That was the magic number. I'd lose 20 and then quit and gain it all back and then some. In high school I continued to gain weight steadily and rapidly. My junior year I broke my ankle which put me out of commission for a few months. I sat on the couch for months doing nothing but eating, and I gained a lot of weight because of it. After I was recovered, I went to a medically supervised weight loss program where I was put on Phentermine, which is an appetite suppressant, and a low calorie/high protein diet. I lost about 40 pounds but slowly got off track and gained it back. Then I graduated high school and started college. I ate fast food daily, sometimes twice a day, and I reached my highest weight ever a year later. Because of my horrible eating habits, I got gallstones (worst pain of my life; worse than the broken ankle) and had to get my gallbladder removed. That was a huge reality check for me. I went back to the same doctor I had seen in high school and over 2 years I lost 100 pounds. I felt AMAZING! I still had about 70 pounds more to lose, but I still felt so much better. My asthma went away, I was down like 6 pant sizes, it was the best I had ever felt about myself. I reached my lowest weight about 2 years ago and gained about 30 back. Earlier this year, I saw a different doctor for a similar plan for a few months and started doing Insanity workouts and lost about 25 pounds, but have since regained all of that and more; almost 50 pounds of the 100 back in total. I'm still not where I used to be, which is a relief, but as soon as I went off the appetite suppressants, all my bad habits slowly started coming back and I've been slowly gaining weight since. I know where my weight is headed and I am so afraid of going back to where I was. Because of that, I know I need to do something drastic and I need more help than just changing my diet.
From left to right, these photos were taken in 2003, 2004, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2010, 2011, 2013, 2014, 2014.
J: What do your family and friends think about your decision?
C: They have all been SO supportive of me. Of course at first, everyone I told was worried about me, but not once did I feel judged, which was my biggest fear since weight loss surgery is such a stigma attached to it. My family and friends who have known me for years know how much of a struggle my weight has always been for me, and they've seen my weight go up and down, and I think they just want me to be happy and healthy. My parents are incredibly supportive as well. They obviously know my struggle better than anyone else; my mom was there when my pediatrician told me I should get gastric bypass surgery when I was 10 years old (absolutely insane, if you ask me). My boyfriend is supportive and just wants to see me happy and not so self conscious all the time, he's just worried about the actual surgery more than anything. And I can't leave out my amazing grandmother. She's actually paying for my surgery. She has always been one of my biggest supporters. When I was younger she would try to motivate me to lose weight by giving me money for reaching certain goals, and when I told her I was going to have this surgery, she offered to pay for it without me even asking. Words cannot describe how thankful I am for her and her constant support. Overall, everyone in my life has been so incredibly supportive of me and I could not ask for a better support system than the one I have.
J: How do you hope to change or how do you think your life will change after the surgery?
C: I am happy with my life right now and am so lucky to have the life that I do, but this one thing has always held me back from being completely happy. I hope that when I get the surgery and reach my goal that my life will be everything I've always imagined it to be. I want to walk into any clothing store and be able to fit into anything. Right now, I can only shop in the plus size sections. When I lost 100 pounds, that was starting to go away but I was still the biggest size in every store and I've always been plus size in pants. So I look forward to that so much. I think I'll feel more confident and I'll stand up for myself more. I think I'll be way more outgoing, because right now my weight holds me back from doing so many things I want to do, like going to music festivals, concerts, theme parks, the beach, etc. because I'm always so uncomfortable at those places. I could go on forever about how many things I hope will change, but those are the main things.
J: How are you feeling? What's been going through your mind since you made this decision?
C: I made this decision just a couple of months ago. Surgery has always been something that's crossed my mind but never something I seriously thought about until this year. For some reason I reached my breaking point and told myself I needed to do this for myself and this was the right time. I'm feeling a little overwhelmed because this whole process has only been about 2 months total, when normally this process takes 6 months to a year for the average person because most insurances require seeing a nutritionist for 6+ months, but ironically I had already done that earlier this year like I mentioned before so I've already gotten the hard part out of the way. I'm squeezing this into just a couple of months and it's overwhelming, but I'm more excited than anything. Of course I'm nervous for how different my life is going to be and scared of all the changes I'm going to have to make. It's going to be a HUGE adjustment and a very long learning process. I'm scared of the potential side effects like hair loss (though temporary), not being able to eat and drink at the same time ever again, all of the dietary restrictions I'm now going to have and of course it's nerve-wracking knowing this is permanent and can never be reversed. But I know this will all be worth it in the end. When I look in the mirror and like what I see and live life like I've always wanted to, all of the downsides won't matter.
J: Do you think society influenced your decision to get this surgery or to lose weight in general?
C: I think society has partially influenced my decision. It's influenced the superficial part of my decision that wants the surgery so I can look good and feel good about myself, the part of me that wants to walk into any store and be able to buy clothes. That part of my decision is definitely partially from society, but the part of me who wants the surgery for my own health and long-term well-being is for me, no one else.
J: When is the surgery?
C: I'm scheduled for December 11! It's not set in stone yet but that's looking to be the date.
If you want to follow Chelsea's journey to become healthier, you can follow her on Instagram at thehealthychelsea. You can also follow her everyday Instagram, perrychels, and you can find her on Twitter at perrychels.
I plan on following up with Chelsea after her surgery, so check back here after December 11 if you want to know how everything went.