Wellness Wins is an original Yahoo series that shares the inspiring stories of people who have shed pounds healthfully.
Madi McKinnon is 5 feet, 7 inches tall and currently weighs 165 pounds. In 2017, after trying many different ways to lose weight, she finally found success through weight-loss surgery. This is her weight-loss story, as told to Yahoo Lifestyle.
The Turning Point
The first time I realized I was bigger was in first grade. I was called “fat girl” on the way in from recess by an older boy wearing a too-big leather jacket. I’ve never forgotten that moment because it really made me sit and think, “I’m too big? I’m the fat girl?” I was indeed overweight for my age, something that has been the case since I was very young.
As I got older and my weight kept climbing, I started missing out on things in life. It happened slowly through high school: I had to drop out of swim team, couldn’t go on hikes with family and friends, and avoided going places that involved any amount of walking past the parking lot. By the time I got to my heaviest weight, my legs were always very swollen and painful. I broke a sweat just walking around my house, and life was overall incredibly uncomfortable.
I went on countless diets through the years, starting at age 11-12. My family was incredibly supportive and helped me with every crazy exercise program and diet that I tried. I would lose weight, but gain it all back — plus more — every time I would try to transition to more of a maintenance-type diet.
I got discouraged with this pattern after high school and stopped trying for a couple years. Everything changed when I met my amazing husband. When we got married and I realized that he could be a widower by the age of 35 if something didn’t change, I decided the time had come. I wanted to live life and have the experiences everyone else has in their 20s, and I wanted a family some day.
One day I walked past the TV at my parents’ house and heard a mention of weight-loss surgery. It felt like the universe had slapped me upside the head. I couldn’t believe I hadn’t thought of it before. We found out our insurance had bariatric coverage and within about four months I was at the hospital for surgery.
I had the biliopancreatic diversion with duodenal switch on April 7, 2017. That date marks the start of my new life. There are still some people out there who think that surgery is the “easy way out” — it’s anything but. Weight-loss surgery is a tool and requires a lot of work with diet and exercise. My diet is forever altered because of my surgery — my insides have changed so the way I process food has changed. I don’t get a cheat day without consequences; I don’t get to just “take a break” from my new way of eating. I have to eat high protein and low carb in order to feel my best and be as healthy as possible.
I tracked my food to make sure I was getting enough protein and calories. I started going to the gym in June 2016 and never stopped. I tried to go at least 4-5 days per week and lift weights for about 45 minutes with 15 minutes of cardio. I’ve always loved to exercise, so the gym became my happy place during this time.
While I was losing weight, I was motivated by the scale obviously, but also by all of the things I was able to do. Shaving my legs no longer required holding my breath. I didn’t need to be dropped off at the front of the grocery store to avoid walking in the parking lot. Finding clothes was no longer a heartbreaking and frustrating experience. There were times where I questioned everything and wanted to just go back to my old life. The support and love of my family and friends was invaluable and kept me going through the times I wanted nothing more than to just curl up and cry.
Physically, the changes are almost impossible to put into words. I used to have to think about every aspect of my day: How much walking would I have to do? Would I even be able to do it? Am I going to sweat all of my makeup off just getting to my car? Are my legs going to hurt like this all day? Now I think life is best defined by my lack of having to think. I park far away in parking lots. I bend down to pick things up off the floor without a thought. I do my makeup and trust that I’m not going to be pouring sweat unless I’m at the gym. My life has changed for the better in more ways than I can count.
Something that’s been surprising is how differently I’m treated in public by strangers. I managed to make it through the fat years without being mistreated or getting rude comments; it was more like I was just invisible. Now when I’m out I have employees ask if I need help, the door is held open, and strangers smile if we make eye contact. There is a major societal bias against those considered overweight or obese and it’s not always malicious and in your face — it’s subtle and quiet. I was fat and therefore I simply wasn’t worth paying attention to. It really makes me sad because people are so much more than our size.
I still track my food every day to make sure my protein is where it should be and to make sure I’m staying in my calorie limit. Currently, I’m on a little gym break as I recover from skin-removal surgery, but I am typically at the gym 5-6 days per week lifting and do a little bit of cardio here and there. Next year, I hope to start powerlifting. I am naturally muscular (thanks, Dad!) and figure I might as well capitalize on my genetics. I am insanely competitive and love to feel strong, so powerlifting seems like a good fit.
I have learned to love cooking at home; I have a lot of fun meal planning and coming up with new “Madi-friendly” meals that my husband will enjoy as well. It saves us a ton of money and allows me to control what is in my food so I can make sure it’s going to fit my macros and lifestyle. For the most part, I cook all three meals at home every day. It’s taken a lot of practice to feel more confident in the kitchen, but it’s something I truly enjoy now. Tracking my food has just become second nature and I do that daily as well; it helps me combat mindless snacking because I know that if it goes in my mouth, it goes in MyFitnessPal app.
My motivation comes from setting goals and knowing I am now capable of achieving them. I want to start training to compete in powerlifting. I want to hike in Zion National Park. I want to feel confident enough to wear a two-piece swimsuit. And now, for the first time in my life, I am healthy and physically capable of doing these things. I enjoy my life so much more now, and I want to do everything in my power to never go back to how things were. I know what life can be now, and I wouldn’t trade it for anything.
I struggle with my self-confidence perhaps even more than I did before losing weight. I didn’t have a problem being my goofy self because I already knew what everyone thought about me. Now that I am more along what society would deem a “normal weight,” I have struggled finding the “new me.”
I feel much more vulnerable without 270 pounds to hide behind. If somebody doesn’t think I look good, I can’t say it’s just because I’m fat. Body dysmorphia goes right along with the self-image problems. I still look in the mirror and see myself in 2017: round, swollen, and big. Seeing pictures of myself now is very strange and it takes me an extra second to be able to find myself in a group photo.
I don’t have any shame in stating that I am working on finding a therapist to help me address these issues. I have a lot of years of poor self-esteem to work through, and I believe there to be a lot of value in therapy for things like this. In the meantime, I keep a very open line of communication with my husband and family, and they are wonderful and help me talk things out when I need to.
The single biggest thing I could tell anyone wanting to lose weight is to start now. The time is going to pass whether you make a change or not, so start now. Even if it is as simple as limiting the amount of soda you drink or treats you have. Every small change is a step in the right direction, and every small change you make now is going to make your life easier down the road. Start with something small and do that for a month or two. Once that’s a habit, do another small thing. The small things add up and will lead to great changes before you know it.
Need more inspiration? Read about our other wellness winners!
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