Fresh Paths: Tell us a bit about your background
I was born and raised in San Juan, Puerto Rico. I’ve been bullied since the first grade. In second grade, I was so miserable that I would skip class and go lay down at the school nurse’s room where I would cry and eat cherry flavored Tum’s. I failed second grade, and, rather than make me repeat the grade, my parents moved me to another school, but it was no better. I never had the strength to talk to my parents about what happened to me everyday at school; I just found out ways to take matters into my own hands. I couldn’t handle being treated badly by other students, so, in third grade, I just decided to stop studying and purposefully do bad on all my tests so that I could change schools again. My plan was going great, until it backfired. The school where I started fourth grade was a living hell. I experienced the worst kind of bullying in this school. I’m not talking about just mean kids making fun. This time I’m talking about the big leagues. One day I entered the cafeteria and the entire cafeteria started chanting “Shamu,” like the whale. Two days after that, they literally flushed my head down the toilet. I’d get home and just go to my room; I stayed quiet. I had no escape. I tried failing and it worked, only this time the school made me repeat fifth grade. After that, I couldn’t take it anymore, and I begged my parents to let me go to another school. They were flying me to the States to different doctors. They were eager to find out what was wrong with me (or my brain), but nobody ever asked me directly what was happening with me.
Fresh Paths: At what point did you begin to gain weight? What led to the weight gain?
Everything led to weight gain. I was on my own. I mean, I was surrounded by people, but I was on my own (or that’s how I felt). By fifth grade I was already in size ten pants, and I couldn’t find anything to wear. Out of nowhere, I was size sixteen and still a teenager. I was eating my heart out, and I didn’t realize it. It numbed me. While I ate, I didn’t savor the food, it just somehow numbed me. I could think about all the things that had happened to me and take bites without even knowing or tasting what I was eating. I felt disgusting every time I ate. Afterwards, I felt regret. Food was my heroine, only, I didn’t know it.
I stayed in that school through sixth grade, but that summer, I went to a summer camp with one of my neighbors and a mutual friend. I experienced life for the first time during that summer. I hung out with kids who were nice to me and made me laugh. I was letting go of who I had become and I was exploring the new adventure of becoming me. I was exhibiting a personality rather than hiding it ,and I was loving it. I begged my dad to let me switch schools because I was in love with the campus and with the people I had met that summer. I loved how I felt there. My parents told me I wouldn’t be able to get into such a competitive school because of my horrible grades. I had been diagnosed with dyslexia, and some other learning disabilities, had been tutored my entire life, and I visited all types of doctors, therapists, etc… Nobody ever asked me what was happening. My dad finally agreed to take me to the school and try to test in. I had to score really high in order to get accepted and I did. I scored so high, I was offered to be in the very advanced group of seventh grade, which was like actually being in eighth grade. I wasn’t dumb; I just didn’t want to be where I was. Nobody does well when they’re somewhere where they don’t want to be. I was never bullied in this new school. I didn’t think my weight was something negative because nobody at this school would point it out or made fun of me. I didn’t gain more weight.
After 8th grade, my parents experienced some financial difficulties told me that they couldn’t pay so much for school anymore. I had to switch schools again. I started ninth grade in another school and things changed. I was being bullied again, but I didn’t let it get to me, at least not as much. My mom had always talked about losing weight. My family was worried because I was so overweight. My weight didn’t get to me until people kept talking about it. I started going to different places in search of help and nothing helped. I remember going to this doctor who was famous for a treatment that targeted your fat and dissolved it. He would lay me down in a gurney in his office, lift up my shirt right up to my breasts and unbutton my pants and pull them down a bit, so he could inject my belly two hundred and twenty times in one session. He had a little gun with a needle that went in and out of the swing quickly. I remember laying there feeling uncomfortable and crying throughout the whole process. These things affected me more, resulting in more weight gain and binge eating, but I never really knew that food was a drug to me.
Fresh Paths: How did you respond to the weight gain?
I had tried everything because I was being told to, not because I wanted to or understood it. As weird as it might seem, I wasn’t aware about so many things I was doing wrong that were affecting me. Self harm is a bad habit. I don’t consider it to ever have been denial; you just don’t see what others do. We see ourselves everyday reflected in the mirror, and we don’t see what five more pounds look like until our pants don’t fit and then we eat more and feel regret afterwards, which only leads to more binge eating, etc… It really started getting to me when I wanted to have a boyfriend and guys would only flirt with me or see me somewhere private and not out in public. I had been accepted to Miami International University of Art and Design. I was 18 years old and in my own apartment, nobody to judge me, nobody to look over my shoulder while I ate whatever I wanted. I gained a lot of weight because of it. I had freedom to binge. I had freedom to sleep all the time and hide in my room. I had freedom to be in a judgment-free zone and sink into my a hole of depression. By graduation, I weighed 315 pounds. Every time I traveled home to visit my parents, I’d get looks and unwanted comments.
Fresh Paths: What sort of impact did your weight/health have on you overall?
Physically I became morbidly obese, I was 402.7 at my heaviest. I was on the verge of becoming diabetic and being medicated for it. I also had extreme high blood pressure, for which I also took medication. My heart grew, resulting in cardiomegaly, which is when your heart is bigger than average because it’s been working harder than the average heart. My feet hurt all the time; I couldn’t stand being eight hours at my job on my feet. My lower back pain worsened by the second. I was then diagnosed with hypothyroidism, resulting in an extremely slow metabolism and very low energy. Depression also knocked on my door and made its way in without me even knowing it.
I didn’t know anything about my spirituality. I was forced by my parents to go to mass on Sundays. I didn’t understand it; therefore, I had no place in it. My parents decided to attend another church where the father’s preaching was said to be amazing, and it was. It was there where I started my journey with God. I was around fifteen years old. I didn’t really know His power until later. I was starting to get to know Him, but I still didn’t understand how it all worked.
Emotionally, I was destroyed. I was a mess. Depression became a part of me. I had gotten used to being sad. I was never myself. The worst part was that I didn’t know I wasn’t myself because I had never met myself.
Fresh Paths: What was the big turning point for you?
When I graduated from college with an associates degree, I decided to go home for awhile and finish my bachelors there because it was cheaper. I stayed in PR for a year until I just couldn’t anymore. I had gotten used to being on my own, only I couldn’t be on my own financially. I traveled to Georgia a couple of times to visit my best friend and every time I liked it more. People were always kind, and I fell in love with every place I visited. My friend’s mom made me an offer I couldn’t refuse. She said I could move to Georgia if I got into the Savanna College of Art and Design. I could use my friend’s room and car while she went to college in Idaho. It took two seconds for me to say yes. Many things that happened in Georgia changed my life and that time was my turning point. The whole experience opened my eyes to something I had been missing my entire life.
A month after I moved there, I walked into a gym and ended up getting enrolled because I wanted to change. I got a personal trainer, Emmanuel. He taught me how to eat better and opened my eyes to a lot of things I wasn’t aware of. He never judged me. He never told me who he thought I was or what he thought I could do; he helped me find the way to finding that out on my own. I lost around 120 pounds with him. I was happy. Guys in Atlanta were flirting and giving me all types of attention I had never been given before. I embraced it. It filled me up. At this point, unfortunately, I knew my body, but I still didn’t know myself. I soon became obsessed with hooking up with guys just because I could. It took me a long time to realize I had found a new way to feed myself. Sex had replaced everything food meant to my brain. I was eating healthy, so my body had entered a new addiction, and I was feeding it. This addiction had the same side effects as food. You feed the addiction, and, afterwards, you feel bad about it.
I wasn’t aware of the things I was doing or how big the damage was until one day I wanted to kill myself. I had been seeking some spiritual help. I prayed. I fought with God and myself but never really felt His help. I had already started going to the Dunwoody Church and Bible study when one day I texted a friend from church and asked him if he could come over. He said he was busy, but he showed up anyway when I quit answering my phone. He got to my apartment, and I was laying down on the floor crying. I told him where I was and that I had hit rock bottom. I will never forget what he told me during the long conversation. “Stop asking God why He did this to you, He didn’t DO anything. Instead, ask Him what it is he wants you to learn from all these things that have been going on in your life,” he said. I will never forget that. It made me think about a lot of things in a different perspective.
The way we think about ourselves often comes from others who see us from the outside. When people criticize us, we believe it. We become what others think about us. It’s through personal experiences that we change the way we think or see things. I began surrounding myself with good and with God. I started asking different questions because, until now, nobody had ever told me that God was eager to help me.
Fresh Paths: What did you do to begin losing weight again after leaving Georgia?
Life after Georgia, as I call it, has been hard. I left a place I love. I left a place that loved me. I left my friends. I left a place that re-introduced me to God in a very different way. My move back to PR was tough on me. I had been going through a lot, and I had changed my eating habits for the worse again because, as we know, bad habits are easier to follow. By the time I got to Puerto Rico again, I was up to 402 pounds. I felt like I was dying and that I had lost myself in the process. My grandmother was dying and that made things worse. For years, I had been considering having gastric bypass surgery, but I never liked the process. I didn’t want to be cut open, and I didn’t want everyone to know I had gotten it done. I thought of it as shameful.
My sister had advised me to visit a doctor who specializes in bariatric surgery using a laparoscopic procedure called the Gastric Sleeve. Many people think this is the easy way out of obesity. There is so much more than what people think it is. I went through a spiritual journey before I continued with my weight loss journey, eventually I merged the two. Things were changing for me, but I still had a long way to go. This surgery asked more of me than anything else I have ever done in my life. This surgery needed me to be mentally and emotionally ready, and I wasn’t. There is a tough process that a bariatric patient goes through before surgery, a preparation process. Every case is different. In my case, the mental and emotional process was crucial. I had acknowledged, understood and embraced that I had an extremely severe addiction to food, but I needed to understand this addiction and how my body reacted to it prior to the actual surgery.
The doctor sent me to a psychologist from whom I needed clearance and to a nutritionist as well. During this process, I was asked to lose 15 pounds before surgery and to fully comprehend the surgery and what came afterwards. Once I was cleared from these two things, I was put on a strict two week clear-liquid diet. I was cleared for surgery after two months and ended up losing thirty pounds before the surgery. Surgery day came, and I was ready and not ready at the same time. They cut my stomach down to four ounces. During the same surgery, the doctor repaired a hiatal hernia and also took out my gallbladder. Right after surgery, while still in the recovery room and starting to wake up from the anesthesia, I was in pain. They changed me from the gurney to the hospital bed, where I would spend one night. I was supposed to get up and walk the same day of the surgery, but I couldn’t. I ended up spending three days at the hospital.
One of the things I made my family swear to me was that they wouldn’t tell anyone about it. I had only told one person apart from my immediate family. I’ve been opening up about it to to people that I can help go through the same process, but nobody else knows. Why? I’m still riding the wave, still in the aftermath. It’s a long, tedious process, and it’s something that I want to do for myself, no one else. This process takes a lot of mental and emotional strength, which can be easily damaged by a stupid comment or judgement. It takes a lot to actually be able to find that place or that thing that helps you pull through.
Fresh Paths: How much weight have you now lost?
I moved to PR back in April of 2016. My pre-op process started in June. My surgery was on October 12, 2016. On the day of the surgery, I weighed 352. June 4, 2018, I weigh 255. According to the doctor, my goal weight should be around 180, so I still have 75 pounds to go. I’ve lost a total of 147 pounds. Usually, the average of weight loss after surgery is around 70 pounds, so I’m on my own, meaning, it’s just me and the gym now. Even though this surgery is not a cosmetic surgery, we do want to look good afterwards. All the skin that was once full, will now be empty and saggy, and it takes a lot of work to get to who I want to be. I wake up everyday at 4:30am, have a pre workout snack, work out for about an hour after doing some elliptical cardio for 40 minutes. After that, I come home and get all my vitamins and first part of my breakfast. After I shower and get ready to start my day, I have the second part of my breakfast along with a huge bottle of water. I now spend my days picking healthy foods and always trying to keep my metabolism up.
Fresh Paths: How has this journey affected your life?
This journey has shaken me and it has awakened me. It has brought me back to life. I was in a dark place, and God has lifted me up. He has opened my eyes to bigger things. Physically I feel amazing, even though I still a have a long way to go. Emotionally, right now, I’m in a good place. Spiritually, I’ve grown closer to God and our relationship is stronger than ever.
Fresh Paths: What were some of the obstacles you faced in losing weight?
Life changes throughout the journey, but it happens at the same time. It’s hard because you want to move forward, but things need to catch up in all aspects of your life for you to actually be in a good place. Weight has become something that defines a person; it’s your description, who people see that you are before they get to meet you, but it’s the preface to your actual story. The biggest and hardest thing to overcome was learning to control my mind, my every thought. I don’t think we are taught to live in the present. We often overthink the past and the future, rarely is our mind in the present. Why? I found out that negative energy feeds off of our past, the things that we keep bringing back to the present, things that we keep feeling. I need to control that, and it wasn’t easy. I needed to change my relationship with food, that was another obstacle. Every time I face an obstacle now, I’m thankful, I embrace it and I accept the challenge because I have come to understand that challenges are there because we need to get stronger.
Fresh Paths: What advice would you give someone who is struggling with body image/unhealthy weight?
My advice is find yourself. I didn’t know myself. I was who people told me I was. I became who people saw me because I never saw myself. God didn’t make us all with the same mold, yet we’ve been shoved in it and fear coming out of it because of rejection. Reject it. Don’t be afraid to become you. Clean house. Dare to step away from everything that isn’t good for you. Walk away from toxic relationships, whether it’s men, friends, family, work, etc. We are so afraid to be alone. We are so afraid to do these things because we don’t have faith. Ask Him what he wants you to know. Freedom is amazing and the only way to feel free is to have complete trust and faith in God. Realize that your life is much more than what you realize. Food was what helped me feel good until I substituted sex for food, for others it’s drugs or alcohol. I was going full speed into nothing but bad choices. My questions to God now include asking, “What do you want me to learn from this? Where do you want me to go now?” We want things, but notice how He wants better things for us. Fall into his arms, I dare you.