Hear from an OAC Community Member as she tells her story of confronting obesity with bariatric surgery and support as her tools.Weight-loss can be exciting, and it can help relieve frustrating weight-related health conditions. However, it’s not always pleasant. Many people face both physical and mental challenges all throughout their weight-loss journey. On the other hand, these challenges teach many life lessons.

OAC Community Member Anita Saah is a great example of this. After joining the OAC this past summer, she quickly began to educate others about obesity and stand-up for patients like herself. Hear Anita’s story in this thought-provoking interview.

Q: How did you discover the OAC? What about it do you appreciate most?

I’ve struggled with my weight for a long time, which led me to bariatric surgery (gastric sleeve) in 2018. Afterwards, I started to work with a health psychologist. Her name was Dr. Robyn Pashby, who happens to be an OAC advocate! Together, we addressed some of the mental, emotional and behavioral parts of my weight-loss. She introduced me to the OAC and I’m so grateful!

After working together for some time, Dr. Pashby suggested I apply for a scholarship to attend the OAC’s 2019 Your Weight Matters Convention & EXPO in Tampa. She said it would give me new learning opportunities and a stronger community of support. She was right. The OAC is a safe and welcoming organization made up of people like me.

Q: What are your personal experiences with obesity? What connects you to the OAC’s cause? 

I feel like I focused on food and weight for my entire life. In my Middle Eastern culture, food is a big part of our lives. Growing up, we always joked about weight and our family genes of big bottoms and hips. As a child and through my 20’s, I was of average size. Well, at least, that’s what I thought.

However, over several years, my weight crept up on me. I was dealing with:

  • Depression and anxiety
  • A miscarriage and divorce
  • Chronic pain and permanent nerve damage from spinal cord injury
  • Physical, emotional, sexual abuse

In these last 15 years, my weight skyrocketed. I didn’t care about my body. I continued to eat more because I was miserable, lonely and sad. Maybe I was pushing people away and trying to protect myself. Regardless, I was also slowly killing myself.

My doctors told me I had sleep apnea related to my “morbid obesity.” I also recognized other issues. I couldn’t be more active because I couldn’t even keep up on a walk. I was always trying to figure out if I could fit in a restaurant booth. I had to start being mindful of weight limits and rely on slip-on shoes. The list of my experiences goes on…

However, with the help of two surgeries, I have a new lease on life these days. I work hard to face all kinds of challenges in my health. As a new OAC Community Member, I plan to stay connected to this incredible organization for many more years! I find comfort when people who understand my journey surround me. They lift me up rather than judge me.

Q: You attended the OAC’s latest Your Weight Matters Convention & EXPO for the first time. What motivated you to come? How would you describe your experience?

This was such an inspiring convention. I didn’t know about the OAC until I met Dr. Pashby. When I found out that the OAC was awarding me with a scholarship to attend, I was thrilled!

The Convention armed me with so much weight and health education. It also gave me new friends, motivation and helpful resources. It was truly an overwhelming experience because I discovered so much REAL help. Everyone was kind and accepting. I hope I can attend many more!

Q: In the OAC Community Discussion Forum, you’ve shared about having bariatric surgery and addressing other health issues. How has this journey shaped your experiences?

The past 15 months have been a whirlwind! In July of 2018, I had bariatric surgery (gastric sleeve) and found it to be very successful. I was able to:

  • Get rid of my sleep apnea
  • Put away my CPAP machine
  • Cross my legs again
  • Sit comfortably in a booth
  • Walk and talk without struggling

However, in the last 15 months, I also met some challenges:

  • Frequent dehydration
  • Low blood pressure
  • Fast heart rate
  • Bloating and nausea
  • Vomiting and stomach acid
  • Pancreatic enlargement

I was still at odds with my health, even though I was following my surgeon’s orders. After numerous tests and appointments, my doctor suggested that I have a revision surgery. I switched to Roux en Y gastric bypass on September 18, 2019.

Right now, I am doing very well! I am optimistic about my new life. I continue to press on, learn new things and pay closer attention to my body. For example, I know how my body will react to certain foods. I am also learning to stop saying “I can’t” when people ask me to eat. Instead, I choose to say, “No thank you” or “I already ate, thank you.”

Even small changes help me feel in control. To get more exercise, I try to do as many small movements as I can, such as short and frequent walks. I set goals like increasing my daily step count by 10% at a time. I’ve also made a sleep schedule and a system for taking medication and vitamins. I am starting to listen to my body and rest whenever I feel that I need to.

Q: If you could pick one thing that you want the public to understand about obesity, what would it be?

Obesity is NOT a choice. I used to think it was entirely my fault that I was “fat.” The OAC educated me and helped me to see otherwise. Despite what most people think, obesity IS a complicated disease and all of us should treat it this way.

Also, don’t give up. Find someone who can support you. This can be a physician, psychologist or even a friend in the OAC Community. Support makes a huge difference in your health and life.