A small bead of sweat trickled down my back as I stood over the patient on the operating table. We were in the fifth hour of surgery now and the heaviness of the lead suit and the squeeze of the smock around my waist converged like an angry tourniquet. I knew I was too heavy to stand much longer, too out-of-shape to withstand the inordinate number of hours on my feet.
It was my fourth year of residency and I was perpetually uncomfortable. My feet hurt. My back ached. My knees buckled under my weight, which was 270 pounds. I started to live in a prism of body shame. I had to wear the largest lead apron the hospital had. I arrived early, claimed it and tucked it away, not wanting anyone to see me searching for it. No one knew, I thought.
But I knew. I also knew that something had to change.
I decided I would.
Starting a new life
I was a neurosurgery resident. It had taken tremendous discipline and hard work to get me there. But I struggled to apply that level of focus and resolve to my personal life.
I thought about how dedicated I was to my career. Was I willing to sacrifice everything, including my health, in the name of medicine?
No, I was not.
Turns out, I’m not invincible after all or above the need for self-care. So after countless Oreos, fast-food festivals, and late-night snack sessions, I decided to see a primary care physician.
One of the first questions she asked me was, ‘What do you think is going on?’
Hmmm. I was puzzled. Did she need glasses?
‘What do you mean?’ I replied. ‘I’m fat.’
The physician very sensitively discussed a pastel version of weight loss, undoubtedly making an effort to insulate me from insult or injury. But I didn’t need coddling, I needed to be accountable.
That next day, on Dec. 30, 2017, I started a new life.
I exercised every day. I cut out fast food. I cut out sweets and anything that was tempting. I ate only fruits and veggies and lean meat. I started tracking my calories every day. And I ran like crazy. Quite slowly at first, admittedly. In the beginning, I’d work out on the elliptical for 20 minutes and feel like I was going to die.
But I did not stop.
Shred and burn
I noticed results quickly. The number on the scale started dropping. I felt good. I was no longer exhausted throughout the day. I started to have energy and stamina again.
At 270 pounds, my goal was to lose 70 pounds in a year. I ultimately lost 90 pounds, more quickly than I ever imagined I would. So far, I’ve maintained the weight loss.
I still track my calories every day. I’ve trained myself to do things in moderation. Now, when I see sweets, I automatically convert the snack into the number of hours it will take to work it off. It’s simply not worth it to me.
I’ve always been a person of routine, a person who follows systems and methods. In medical school, I arrived early. In residency, I arrive to work early. I go through things at work with precision and consistency and discipline. Now I apply those skills to my personal life.
Recently, during a four-hour-plus surgery, my attending who’d been with me through my larger days asked if I needed him to take over. But I was in the zone. I have so much energy these days, I hadn’t even realized we’d gotten to the four-hour mark.
‘No, I’ve got it.’ I replied, realizing I could stand for another hour or more. Easily.
My smock is no longer tight. My lead apron is no longer the largest. My hands and my mind have more dexterity than ever before.
I no longer feel like a prisoner inside my body. I feel great.