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Making strides: Bariatric patients face daily struggles

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Bariatric surgery is by no means the easy way out.

That’s the one thing Brandy   Walters wants the rest of the world to understand about her weight-loss journey.

The mother of two slimmed down by more than half her body weight — from 300 pounds to 135 — through Roux-en-Y gastric bypass surgery at The Bariatric Center at Columbus Regional Health more than five years ago.

But she said the fight with her weight was not over then — and it never will be.

“They think it’s go in, have the surgery, get small, and you’ll never have to worry about a thing again,” she said.

But she said that’s not the case for bariatric patients.

Most take vitamins for the rest of their lives, and they need to find ways to stay active.

For Walters and a handful of other former patients, training to walk in the Mill Race Half Marathon became the perfect way to stay in control of their weight.

Making a change

She had not begun to experience serious health issues such as high blood pressure or diabetes. But Walters still knew it was time to do something about her weight.

“My kids were 1 and 3 at the time, and I was just having trouble keeping up with them,” she said. “I couldn’t get down on the floor and change their diaper without struggling. I thought, ‘It’s only going to get worse as they get bigger.’”

Before the surgery, Walters couldn’t fit in an amusement ride. She visited Holiday World with friends, and it took two attendants to fasten the seat belt.

Walkers welcome

Walkers are encouraged to enter the Mill Race Marathon, Half Marathon or 5K on Sept. 27 in Columbus.

Here are the paces that must be maintained to receive an official time:

MARATHON: 15-minute-per-mile pace

HALF-MARATHON:17-minute-per-mile pace

5K: 20-minute-per-mile pace. All participants who complete the full or half-marathon and receive an official time are eligible to win the Cummins-powered 2014 RAM 2500 Crew Cab heavy-duty pickup truck.

“One was hooking while one was pushing because I was so big,” she said. “That was another realization. Am I going to be able to do any of this stuff with the kids?”

Now she can — and does.

Her sons are now 6 and 8, and she’s coached soccer and baseball teams and walked alongside them in 5K races.

It wasn’t until she saw pictures of herself before the surgery that she realized her transformation.

“I was going through pictures on my computer, and it was then that I realized how big I really was,” Walters said. “When you’re that big, it’s almost like you’re blind to it.”

Weight got in the way

Angie Cunningham also had a slow realization that she needed to make a change.

“Food became my comfort and my best friend,” she said. “When I tried to get into a sorority and they rejected me, what did I turn to? Papa John’s breadsticks.”

She said she was still healthy and active at that point in her life, and the food didn’t seem to be a big deal, but then her weight started to get in the way.

She also realized she could no longer fit in fair rides, and she could no longer lift herself off the ground easily.

“I would ask for a table instead of a booth because the booth would push in on me,” she said.

After bariatric surgery, Cunningham lost 140 pounds and has walked in several 5K events.

Just a month after surgery, she was able to chase her nephew around the house and lift him up.

She played softball, and first base no longer looked like it was five miles away.

“It’s been worth every second, and I would do (the surgery) over again in a heartbeat,” she said.

Constant battle

Many bariatric patients continue to struggle with their weight for years after surgery — and not just physically.

“It’s a constant fight against the fat chick that lives in our heads,” Cunningham said.

A friend pointed out one day that she was walking with her arms lifted out to the sides, where they used to rest on her excess body weight.

When Walters buys clothes, she still gravitates toward larger sizes.

“I always think I’m bigger than what I am. It’s a struggle every day,” she said.

Patients, susceptible to weight gain like anyone else, need to eat right and exercise to maintain a life change that began with surgery.

That’s why Julie Knight, a registered dietitian at The Bariatric Center, walks alongside Walters, Cunningham and a few other former patients to train for the Mill Race Half Marathon.

She said bariatric patients have to watch what they eat differently.

At water stops, they should be fueling up on protein rather than Swedish fish that are distributed, Knight said.

“We could all come out here and do this by ourselves or with the Columbus Running Club, but they don’t know what we’ve gone through,” Walters said. “They don’t realize what it’s like for someone who has had bariatric surgery to come out and do something like this.”

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