A Buckhannon native explains the roller coaster of her bariatric surgery experience.

Renee Cook Preston was a yo-yo dieter for 30 years. With each diet, she lost weight. When each diet ended, she gained it back—usually with a few extra pounds. Preston’s is the struggle for many middle-aged women. As she approached her mid-50s, she put her foot down.

“I was tired, depressed, and lethargic,” Preston says. “I felt like weight loss was a battle I would never win. I was embarrassed about my weight and ashamed that I couldn’t control it. I didn’t want to go out, because I didn’t want anyone to see me. Because I own my own photography business, I had to. But it was a real struggle.”

A friend of Preston’s had gastric bypass surgery in 2017. The results were amazing and her weight loss quite rapid. It inspired Preston to take the next logical step: she scheduled an appointment with a local surgery center to discuss her options.

Vertical Sleeve Gastrectomy seemed the best surgical solution. The path to surgery required four months of nutrition classes, a battery of medical testing, and a psychological exam. Preston’s body mass index wasn’t quite high enough to make her an automatic candidate for VSG surgery, but testing found that she suffered from severe sleep apnea, and that paved the way for insurance approval.

Nothing said before the surgery can really prepare you for life after it. “We have such a strong relationship with food,” Preston relates. “Social activities tend to revolve around eating. Before surgery, my days would be occupied with where I would go to lunch, what we would fix for dinner, and grocery
shopping. After you lose two-thirds of your stomach, those priorities change. I felt like food and I had broken up, and I grieved the loss.” She admits she was depressed even as she lost weight quickly.

“My entire life, I thought that if only I was thin, life would be perfect,” she says. This was a big misconception, and her self-doubt remains even after the weight has largely disappeared. She says these emotions weren’t
discussed pre-surgery, and she feels strongly that, as these procedures become more common, efforts to provide greater emotional support through post-surgical counseling and support groups should grow, too.

Preston has lost 80 pounds and, despite the emotional roller coaster, she considers VSG to be the best thing she’s ever done. Life is different now for her in the ways it changes for practically every VSG patient. She eats less. She saves a lot of money at the grocery store. She joined a CrossFit group in Buckhannon and 14 months later is still committed to the fitness regime—the longest period in her life, she says.

The money she saves on food she now spends on clothes. Shopping is fun for the first time in her life. “But with an 80-pound weight loss, you have to replace every single article of clothing except your socks. It gets expensive.”

Preston’s been quiet about her surgery up until now. Obesity is so often perceived as a weakness and a lack of control, she says. It comes with tremendous stigma and shame. Bariatric surgery is a tool, she says, not a
permanent fix, and it’s easy to fall back into old habits. For now, she’ll keep watching what she eats, exercising, staying hydrated, and enjoying how much more room she has in her suitcase packing smaller clothes.

posted on May 27, 2020

images courtesy of Renee Cook Preston

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Holly Leleux-Thubron
Written by Holly Leleux-Thubron
Holly is the managing editor for all magazines created by New South Media. She has more than 15 years of professional writing experience and when she isn’t working on the next issue, she’s finding adventure with her husband, Stephen, and teenage daughters: Isabel and Eve.