PHOTOS BY CHRISTOPHER CARDWELL
The weight of a linebacker, a grizzly bear, small cow, and well ME. At least it WAS me . The Alicia that I was 5 years ago is nowhere near the Alicia that sits behind this computer today, writing an article for a Woman’s Magazine being praised for an extraordinary weight loss journey.
“354lb me,” would have never taken photos to be published anywhere, let alone be on the cover of a magazine. In fact, “354lbs me” hated myself. I hated everyone. I hated to leave the house, taking pictures, going to work events or school functions. I hated looking in a mirror.
I always tried my best to “blend in” and go unnoticed, not that you didn’t “notice” me. I was like the elephant in the room…..literally! And even though I had such strong feelings against myself, I still continued down a path of self destruction which eventually led to morbid obesity.
This is my journey to “Fit and Happy.”
In 1998, I graduated from high school at 154lbs. Not necessarily “fat” considering I am 5’6”, but still much bigger than my 120 lb classmates. Yes, I was picked on in school for being “fat” and yes it bothered me, but like with anything you learn to deal with it. At some point I started making “fat jokes” about myself to other people. My reasoning for this was “I’ll say what I know your thinking before you say it.” This “coping” mechanism actually became more prevalent the bigger I got and some pretty great jokes were made at my expense.
Fast forward to the year 2012. My husband and I had just had our third child and like I did with every one of my pregnancies, I lost weight. This would be short lived and before you knew it, I had blossomed to my whooping 354lbs. I consumed literally about 10,000 calories, if not more, a day. McDonald’s for breakfast, always two egg mcmuffins, followed by bagels or muffins that one of the many drug representatives brought into my office. Working in the center of Batavia there was a fast food restaurant at every corner. I was in my glory! Lunch, Wendy’s, always a cheeseburger….sometimes two. On really bad days, I would have an uncontrollable desire to not end my meal with just the “#1” at Wendy’s, but would venture down for a slice of pizza too.
If I didn’t fill that “void” and give in to my desires, I couldn’t go on with my day. I knew what I was doing, and I felt bad about it. I felt bad about myself every single day that passed. I was an addict and food was my drug of choice. I NEEDED IT to get through my day. Mind you, what I just listed was just my breakfast and lunch!! It doesn’t even include the “stops” on my way home to fill my void before I even made it home to make dinner, then the endless snacking until I went to sleep.
If I knew food was left over in the fridge I needed to eat it before bed. It was like a scratch I couldn’t itch. To be honest, my husband has caught me standing in front of the fridge at 2am eating cold, leftover pasta with my fingers, half asleep, just because I couldn’t sleep until I knew it was gone. No food was safe around me. Do I have you laughing yet? Thinking, “holy crap this girl is a disgusting pig, and if she would just put down the fork, she’d be alright?” Well, that’s what I was thinking back then. I explain it to people like this, there is the devil on one shoulder telling you to eat, eat and eat, and then the angel on the other telling you to stop, stop, stop!! But WHY was I knowing sabotaging myself? What was I trying to medicate with food.
Let’s be honest, you don’t grow to be over 300lbs without having some sort of true underlying issue. My goal as I turned 33, was to figure out WHY I turned to food for comfort and how was I going to control it. I knew if I didn’t change my ways and change them quickly, my three beautiful girls and husband would be burying me before I even hit 40 years old.
Around the same time, Dr. Madeb, the physician I was working for was opening Vitalize Medical Center, a state of the art facility where he and my other co-workers and friends were beginning to offer the HCG diet. This calorie restricted diet in conjunction with an injection daily would eventually help me to lose 48lbs. Not too shabby!! 48lbs in 43 days! But even this was just the tip of the iceberg.I had a lot further to go to not only see results, but to feel results. Up to that point, that diet was the hardest thing I had ever done in my life. I made the decision that bariatric surgery would be the best option for me. I needed accountability and bariatrics offered me that.
I tell you this, before you run off thinking I took the “easy” way out, I can assure that nothing about bariatric surgery was easy. Bariatric surgery, like advocare, weight watchers, Atkins diet, the gym, a personal trainer or any other fad, is a TOOL. Learning how to use the tool is how you become successful. But I’m not going to lie. When you go through the very long process of becoming a candidate for bariatric surgery, you are sent in for a psych evaluation. They want to make sure that you are ready to make a “lifestyle change” and that you have a strong support system.
Anyone with any type of brains can lie their way through such evaluation. I know I did. No, I didn’t figure out WHY I liked food so much and NO, I wasn’t mentally prepared for what was about to hit me. On a side note, I encourage anyone contemplating bariatrics, to be honest with themselves and their therapist and really get to the deep rooted issue of why food is so important. Not doing so will set you up for failure.
April 29, 2013, I was wheeled into an operating room and underwent a 3 hour surgical procedure to make my stomach the size of a shot glass. 3oz to be exact. I would find out later that my surgery was halted midway because a suspicious mass was found on my liver. This, thankfully, came back as fat and was related to fatty liver disease. I remember waking up in the hospital bed and the first thing I thought was “damn, I could really go for a turkey sandwich.” Here I am, laying in a hospital bed, drain coming out of my abdomen and all I can think about it food….STILL!!! The first week of recovery was pure hell for me. Not because I was in pain. I was an expert at pain, but because everytime a commercial came on TV it was for food, I cried. I wanted food…I needed food. But I had made it physically impossible to eat food. I was angry with myself. Why the hell did I do such a thing. I ruined my life I had thought. The one thing I looked forward to every day, I took away from myself. I no longer had control. In fact, I was very much out of control and I hated it. I was more depressed than you could have imagined.
I felt like someone close to me had died. That afternoon, I received a card in the mail from my cousin. In it it read “You took a giant step in the right direction for not only you but for your entire family. I am so proud of you. Love Erica” That card, made it to me on the day that I needed it most. And she wa right, I didn’t LOSE control. I was just beginning to GAIN control. My life was mine to live and if I utilized this “tool” appropriately it could me an amazing, healthy one with my family.
Anyone who has dealt with addiction knows that there are “relapses” or sometimes a transfer of addiction. Same thing applies to food addicts.
Remember when I said that figuring out the importance of your relationship with food is essential in order to be successful? And remember when I said I “fudged” my way through a psych evaluation?
Well here is why it’s so important that you are honest with yourself and address the underlying issue. After surgery, I still ate. I ate everything, I wasn’t supposed to. I had learned that I could eat food that was bad for me and all I had to do was go to the bathroom and make myself throw up. Actually, you don’t really have a choice. I would purposely overstuff myself with french fries, pasta, cheeseburgers knowing that I could go and stick my finger down my throat and vomit.
I did this sometimes 15-20 times a day.
Prior to surgery, I hated throwing up. Now, I had become used to it. I actually liked it. I was able to eat like crap, then feel like crap, then get relief. My husband called it “scarf and barf.” I remember my friend at work video taping me literally sticking my finger down my throat to vomit after eating a sub. A sub! Definitely not something on a post bariatric diet! This went on for several months. I continued to lose weight. At this point I was down a total of about 130lbs from my heaviest weight. Then one day, I wasn’t feeling well. I was light headed, very fatigued, and my heart was racing. I spent three days in the hospital for dehydration and malnourishment.
I tried to hide from my physician’s what I had been doing, but my friends and family all knew. They wasted no time telling them. I was now diagnosed a bulimic. I remember my mom and dad coming into my room and telling me point blank, if I didn’t get myself together, they would have me admitted to rehab. WHAT!! How could they do this to me?? I know now that it was just them caring about my well being and I would do the exact same thing if it were one of my kids. After that day, I never once purposely made myself throw up again. I guess you can say that my parents put the fear of God in me.”
Now that I wasn’t purposely throwing up anymore, I needed to learn how to eat and how to appropriately utilize this “tool” that I was given. I researched bariatric websites and began eating “clean.” Meal prepping became essential, but this is with any diet. At this point, which is about 2 ½ years after my initial procedure, I again did the HCG diet with Vitalize Medical Center. I lost another 28lbs in 23 days. So for the skeptics, it does work! Total I was down about 158lbs and for the first time in about 17 years I was below 200lbs.
I was elated to hit that benchmark. It gave me the drive to keep going, and that is exactly what I did. Pound by pound, inch by inch, I ate healthy and exercised. I began to box at Rochester Fight Factory. Not only was it a great work out with amazing people, but it helped me hash out some of those “issues’ that forced me to eat in the first place. It became therapeutic.
Amazing how punching things relieves daily stressors!! Life at this point was “stable” and I was happy.
April of 2017 my job as a urology nurse ended. We were bought out by one of the local hospitals and I decided that it was time for me to make a change. Dr. Madeb asked if I wanted to work as his nurse/practice manager at Vitalize Medical Center. He felt that I could relate to our clients who wanted to lose weight and since I had done the diet successfully twice, I could support them through their own weight loss journey.
He was absolutely right. I CAN relate to my clients.
I can’t tell you how many times in my “journey” that I was sat in front of a nutritionist who tried to tell me exactly what to eat and when. I remember looking at them thinking “ok, but do you KNOW the struggle? Do you know how hard it is to sit on the couch knowing there is a bag of Doritos in the cupboard and you can’t get your mind off them until you eat them?” Chances are, no. But you see, I’ve been there. I struggled with morbid obesity.
I STILL struggle with it. I called my trainer Liz Bordonaro from NO Limitz just the other day and told her that Country Sweet was calling my name. Her response “ Girl, he better be calling someone else’s name.” And she’s right! Mind over matter!! It’s a lifestyle change. And I can honestly say for the first time in my 37 years of life, I made a lifestyle change!! I am down a total of 186lbs. That’s basically another human being. For the first time in my life, I’m a size 4! Am I perfect, absolutely not.
In fact, over the holidays I gained 12lbs. When I did the shoot for this magazine, I was the heaviest I had been in a year. But you know what, life happens, and I’m human. I can’t beat myself up over it. I made the commitment just like so many that with the new year upon us I will continue on this journey. I would like to lose another 20lbs. Maybe gain some muscle or “lean” out. I’ve already accepted the fact that I will never be a bikini model, I’ll never walk the runway of a Victoria’s Secret Fashion show, and it’s ok!!
It’s about being healthy and I’m finally after so many years of struggling, fit and happy