Sentara nurse Jessica Means gains a new lease on life and leftovers after weight loss surgery
Jessica Means is the mother of an active toddler and a nurse who is always on the go. Weight loss surgery in 2021 blessed her with a reduced-size stomach that requires portion control and prioritized grazing habits. Feeling great in her own skin, Jessica has no plans to slow down now, except to eat.
"My job is go-go-go but the surgery forces me to plan balanced meals and healthy snacks - and take the time to eat. It's challenging because my three-year-old is not the slowest eater either. What's great is we're learning together. Now we often eat at the same pace. I'll say to her, 'it's ok, let's slow down, we have plenty of time.'"
Jessica recovered beautifully from gastric sleeve surgery in September 2021 and continues to recover from a lifetime battle with food. Diet and exercise didn't fully address the triggers that caused her to eat emotionally. With therapy and surgery, combined, she joyfully holds the missing pieces of the 'eat to live' puzzle.
Her pre-surgical weight of 320 contributed to her poor self-image, zero energy and chronic back, hip and knee pain. Wanting a better quality of life for herself and her daughter, she followed in her colleague's footsteps and underwent successful weight loss surgery, reducing her stomach size by 75 percent. The sleeve curbed her sweet tooth and sparked an unexpected love of leftovers.
Doctors' orders might be 'make time to eat' but taking it slow is not in her job description as a medical surgical nurse, tasked with stamina while working 13-hour shifts and placing patient care over self-care.
One of the benefits of the gastric sleeve procedure is its demand on patients like Jessica to slow down and eat light meals, forge regular healthy snacks for energy and enjoy a variety of whole foods in the right proportions.
"I'm stubborn," says Jessica.
"My eyes are bigger than my new stomach. Everyone tried to tell me that overeating will throw off my tract, cause me pain and make me throw up. Dr. Rezvani explained that I have a tiny stomach. I tell anyone going through this to listen to what they tell you. Like when I was advancing into soft foods, I fell in love with noodle-less lasagna. I knew the proportion my new stomach could digest, but I'm like, let me just get a little more! I had to learn the hard way."
Adjustment has been trial and error.
"Surgery taught me that my health is more important than my job. Sometimes I share this experience with patients. It helps ease their minds when they connect with me as a real person. I use my story to encourage them to see how important self-care is for them as parents and caretakers.
For me, the big takeaway is 'how can I care for my patients if I don't take care of myself?'"
Fortunately, Sentara, her workplace for 16 years, supports healthy lifestyle choices and alternatives. She's grateful for and impressed by the new vending machines where she can grab healthy snacks like overnight oats, salads and vegan protein drinks for proper energy bursts.
Jessica was raised in a strict 'clean your plate' culture. In her family, thinking about what it means to be full was simply 'off the table.' Ditto for leftovers.
Jessica's trigger-driven emotional eating caught up with her.
Once an active and athletic young adult with a large body frame, Jessica became morbidly obese without the therapy tools required to address a lifetime of emotional eating. She was fortunate not to have diabetes or high blood pressure but the physical pain, particularly in her feet at such a high weight, drove her from the dinner table to the OR table.
"My daughter is a huge inspiration. She's three and I want to be able to run and play with her without surviving on naps and caffeine. I want to model better lifestyle choices so she will live a healthier life."
Sentara Northern Virginia Medical Center offers gastric bypass, gastric band, gastric sleeve, and duodenal switch. In the initial consultation, the surgeon will discuss various options with the patient to determine which one is best for them.
Preparing for surgery, Jessica had a slight edge as a patient and a nurse SNVMC. She knew everyone on her surgical team because she works with them every day and sees them in action as they melt away the inevitable surgery scaries.
"The staff treats every patient in such a kind and caring manner. They explain need-to-know details, every step of the way, especially going into the OR. They go over everything in advance, like weeks before, explaining processes, pre and post operative, including dietary protocol such as transitioning to soft foods. That thoroughness makes you feel much more comfortable entering the OR."
Jessica chose gastric sleeve surgery because its future success is tethered to portion control and accountability. The sleeve procedure involves laparoscopically or minimally invasive removal of approximately 75-85 percent of the stomach. It works by helping you feel full sooner while limiting the amount of food the body can process without distress. Food consumed passes through the digestive tract in the usual manner, allowing it to be fully absorbed in the body.
"Dr. Rezvani told me, 'If you consume 3000 calories, you will absorb 3000 calories.' It's easy to go backwards and gain weight back, which is why I chose the sleeve. I've always eaten too much or skipped meals for the wrong reasons. Before the surgery, I'd forget to eat all day and binge eat when I got home. I used to go out for dinner and order a full entrée, appetizer, and dessert. Now I only eat about a third of my meal and never order an app and a dessert."
Sadly, she can't have ice cream with her daughter. It's just not worth the pain and discomfort. However, her new love of leftovers helps ease the loss.
"Leftovers have been a game changer for me and my daughter. I love going out for dinner, enjoying the company and the food, knowing there's another meal or two that I don't have to cook."
After surgery, going out for dinner was frustrating. "I was done before everyone else," she says. "But my new mindset, with the help of ongoing therapy, makes me appreciate the company more than the food."To learn more about the weight loss surgery program at Sentara Northern Virginia Medical Center visit sentaraweightloss.com or call 703-523-1188 or e-mail NOVAWeightloss@sentara.com to speak with our Bariatric Program Coordinator.
By: Lisa Richmon