Skip to main content
true story

I’m More Than My Weight

A young woman’s journey through bariatric surgery.

selfie of Kimberly
A close up of a man's hairy feet standing on white digital weight scale. The led screen shows a sad face symbol on it.

See if you're at risk for an early and preventable death.

I’ve wanted to be a teacher for as long as I can remember. I made my dream come true and I now teach fifth graders. I love what I do. I work hard every day for my students and I feel like I’m really making a difference.

But by last year, something was getting in the way—it was my weight. I’d gained 60 pounds, so I was 27 years old, 5'4, and weighed 255 pounds. I’d get winded climbing the stairs at school and struggled to keep up with the kids. A second grader told me, without hesitation or filter, “You should go to the gym.” All I could do was smile and say as brightly as I could, “You’re right! It’s good to get more exercise.”

Woman holding up Christmas themed sweater to her body
Kimberly gets ready for an “Ugly Sweater Holiday Party” at her friend’s house. She gets frustrated by her weight and feels limited with her wardrobe options | Photo credit: Jackie Molloy
“I thought more about the perceptions people had about me; thinking I was lazy or that I didn’t care about myself; that I wasn’t healthy.”
Kimberly

I started thinking about it more and more. What if I sat on a kid-sized chair at school and it broke? I’d be mortified. What do my co-workers see and think? What about my students’ parents? What about the people I pass walking down the street? I thought more about the perceptions people had about me; thinking I was lazy or that I didn’t care about myself; that I wasn’t healthy. None of that is true, of course. I love who I am as a person. But that’s how the world looks at obese people. 

Two years ago, I went vegan and lost weight before a close friend’s wedding. I bought my bridesmaid dress, but the zipper was flimsy. I thought to be safe I’d get a size up instead, but the “plus size” dress cost an extra $50! So I stuck with the original dress, thinking I could make the zipper work. The day of the wedding, all of a sudden, I couldn’t pull the zipper up at all. The bride’s assistant and two other bridesmaids, who I didn’t know well, had to help me pull the zipper into place. I knew it was the zipper—the other women even told me that the zipper was the problem—but I was still so embarrassed. All I could think was if I lost just a few more pounds, this wouldn’t have happened.

Vision board of goals and aspirations
Kimberly created a vision board that she keeps next to her bed at home. She is a young woman with many aspirations, including having a family, advancing her career, and losing weight | Photo credit: Jackie Molloy

I was so tired of thinking about these things all the time. And so tired of worrying about what other people were thinking about me. I thought: I’m more than my weight.

Comfort food

I was a thin kid and a picky eater. At one time my mother worried I was malnourished! But starting around fourth grade, I noticed that I was bigger than my classmates. It made me self-conscious. Most of the people in my family struggle with weight. I come from big Puerto Rican and Italian families—our gatherings revolve around food—the good stuff like yellow rice and pigeon peas, Puerto Rican pastelón, which is a lasagna made from plantains and meat, and my aunt’s macaroni salad, which is the best you’ll ever have!

“They’d say, ‘You need to lose weight,’ but then they’d do nothing to help me. They gave me no tools or recommendations. Just, ‘Lose weight. OK, bye.’ It felt like a slap in the face. It was very demeaning.”
Kimberly

Then my doctors started commenting on my weight every time I went for my annual checkups. They’d say, “You need to lose weight. But they gave me no tools or recommendations. Just, “Lose weight. OK, bye.” It felt like a slap in the face. It was very demeaning.

Big changes for big results

People don’t realize how much work it takes to lose weight. I was tired of the yo-yo dieting. I had tried everything. I did weight loss programs with meal delivery in high school and lost a few pounds, but the weight always came back. I got a personal trainer and lost 25 pounds, but gained it right back. It became embarrassing telling my friends that I was going on a new diet, depriving myself of things I enjoyed, only to have the weight I lost come right back. I thought, the diets didn’t work because of me. I blamed myself.

Nothing worked long-term for me, so I considered bariatric surgery. I’ve heard people call it the easy way out—that if I was really committed, I could lose weight on my own and keep it off. That’s obviously not entirely true. I had tried on my own. When I did my research, I realized going it alone didn’t work for a lot of others, either. But what I did hear were more success stories with surgery than failures.

I reached out to Dr. Dominick Gadaleta, chief of general surgery at North Shore University Hospital and director of the bariatric surgery program, and scheduled a consultation. From our conversation, it was clear that nothing about this would be easy! I had to get blood work done, demonstrate that I could lose weight ahead of time on my own, go to monthly weigh-ins, undergo a lengthy physical exam to determine if some undiagnosed medical condition was causing the weight gain, endure a cardiology stress test, and pass a psychological exam before my surgery would even be scheduled! It would be an intense, months-long process.

It was a little daunting. I wanted to do it all, but it was easy to think it might not be worth the trouble. I was afraid I’d never be able to eat my favorite foods again. I thought, better get them in as much as possible now! That strategy backfired on me. I gained 10 pounds by my first weigh-in.

Woman standing on scale
Kimberly at a weigh-in prior to her surgery | Photo credit: Jackie Molloy

I was disappointed, but it led me to rethink my approach. I accepted that bariatric surgery didn’t mean my favorite foods would be forbidden, but I would have to change my relationship with food. 

I turned to my therapist as a source of accountability. During therapy sessions, for example, I’d schedule my required medical appointments. I’d talk about self-care and comfort that didn’t involve food. It helped me recommit to myself. I wanted to do the surgery so that I could get back to living my life the way I really wanted. I felt limited by the weight. It was the one thing in my life that was holding me back and I was determined to get past it.

Technician Ashley Hannani takes Kimberly’s blood pressure during the final appointment before Kimberly’s surgery
Technician Ashley Hannani takes Kimberly’s blood pressure during the final appointment before Kimberly’s surgery | Photo credit: Jackie Molloy

Passing the tests

The stress test was, well, stressful! I hadn’t been to the gym for as long as I could remember, and I wasn’t as active as I knew I should be. But I needed to be on that treadmill for nine minutes, going faster and faster at higher inclines. Those inclines were a killer! I made it to seven minutes and my heart rate went up to 105 beats per minute. It took a long time for my heart rate to come back down, but I did it. I passed and it was over.

Kimberly on the treadmill during the stress test
Kimberly on the treadmill during the stress test | Photo credit: Jackie Molloy

I found out other things that were both disappointing and liberating. My menstrual cycle had been irregular for years, and despite going to the doctor regularly since I was 14, I didn’t get any answers. But during one of my pre-surgical exams, I was diagnosed with sleep apnea and polycystic ovarian syndrome—both of which can cause weight gain. But both of them are also caused by being overweight. I was shocked. I had let my weight do this to my body. But there was also some relief. It was helpful to know that something besides my diet was contributing to the weight gain. Neither of these newly diagnosed conditions ruled out surgery for me, so I was able to continue.

Finally, I got my surgery date—January 9.

I had to be on a liquid diet for two weeks before. Day six felt more like 60, but I had made it to this point and wasn’t going to let anything stand in my way now. I got good at making my own bone broth with vegetables and turkey. The Cafe Mocha Ensure tasted really good, so that helped me get the protein I needed. I even lost eight pounds in those two weeks. There was nothing left but to have the surgery.

Kimberly made bone broth for her liquid diet
Kimberly made bone broth for her liquid diet | Photo credit: Jackie Molloy

Surgery day

My surgery was at 10am, but my mom and I arrived at the hospital before the sun was up. I kept my mood light and upbeat, thinking here’s my opportunity to take a nice long nap on a work day! I walked myself to the operating room where Dr. Gadaleta and team were scrubbed in and waiting for me. I hopped onto the operating table and waited to be put under anesthesia.

Kimberly and her mother say goodbye before Kimberly heads into surgery
Kimberly and her mother say goodbye before Kimberly heads into surgery | Photo credit: Jackie Molloy

I woke up in recovery about an hour later. I felt all right, but my stomach felt like I just went through the toughest ab workout of my entire life! I was thirsty but couldn’t even have a glass of water yet. A portion of my stomach had been removed—I had to give it a minute! Dr. Gadaleta came into my room and told me it was OK to get up and walk around a little as soon as I felt up to it. I’m glad my mom was there. I didn’t feel so alone. I felt good.

A nurse checks in on Kimberly after the surgery, during which 80% of her stomach was removed
A nurse checks in on Kimberly after the surgery, during which 80% of her stomach was removed | Photo credit: Jackie Molloy

It has been a month since my surgery and I’m still getting to know my new stomach. I finally got cleared to eat solid food again and I’m so excited! Until now, I had been on a liquid diet and then a soft food diet—I could eat things like cheese, eggs, and ground chicken. I’m so over cheese! I never thought that would happen. I’m looking forward to crunching on a cucumber or pickle. You’d think I’d be craving fried chicken or something but no, I want to be able to eat a salad! My plan is to transition to a plant-based diet.

I’ve learned that you eat with your eyes first. When I put my new portions on a standard-sized plate, it looked so empty and made me feel like I was depriving myself. So I bought smaller plates! My dad saw them and said they look like they come with the E-Z Bake Oven set! But on the smaller plates, the portions look filling and they feel more satisfying.

Kimberly’s plate on the right, compared to the portion her brother will eat on the left.
Kimberly’s plate on the right, compared to the portion her brother will eat on the left | Photo credit: Courtesy of Kimberly Falco

Rediscovering the gym

I joined a fitness club. It’s close to my job and my house. I used to belong to a gym that was 45 minutes away, which made it easy to skip. I kept paying, but I hadn’t been there in three years! The first time I went to my new gym, though, I pulled up, parked, and just sat in my car. I had butterflies in my stomach and my chest felt tight. I wondered what it would be like. I wondered if people would stare. But I made myself go in. I found that the members are all different shapes and sizes and different levels of fitness. Now I keep a gym bag in my car. No excuses. I feel good. I want to move forward with my life.

Looking to the future

I’ve lost 21 pounds since the surgery. That’s 29 pounds in six weeks, which is great, but I’m a little disappointed. My family and friends notice the lost weight easily. I’m hoping to see it soon, too!

Before bariatric surgery (left) and four weeks post-op
Before bariatric surgery (left) and four weeks post-op | Photo credit: Courtesy of Kimberly Falco

I have to learn to be nicer to myself, too, and avoid the trap of self-judgment—that fear that no matter what I do, it’s not enough. I’ve worked hard up to this point. I’ve got to remember that. And I’ll continue to work hard.

This spring, I’m going to my best friend’s bachelorette party in Las Vegas! I’ll be a bridesmaid at her wedding this summer. I haven’t bought my dress yet—I don’t know how much weight I’m going to lose by then!

Next Steps and Useful Resources

Do you want to see more articles on a similar topic?

Thanks for your input!

Published April 2nd, 2019
A close up of a man's hairy feet standing on white digital weight scale. The led screen shows a sad face symbol on it.

See if you're at risk for an early and preventable death.