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In August 2016, Eric Suarez had reached a point where his weight was seriously interfering with everyday life.
He weighed 565 pounds. Then, he developed cellulitis in his leg.
His primary care physician recommended he schedule an appointment with Dr. Omar Shamsi, a bariatric and obesity medicine specialist with Endeavor Health® Weight Management.
“I had been heavy my whole life,” Suarez says. “I had lost 100 pounds three or four times in my life, but I always gained it back. I was getting fed up.”
At his appointment with Dr. Shamsi, Suarez agreed to work with a dietitian to lose weight by adjusting his diet.
“Dr. Shamsi was awesome. It was so comfortable. I felt like he really cared.”
It wasn’t easy to drop the pounds by changing his diet, Suarez says, but he stuck with it.
“Losing weight with diet was difficult. You have an addiction to food,” Suarez says. “It’s almost like giving up a drug. So that was tough.”
“Addiction is a psychological condition, where someone has a hard time breaking that habit. For Eric, it was food,” Dr. Shamsi says. “Food was his go-to when he was stressed, happy, bored or for many other reasons. It’s important to understand surgery on your stomach may not fix what’s happening in the brain.
“Part of our program includes a psychologist, who helps us with these kind of issues. ‘Addiction change’ is another real psychological issue, where addiction to food may change to gambling, drugs, alcohol or sex. This is why we take addiction to food very seriously,” Dr. Shamsi says.
Then Suarez started to talk to Dr. Shamsi about surgery. He met with bariatric surgeons Dr. Mark Choh and Dr. Ryan Headley, and, after two weeks of a liquid diet, had a vertical sleeve gastrectomy in August 2017, about a year after his initial appointment.
During this procedure, the surgeon removes about 85 percent of the stomach so that it takes the shape of a tube or sleeve, limiting the amount of food you can eat.
Good candidates for bariatric surgery meet several criteria. First, their Body Mass Index (BMI) is greater than or equal to 40; or greater than 35 with obesity-related medical conditions.
Second, they must be willing to commit to a completely different lifestyle.
Candidates must understand that obesity is a chronic, lifelong condition, and surgery is only a part of the treatment pathway. Being successful requires education and readdressing how you approach eating, nutrition and meal planning.
Recovery was tough, and a lifestyle adjustment, but worth it, Suarez says.
“You learn about your body, what it wants, what it doesn’t want. What you can digest,” Suarez says. “It’s not easy, but it’s worth it. I tell people who are nervous about surgery that I would do this once a year if it meant I could feel the way I feel now.”
The staff at Endeavor Health Weight Management left no question unanswered. Suarez said he was fully prepared for recovery from surgery and the adjustment to a new lifestyle.
“They give you a book with every question you could possibly think of. What to eat, when to eat it,” Suarez says, adding that he was on a strict liquid diet for about two months after surgery.
“Eight weeks out, you could have an egg,” Suarez says. “That was like a whole meal. One scrambled egg. A guy who goes from eating two double cheeseburgers and a beef goes to one egg.”
Now Suarez works out every morning with a personal trainer, lifting weights. On weekends he plays basketball, softball and soccer.
“I’ve always enjoyed sports, but it was difficult for me to play a whole game before,” Suarez says. “Now I can actually play and play the whole game. It makes me so happy to be able to do that.”
He reached his goal weight, and then dropped even more pounds. When he hit 235 pounds, Dr. Shamsi said he should weigh about 255 for his height (6’ 3”) and muscle mass. He packed on more muscle through his workouts and is now preparing for skin removal surgery early next year.
“The hardest part is the mental adjustment. You change as a person. Everything revolved around food before, and now it doesn’t,” Suarez says. “But I would do it again in a heartbeat.”
There has been another, positive side effect to Suarez’s weight loss journey: his success has motivated his family and friends to live healthier.
“My brothers are now in the gym and eating better. My brother’s kid is going to the gym. It’s not only you that changes, everyone around you gets inspired,” Suarez says.
“I am very proud of Eric’s success. He shows commitment by coming for regularly scheduled appointments. He has also helped change the dynamics of health in his own house. He is a great role model for his family and community,” Dr. Shamsi says.
Endeavor Health® Weight Management at Edward-Elmhurst Health offers both surgical and non-surgical options to help you achieve permanent weight loss and the healthy, active life you were meant to live.
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