Kristin Szilagyi waited with me in the hospital room the day of my obesity surgery: August 27, 2003. Kristin stayed with me up until the last moment when the nurses brought the gurney to deliver me into my new life. And Kristin was there on the “other side” — the term bariatric patients have given to life after obesity surgery — supporting me and other patients throughout our weight loss journey.
Kristin Szilagyi was the first patient of our bariatric surgeon, Dr. Vishal Mehta, when Dr. Mehta went into private practice (Mehta Obesity Center). And what a spectacular patient she was. Kristin’s weight loss was exemplary. It was like watching the duckling become the swan. Kristin, in fact, became a local poster child for obesity surgery. I would see her photo larger than life flash by me on billboards as I drove down the New Jersey Turnpike or in movies theaters on the big screen before the coming attractions.
I have the honor to relay the stories of my life… a life not marked with suffering and humiliation, but one that is bright with dreams that become realities, a life that is free from the imprisonment that having an obese body brings.
I suspect Kristin Szilagyi always had been a beautiful person on the inside. After her obesity surgery, it became obvious to everyone that Kristin was as beautiful on the outside as she always had been on the inside. Here is Kristin’s weight loss journey.
Before and After Gastric Bypass, Kristin Szilagyi’s Weight Loss Journey through Obesity Surgery
Kristin, you had gastric bypass obesity surgery in 2002. After that, you ran the bariatric surgeon’s live and online support groups. What is it that inspired you to want to help obesity surgery patients?
In 2001 there were hardly any surgeons in New Jersey that were performing obesity surgery. The bariatric surgeon who was in my health insurance plan had a 1.5 year waiting list for obesity surgery. He also had a monthly bariatric support group. So, I FORCED myself to the first 2 meetings because I thought a meeting? Like AA? I don’t have a problem! I’m not an addict! I don’t even like being seen in public! However, if I was going to alter my body I needed to talk to other people that went through this. I went every month. I can’t begin tell you the education, love and support this group of people showed to me, it was remarkable. So I joined their support group team. It was my way of tricking me to go every month! I didn’t need them they would need me! If they needed me to do something I had to be there. It was the BEST decision I ever made. I had never went to a support group meeting ever! Boy did I learn a lot!! Now I know better, I needed them, they didn’t need me. I wanted to give back and let me tell you I could not do enough. I have the honor to relay the stories of my life so that they, too, can have a hope for a changed life; a life not marked with suffering and humiliation, but one that is bright with dreams that become realities, a life that is free from the imprisonment that having an obese body brings. For that, I am grateful, for without my own suffering, I could never truly understand the internal strife of my peers. We all have the power to make the changes that we want to be; sometimes we need to help each other along that weight loss journey.
Please help our readers to understand what led you to become obese and how you came to decide to undergo obesity surgery.
I was not overweight as a child. I started gaining weight my senior year of high school. I know now after 10 years that I had led myself to becoming obese. That’s a hard pill to swallow. Who would actually want to be obese? Let alone allowing yourself to become morbidly obese. Oh but the excuses did I always have! My biggest ones are that I worked in a salon 6 days a week and ate out breakfast, lunch and dinner (Read Healthy Chain Restaurant Meals). There was no time to eat. I would scoff down food in 5 minutes. On the weekends I was too tired to cook, so let’s order out or go out. Then I had kids….baby weight. Then I owned my own salon, it was too much to handle. I was borderline diabetic. I was depressed. Then there were marital problems. I’d lose twenty or thirty pounds then put it right back on—plus another forty. I felt like a prisoner in my own body. I had no energy and had to take a handful of pills just to make it through the day. I even tried prescription weight loss drugs for a period of time. The list goes on and on. I decided that after being on every diet and programs out there, wasting my money on shams and fads. I had had it with myself; I was frustrated, discouraged and severely depressed. When you’re that overweight, you feel like a failure. You feel embarrassed and self-conscious. I felt like there was nothing I could do, and that I was just going to be overweight for the rest of my life. I heard about gastric bypass surgery from a client who knew someone who had the surgery. In the beginning I thought the idea was absolutely crazy. I started doing research and finally made the appointment for a consultation.
Why was gastric bypass surgery the right solution for ending your obesity?
The only other option at the time was having a Lap-Band (gastric band) inserted. It was too new a surgery for me. I wasn’t sure about having that inside me and at that time there was not a lot of long term information out there regarding it. One of the myths back then was its only good if you need to lose less than 80 pounds. Well I needed to lose a lot more than that! If I was going to do this it was going to be drastic. I felt I needed restrictiveness of the Roux-en-y gastric bypass. I knew my ultimate success would not be up to me and my willpower alone because my willpower had failed me time and time again. The surgery is a tool. It’s given to keep your weight under control, but it’s not a magic pill. It is an incredible tool which I used to help me reach my goal.
You also had body contouring plastic surgery in 2005. Please tell us about that.
The decision to have body contouring was a roller coaster ride of emotions for me; my body repulsed me now more than ever. I had even questioned why I had obesity surgery. I looked better round and full rather than a 100 year old woman. I had a bunch of undesirable skin hanging around. I would get terrible rashes and infections no matter how much I tried avoiding it. I found this plastic surgeon, Dr. Joseph F. Capella, whose father was a bariatric surgeon, (who better to go to!). Dr. Capella (Capella Plastic Surgery) did what is called a “lower body lift”. It included a butt and outer thigh lift and an abdominoplasty. Last year I also had laser-liposuction done on my knees and my mons pubis. I have nothing to hide ha ha. That was a very easy recovery. Now I can wear Bermuda pants and long shorts without my legs looking like wrinkled stuffed sausages! I would still like to get my arms and breasts lifted and an inner thigh lift, maybe in the future.
Did you have any complications during or after either of these surgeries?
Thankfully none! The lower body lift you go home with 6 surgical drains, 3 on each side of your body to remove fluid which accumulates within the incisions. I could not sleep on my back. I was sleeping in a recliner for almost 6 weeks. I started to be able to stand up straight at 4 weeks. The plastic surgery was not an easy recovery but was well worth every penny I spent! Watch my video interview with Dr. Edward Domanskis a bariatric plastic surgeon on Contouring the Female Body after Weight Loss.
Results are not just a size for me but having quality of life is. I welcome having the energy and want to enjoy life… I embrace the new lifestyle changes, yo-yo dieting is over, having a normal BMI, doing things I never could do before…
Please tell our readers about the impressive results you achieved.
Looking back to my own personal transformation I am still amazed. I went from a size 32 to a 2! My bra size went from a 48 HHH to a now 34 DD! I was a little thin in the beginning but I am steadily maintaining a healthy size 4/6. Gone away is high blood pressure, sleep apnea, high cholesterol, joint pain. I can stand on my feet more than 2 hours without my feet and back hurting. Results are not just a size for me but having quality of life is. I welcome having the energy and want to enjoy life, self-esteem, grateful that I can wear high heels and cross my legs! I embrace the new lifestyle changes, yo-yo dieting is over, having a normal BMI, doing things I never could do before (I became an EMT), I can go horseback riding (they have weight limits!).
What were the keys to your success in the near-term after obesity surgery? How have you maintained success over the long-term?
I can’t say it enough, attending a bariatric support group! I was already attending a support group a year before my obesity surgery. I feel I had a better understanding and advantage of what to expect after the obesity surgery. There is a limited amount of time to lose as much weight as possible. I made that a priority and did what I had to do, which was to follow the instructions I was given to utilize my new tool to reach my goal. I still follow the same practices today and simply they are: Never eat and drink together (that is by far the most important rule for anyone wanting to lose weight), eat low carb and high protein foods, avoid carbonated beverages, take vitamins/supplements, eating protein first, then veggies and then starches and fruit, I try and get in 100 grams of protein a day. I would say exercise but I would be lying if I said I did it faithfully hahaha.
I hear all the time now how good I look, but what people don’t know is how great I feel. I feel awesome.
What are a typical day’s meals for you? How has this changed from what you ate and drank before obesity surgery?
I was a carbohydrate addict. So re-training my brain to make healthier choices has always been a task, sometimes overwhelming. I never really was a breakfast person and after having obesity surgery my hypoglycemia is very sensitive. I can’t give up my coffee; I have one coffee a day with equal & half n half…my treat to myself. Breakfast I try to have Greek yogurt or a slice of wheat toast with Betternbutter (a peanut butter substitute that has half the fat) or eggs. Lunch is usually a grilled chicken salad; sometimes a half of a sandwich. Dinner is whatever I cook. I try to always cook healthy, protein, veggies and a carbohydrate. If I’m at work I usually order a turkey burger. For a treat I love sugar free popsicles or fudgesicles. Prior to obesity surgery I would not hesitate to run to the fast food restaurants. I will never forget a year after surgery I tested myself in having a McDonalds cheeseburger. It was the most disgusting thing I ever ate. After eating so healthy for a year I could actually taste how bad the meat is. I still try and not drink anything carbonated. I also try to keep my sugar balanced through the day which helps me prevent over eating.
What are the biggest challenges you face in maintaining your weight? How do you manage through those challenges?
The biggest challenge is my appetite is back and I can eat larger portions of food. It is scary sometimes when I see how much I can eat! I manage by going back and remembering the “rules of the tool”, keeping satiety is the priority. If I start eating foods that are not the best choices I know positively that I have not been getting enough protein in daily. Through the years I have had to adjust my eating habits as I was able to eat more. Every day is not perfect nor is every meal. If I don’t eat well for lunch I try and not beat myself up over it and try to do better for dinner. It is not easy but I have to at least try. I owe it to myself; it took a long time to get where I am today. I’m worth it!
Research shows that divorce rates rise in the two-years following obesity surgery. You and your husband of 16 years divorced in 2010. Please tell us what role did your obesity surgery play in this?
Sadly it accentuated what already existed. Our marriage was suffering; the major change in me prompted me to make a change. I know that I felt like I had to put up with things that I no longer was willing to tolerate. I shouldn’t have tolerated it even when I was overweight but that was the self-esteem connection kicking in. I gained a feeling of control in my life with the weight loss and I think that control crossed over into other areas of my life.
Please tell us how else your life has changed since having obesity surgery and taking control of your health and your life.
Well, needless to say, I have never been happier IN MY LIFE! I have gained years on my life, I have gone hiking, walking, wearing a ‘normal’ seatbelt on an airplane flight- instead of the fat-belt extender, and being active in my kids’ lives! I hear all the time now how good I look, but what people don’t know is how great I feel. I feel awesome. You don’t realize how much obesity affects you both mentally and physically. I can do things now with my family that I wasn’t able to do before. It’s really had a positive effect on the quality of my health and my family life.
Obesity surgery is not a cure, but it’s a powerful tool and it can mean the difference between hope and hopelessness, or at least it did for me.
What advice would you give to obese people who are seeking to take control of their health and their lives?
I would never tell anyone to go and have obesity surgery. I would tell them to weigh the pros and cons, and to make an educated decision to not only alter their bodies, but their minds and lifestyles. I would tell them that they deserve a full life without the weight holding them back; that their world can expand and get so much better. Obesity surgery is a wonderful tool, but to get the most out of it, you have to embrace the changes. Obesity surgery is not a cure, but it’s a powerful tool and it can mean the difference between hope and hopelessness, or at least it did for me. Read Is Bariatric Surgery Right for Me?
Kristin, I am happy to call you my friend and wish you a lifetime of abundant health and happiness. Thank you for sharing your patient story with bariatric patients everywhere. Keep up the great work and hopefully we will meet again one day.
Read more inspiring Patient Stories on My Bariatric Life of real people who have taken control of their health and their lives by overcoming obesity.
Living larger than ever,
My Bariatric Life