Kayla Butcher once weighed nearly 400 pounds. Overweight by the time she turned 8, Kayla was raised with her five siblings in what she calls a "toxic, sick home" overflowing with junk food. "Swiss Rolls and Zebra Cakes were my downfall," she says. "We never had limits on what we could eat."
In the past year, though, Kayla has shed 186 pounds. And although she's damn proud of her progress, she now carries a shell of excess skin hanging under her arms, along her thighs, and over her pants. "Everything is loose, saggy, wrinkly, and deflated," says the 24-year-old from Canada of the estimated 20 pounds of skin encumbering her.
Kayla refers to the excess skin on her belly as her "apron." "It hangs and moves around, and it makes me look and feel way bigger than I truly am," she says.
A Brutal Beginning
Although Kayla's childhood diet was full of sweets, fast food, and pizza, she didn't let her poor nutrition or weight slow her down: She ran track and played floor hockey, volleyball, and softball (her real passion). Still, the pounds piled on, particularly after she was diagnosed with depression at age 14 and began eating food to cope.
"People like to say I made the choice to be fat on my own [but] this was definitely not a choice of mine," says Kayla, who insists stress at home contributed to her condition: "There were drug dependencies and addiction, as well as far too many issues between my parents that they did not keep from the kids," she remembers.
The drama led her to leave home at age 16, a move that proceeded Kayla's greatest weight gain to date. Within a year of settling into a new city to attend college, Kayla estimates she put on about 145 pounds.
But it wasn't until she had to quit softball - she could no longer run the bases - that the severity of her weight gain set in. Around the same time, Kayla's boyfriend broke things off and she flunked two classes. She lost her financial aid and eventually withdrew from school. "I felt like such a failure in every way," she says.
Time for a Change
It took three difficult years for Kayla to isolate her weight as the problem, at which point she enrolled in a publicly funded gastric bypass program with a rigorous, 13-month pre-operation process that required her to prove to a doctor, social worker, and dietician that she was capable of making lifestyle changes. She kept a food journal, weaned herself off soda and fast food, cooked at home, ate smaller portions, and even left her wallet at home when she went to work to avoid buying junk food. "There was nothing easy about the process for me," she says. "It [seemed] better than living the rest of my life in shame, being moo-ed at in the streets," she says.
In February 2016, Kayla underwent her gastric bypass surgery. Since then, she's largely given up carbs in favor of what she calls "eating like a 2-year-old," aka eating small portions of high-protein foods and veggies. When she can, she'll walk instead of use public transportation and she even enjoys trips to the gym.
Still, every day is a struggle. "Gastric bypass made losing the weight easier and more possible, but it's more a mind game than anything else," she says. "It's like quitting your drug of choice cold turkey."
When Weight Loss Leaves Its Mark
Now that Kayla has shed nearly half of her body weight, she struggles to hide her excess skin beneath her clothing - something she can't exactly do in intimate situations. "I am more self-conscious now at 189 pounds naked than I ever was at 376 pounds," she says. "I look and feel like a balloon that has lost all of its air a week after a party."
Although her gastric bypass surgery was covered by public health care - gotta love Canada! - skin removal for people like Kayla, who has no medical issues such as skin rashes and irritation, isn't covered because it's considered cosmetic. She estimates her tummy tuck will cost $7,000 - a figure that could surpass $20,000 after arm, leg, and breast work. It's why Kayla recently set up a GoFundMe page to raise $10,000 for her procedures.
In the meantime, she's doing her best to remain upbeat. "I [want] to be full of life and not watch it pass me by," she says. "A positive outlook can make all the difference."
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