"Never in my dreams did I think I'd weigh this little!"
"My weight gain happened later in life," says Chelmsford resident Maggie Marshall, 58. "I married at 35 and had kids at 38 and 41. So my weight gain was the result of being happily married to someone who enjoyed food, not getting around to losing the pregnancy weight, and then menopause after that."
By the time she was 56, Marshall weighed 263 pounds and wore a size 20W.
"Fortunately, I didn't have any comorbidities," she continues. "And I was a fairly active overweight person; I always exercised, walking three to four days a week at a fairly good clip."
"But I had some joint problems, and there were basic comfort issues," she admits. "Airline seats kept getting smaller, and it was hard to take my kids to the amusement park — I didn't want to break the Ferris wheel. So I took myself out of a lot of situations."
The most difficult aspect of being overweight, however, "is what it did to my head," Marshall says. "I could smile on the outside, but I was unhappy on the inside because of the way I looked. And I really wanted to be around for my children and, someday, grandchildren."
So she and her husband — also overweight — went together to Lowell General's Center for Weight Management and Bariatric Surgery.
"Part of our 'aha moment' was realizing that we can't help the fact that we're older parents, but we can help the fact that we're older, fat parents," she says.
Marshall opted for gastric bypass surgery, which she underwent in April 2011 (her husband chose the Lap Band® approach).
"I deliberately chose the surgery that was the strictest against cheating," she says. "I wanted to wake up and have a new set of rules I had to abide by."
It's worked. Today, Marshall weighs 150 pounds and wears a size 10. (Her husband has so far lost about 35 pounds, his cholesterol is down and his pre-diabetes has resolved.)
"Never in my dreams did I think I'd weigh this little!" she says. "I definitely have more physical energy, but there's also an accompanying lightness that goes with it. It was like I had a mental and physical ball and chain that I dragged around. And to lose the weight after two kids and menopause — it's mind-blowing, and I'm thoroughly enjoying it."
"While the weight loss, increased energy and self-esteem are great, there also are what I call 'non-scale victories,'" Marshall continues. "Like being able to squat down to get something from a bottom shelf without calling a tow truck to get back up. I can ride a bike easily. And I'm less reserved about trying new things because weight is no longer an impediment."
She believes that there are two keys to longer-term success after weight-loss surgery.
"One is having an exercise program that works for you," says Marshall. "I walk like a maniac three to four days a week. The buddy system keeps me going... I walk with a friend; I need the accountability."
"And you need to develop an intentional approach to eating," she continues. "That involves taking the time to plan meals, shop for them and cook them. Having my husband eating the same things has also made it easier for me."
Marshall has channeled some of her new found energy into serving as an Ambassador for the Center.
"Because the program did so much to turn my life around, I felt compelled to become an ambassador to give back," she says. "And I still get while giving back; it's a nice circular thing."
What does being an ambassador entail?
"I attend a lot of pre- and post-op meetings to show people what they can expect, that this too can be their life once they're on the other side of surgery," she says. "It's like going to AA or Weight Watchers®, being among people walking the same walk... it helps keep you honest — and inspired.
"I tell them that the surgery itself is just a tool, a step in the right direction to a new you," she adds. "But if you take advantage of the tool you've been given, make the necessary changes along the way and avail yourself of all the support the Center has to offer, you stand a chance of a wonderful, permanent life change."