Lose Weight Without Weight Loss Surgery: How 7 Women Did It

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This year marks the 70th anniversary of weight loss surgery. Over the years, this major medical intervention has helped countless women lose weight and improve their cardiovascular health. “Bariatric surgery is the most powerful tool we have to treat the disease of obesity, and it is incredibly successful,” says  Shauna Levy, MD, medical director of Tulane Hospital’s Bariatric and Weight Loss Center. Yet the decision to go under the knife isn’t one to be taken lightly. So we reached out to weight-loss experts to discuss the future of bariatric surgery and its alternatives. We also went through the archives and gathered seven amazing stories from women who considered bariatric surgery, but were able to lose weight without it. Keep reading to learn how they managed to avoid weight loss surgery altogether.

What is weight loss surgery?

Weight loss surgery is a procedure that can permanently or temporarily change your anatomy in a way that promotes weight loss. The very first bariatric surgery was performed in 1954. It was referred to as an jejuno-ileal bypass. This surgical procedure removed a large portion of the small intestine. As a result, people lost weight by eating less (to accommodate the smaller size of their gut) and absorbing fewer calories along the way.

Since the 1950s, bariatric surgery has evolved. Today, there are many versions of the procedure, including gastric bypass and sleeve gastrectomy. These more modern procedures are less invasive and use laparoscopic or robotic assisted methods. Dr. Levy says, “Weight loss surgery is now routinely done through small incisions and is safer than having your gall bladder removed.”

Is Ozempic making weight-loss surgery unnecessary?

With the popularity of GLP-1 drugs like Ozempic, which is prescribed for diabetes and obesity, people are naturally wondering if weight loss surgery will remain a popular option. “Weight management is not one size fits all,” says Hans J. Schmidt, MD, Chief of Bariatric Surgery and director of the Center for Weight Loss and Metabolic Health at Hackensack University Medical Center. He adds, “Patients may need a program that integrates more than one approach to achieve the best results.”

What’s more, Dr. Schmidt believes the growing popularity of weight loss drugs may only increase the number of patients who ultimately seek weight-loss surgery. “These new weight loss drugs mimic the end result of bariatric surgery,” he explains. “They work by increasing levels of the digestive hormones that control appetite and insulin production but you must stay on them for life. And the higher the dose, there can be an increased risk of uncomfortable, gastrointestinal side effects.”

Related: Ozempic for Women Over 50? 5 Doctors Weigh In on the New Weight-Loss Injectables

Is it possible to lose major weight without surgery?

If surgery or prescription injections aren’t attractive options, is it still possible in this day and age to lose a life-changing amount of weight naturally. And it may be more common than you think. Dr. Levy says, “My advice to women who qualify for weight loss surgery, but are nervous about trying surgical options: I think these women should try one more diet if they think something about their situation is different that might lead to a different outcome.”

That’s what happened with the following seven women. They found ways to avoid weight loss surgery. Keep reading to see some of our favorite surgery-free weight-loss success stories from the First for Women archives.

How 7 women did it

#1. Jaime did it by changing up mealtimes

<span><span>Michael Keel</span></span>
Michael Keel

About 30 minutes into her first group meeting to learn about undergoing weight-loss surgery, Jaime DelliPizzi heard a comment from the back of the room. “I lost 200 pounds after surgery,” the voice said. “But I’ve been surviving on 2 tablespoons of applesauce a day.” That was the moment when Jaime knew: Surgery isn’t for me. There has to be a better way.

Switching gears, Jaime instead decided to try time-restricting her meals, consuming all of her calories on a schedule between 2pm and 10pm. (Some people call this approach intermittent fasting.) She focused on eating plenty of veggies and protein, plus healthy fats from shellfish and nuts. She found she was full and satisfied and rarely needed to snack.

How intermittent fasting helped Jaime

After 3 months, Jaime finally stepped on, then off, then on, a scale again and was amazed to discover she’d ditched 50 pounds. “I ran around the house celebrating like a lunatic. I couldn’t believe it.” Even more amazing, over time, she lost an astounding 187 pounds without ever regaining a pound. “It melted my body from head to toe.” She adds, “Sure, I still have some loose skin, but I wear shapewear. And I feel like a million bucks.”

Along the way, Jaime also lost her biggest health concerns. Her total cholesterol fell from “very high” to the “normal” range. Her blood pressure dropped from 199/96 to 132/80, and her A1C blood-sugar levels improved from 6.2 to 5.0. Even Jaime’s sleep apnea, PCOS and acid reflux vanished. “I healed myself in a little over one year,” says Jaime, who became a life coach. “My doctor was very happy.”

Related: Slimdown Success: How One Woman Lost 261 lbs With an Easy Twist on Intermittent Fasting

#2. Meredith did it with pool exercises

before and after of Meredith Volpe, who lost weight to avoid weight loss surgery
Amanda Picone Photography

Even jogging for 5 minutes felt like an eternity to Meredith Volpe. Feeling defeated, she pushed the ‘stop’ button on her treadmill and resigned to the fact that she was fighting an impossible battle with my broken body. She shares, “Over the years, I’d visited countless doctors about my pain. They all said the same thing: Lose weight and you’ll feel better. But how? Exercise was torture. And I’d only managed to shed ounces, not pounds, despite trying every diet under the sun.”

Meredith shares, “At one point, I considered trying to gain weight so I’d qualify for weight-loss surgery, but I knew getting bigger wasn’t the answer.” So she lived with the pain. Being on her feet as a salesperson for a hot-tub show-room only made my joints ache even more. But she wasn’t one to enjoy soothing soaks herself. She admits, “To be honest, the idea of wearing a bathing suit at my size was painful.”

How the water helped Meredith

Still, Meredith became curious when she started selling special tubs called ‘swim spas’ that were meant for exercise. And when a company offered to let her test out a unit at home to familiarize myself with the product, she gave it a try in the privacy of her backyard. “The first day, I stood in the corner of the swim spa, absentmindedly twisting my waist in the water. The next morning my stomach felt sore. Never in a million years did it dawn on me that I was exercising!"

Each day, Meredith got into the tub and lifted her legs against the water shooting from the jets or walked against the bubbling current. She also stretched and did yoga moves in the water. “I wasn’t a flexible person, but in the spa, I could do anything. My arthritis pain lessened within that first week.” Before long, she could even jog in the water without discomfort.” She says, “I fell in love with aquatic fitness and upgraded from my swim spa to an Endless Pools Fitness System, which has a hydraulic underwater treadmill and attachments, like oars for rowing.”

“Water exercise has been the best and easiest thing I’ve ever done for my body,” says Meredith. She dropped 112 pounds — that’s 7 pants sizes! She says, “My arthritis eased by 95% and I was able to get off my Rx medicine!”

Related: Denise Austin Shares 5 Easy Pool Moves That Help Burn Fat and Build Muscle

#3. Gina did it by cleaning up her diet

Before and after of Gina Canakis, who lost weight to avoid weight loss surgery
John Sturgis/Ikonik Pix

With blustery weather swirling out in the night air, Gina Canakis stood in a hospital room and watched her dad take his last breath. As she hugged her mother and two siblings tightly, she had one thought emerge from a tangled knot of emotions: Watching him suffer was heartbreaking. I don’t want this to happen to me.

“Seeing my dad in the hospital for obesity-related issues was a regular part of my life,” reveals Gina who was following in her father’s footsteps with extra pounds, acid reflux and sleep apnea. She seriously considered weight-loss surgery, but ultimately decided against it. “I knew I had to make better choices,” she reveals. So she began eating a clean diet of four meals per day. “I wanted my life back.”

How eating whole foods helped Gina

When Gina realized that “pre-boxed diet food” made her “ravenous,” she began eating balsamic chicken for breakfast for a hearty protein-packed start to each day. “I didn’t deprive myself," she shares. "I still had sips of red wine and Starbucks coffee. I felt phenomenal.”

Gina was amazed when she dropped 150 pounds (half her size!) without developing saggy arms or cellulite. She shed a grand total of 50 inches from various points on her body, watching her pant size plummet by 10 tags. She beams, “I’ve kept it off for a year and it’s no challenge maintaining.”

Through this transformation, Gina’s acid reflux and sleep apnea disappeared. Her cholesterol and blood sugar levels also improved. “I have always wanted to feel happy and at peace with myself. Now I have attained this dream,” says Gina, who inspires women through her blog, weightclique.com. “My father would be so proud. He didn’t get the opportunity to figure out his weight. But I know he would look at me and say, ‘You’re gorgeous. You’ve done well!’”

Related: How the Mediterranean Diet Can Help You Lose Weight

#4. Theresa did it with lots of water

Before and after of Theresa Borawski, who lost weight to avoid weight loss surgery!
Ryan Collier

Sitting in her mobility chair at home, Theresa Borawski took stock of her life. At 47, she could no longer walk or even stand long enough to brush her teeth due to her weight and rheumatoid arthritis. I’m going to have to move into assisted living, she accepted. Being obese and disabled is in my genes…it’s my fate.

Theresa never considered there was any other way…until the day her sister announced she was having weight loss surgery. Theresa didn’t have to think about it long. She was worried for her sister. In fact, she was so against the idea she vowed, I’ll show her!

Theresa immediately removed all the unhealthy snacks from her home. She confesses, “I had so much food I could have survived if we had a nuclear meltdown.” And instead of eating small meals throughout the day, she switched to three meals a day.

When hunger struck between meals, Theresa chewed sugar-free gum, plus she drank nearly 2 gallons of flavored water each day. To avoid late-night nibbling, she went to bed soon after dinner. And if cravings set in, she’d check in with her feelings to weed out triggers like stress and boredom. She also kept high-fiber foods like fruit in her purse as a sort of psychological security blanket. “I rarely needed them, but just knowing that they were there and that I didn’t have an excuse to eat junk food seemed to help.”

How extra hydration and fiber helped Theresa

Theresa’s body responded. She lost 5 pounds the first week. By the sixth week, her cravings subsided and her body got into a healthy rhythm of waiting for its next meal. “The biggest secret was not allowing myself a cheat day,” she says. “I trained my body to live without junk food instead of having to start over each week.”

After three months, Theresa dropped 47 pounds, compared with her sister who underwent surgery and lost 24 pounds. After 10 months, Theresa shed 158 pounds.

Before long, Theresa’s blood pressure, cholesterol and energy levels were all healthy. Her arthritis improved so dramatically, she no longer needed her doctor-prescribed six Vicodin each day. She gushes, “There isn’t anything I can’t do now. I never imagined life could be like this. I’m a miracle!”

Related: How An Electrolyte Water Like Liquid IV Can Help You Lose Weight and Have More Energy

#5. Melisa did it by eating more, not less

before and after of Melisa Shackelford, who lost weight to avoid weight loss surgery
Jon McKee

The short walk from her beach towel to the water’s edge seemed like a mile to Melisa Shackelford. I’m so exposed — everyone’s probably looking at my butt, she agonized, until at last she could plunge her body into the chilly water to hide.

Melisa had watched her weight rise like the tide — and her confidence sink like a stone — after having her third baby. She often starved herself until afternoon and never seemed able to adhere to diets or see lasting results.

How eating more, not less, helped Melisa

Then Melisa volunteered to test The Doctors Diet. Instead of feeling deprived and headachy as she feared, Melisa felt energized and fueled. Within three days, her sugar cravings were gone and after 14 days she was down 14 pounds. By week seven, she had lost 45 pounds. She raves, “I was having the same fast results as a friend who had gastric bypass surgery — without the risks.”

“For the first time in my life, I became a morning person — without coffee,” recalls Melisa. “I never thought I’d see these kinds of results eating this much food. And I have absolutely no fear of gaining the weight back.”

#6. Paulette did it by taking control of stress

before and after of Paulette Szalay, who lost weight to avoid weight loss surgery
Laura DeSantis Olsson

Paulette Szalay sat on a Florida beach covered shoulder-to-shin with a shawl, trying to hide her body. Looking at all the happy vacationers, she realized she was the only one stressing, not enjoying herself. That’s it, she decided. This is the first day of the rest of my life.

As a busy teacher and caregiver, Paulette admits, “I was a walking time bomb of stress. I probably gained 50 pounds in six months.” Yet she always thought weight loss would be impossible due to a thyroid condition, which can affect the adrenal glands and metabolism. So Paulette began preparing for gastric sleeve surgery by cutting out heavy carbs, eating clean meals and exercising. She lost 10 pounds in 7 days. And when she dropped 24 pounds the first month, her doctor said, “You don’t need surgery. You’re losing this weight on your own!”

How controlling stress helped Paulette

Although Paulette was eating more than before, she found, “My sweet tooth was gone.” She also practiced mindfulness, which dropped her stress from “a 10 to a 2.”

After ditching 90 pounds and countless inches, Paulette fulfilled a childhood dream and earned a modeling contract. Now she’s doing something that seemed impossible last year on that beach: She’s confidently strutting on fashion show runways. (See her in action on Instagram @pszalay01.) “I’m in paradise,” she says. “You really can change at any point. My new life feels like freedom!”

Related: Chronic Stress? Experts Say These Delicious Cortisol-Lowering Foods Can Help

#7. Susie did it by walking

Before and after of Susie Maines, who lost weight to avoid weight loss surgery
Jeff Miller

Susie Maines leaned against the counter, hoping to take a bit of pressure off her aching hips and knees. But it was no use. At 325 pounds, she could hardly stand on her feet for 8 hours a day as a clerk at the US Postal Service. She had to accept a hard truth: I’m going to have to retire. My body can’t take this anymore.

To save money after retirement, Susie moved in with her sister Becky, who also struggled with extra weight and joint pain. Susie looked into gastric bypass, but couldn’t even manage to lose 35 pounds to qualify.

That’s when the sisters decided to team up to get healthy together. They cleaned up their diet and began walking. Truth be told, while wearing a size 36W, Susie could barely walk 30 feet without having to sit down and catch her breath. But the pair tried to take a few more steps with each new day.

As pain persisted, Becky got the idea to buy Nordic-style walking poles, which they quickly discovered helped relieve pressure from their joints, steady their balance and improve their posture — factors that allowed them to walk pain-free. Susie says, “Without the sticks I don’t know if we would have continued walking.” In fact, after using them, she says, “I never had any issues with my hips hurting again.”

How walking helped Susie

The walking sticks helped counteract pain, stability and balance issues and improve confidence. With the pain gone, the sisters’ strolls grew to a couple miles a day. Susie says, “It just got easier and easier and I thought, ‘Oh man, I could just walk away these pounds.’” And she did! Susie watched her weight fall like an elevator. She shed 186 pounds and Becky dropped 187 pounds — all with the help of those simple walking poles.

Now the retiree says, “I’m in better shape today than I was when I was in my 30s.” Plus, she’s so glad she achieved this success side-by-side with her sibling. “If Becky hadn’t joined me on this journey, I don’t know where I would be.”

Related: Women Over 50 Are Losing 100+ lbs Without Dieting Just By Walking First Thing In the Morning

This content is not a substitute for professional medical advice or diagnosis. Always consult your physician before pursuing any treatment plan.