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Community Perspectives: How Self-care Led Me to Advocacy

by Shenese Colwell, MBA, FNS, GEI

Hello Obesity Action Coalition (OAC) Community! My name is Shenese Colwell and I’m an active and passionate advocate for the OAC. I am a business manager by profession and a fitness and bariatric coach by passion. I am excited to share my story about how I got here, and I look forward to continuing to take action with the OAC as it grows its efforts.

Simply put, the OAC has changed my life! Now I am on a mission to help others by sharing the OAC’s message and educational resources.

Motherhood, Self-care and Obesity’s Impact

I was active and had a healthy weight into adulthood. I even bounced back to my high school weight of around 120 pounds after my first child was born. As a single mom, I quickly made a habit of putting myself on the back burner. I started to see more than a few pounds creep on and began to panic when I couldn’t fit into some of my clothes. It bothered me, but I soon bought bigger clothes.

I tried several weight-loss methods over those years (weight-loss programs, boot camps, group challenges, you name it), all with little success. The weight always came back and I usually gained more. Fast forward 20 years and my weight went from 140 pounds to more than 230 pounds. At 5’3,” my weight was taking a toll on my health and joints.

My priorities remained my family, my education and career development. Soon, I was a single mother to three very active boys. I also juggled a full-time job, a part-time job and went to school full-time. There was no time for self-care! I always thought I could work on that later, when I had more time. I had high blood pressure, high cholesterol and joint pain, but I kept putting myself on hold.


Navigating My Journey with Obesity

When I was about a year away from college graduation, I decided it was time to do something different. I wanted my walk across the stage to be a new chapter in my life in more ways than one. I’d heard about bariatric surgery and decided to learn more. I turned to the internet where I found information and I wanted to explore it all—even though it was overwhelming. I looked at so many before and after photos and read so many transformative patient stories!

I decided to talk about bariatric surgery with my healthcare provider. However, she was not very encouraging or supportive about this option. I did not let that stop me! I wanted my life and health to be better. I felt that it was a real tool for my weight management, so I went to a bariatric surgery information session. Five months later, when I had finished all of my pre-op requirements (the day before my 42nd birthday), I had Roux-en-y-surgery (also referred to as gastric bypass).

I was excited, scared and alone, but I never doubted my decision. Since then I’ve been on a journey of growth, self-love and rediscovery. I learned to put myself first. Along the way, I’ve become aware of the biases in the world against people living with obesity and related conditions. I am surprised that many healthcare providers are not more educated and informed about effective and science-based treatment options for obesity. I am happy to say that my healthcare provider is now excited by and supportive of the changes that bariatric surgery has made in my health and quality of life. She no longer has a negative view about bariatric surgery.


How I Stumbled across the OAC

Shortly after my surgery, I began to actively participate in online bariatric surgery and fitness forums. I’d seen ads and mentions of the OAC’s Your Weight Matters Convention & EXPO. I googled the meeting and was excited to see that this was an entire event dedicated to education, support and resources for people in the weight management community!

I wanted to know more about the OAC. I was blown away that there is an organization whose mission is about serving, educating and advocating for people affected by obesity. The more I learned, the more my passion grew. I wanted to get involved! As a bariatric surgery patient and someone who knows the struggle, I feel a sense of belonging and a call to action with the OAC.

The amount of “information” out there is overwhelming. Finding the OAC helped me learn more about obesity as a disease. It gave me resources and information that I feel people and healthcare providers need to see. Watching the OAC grow and change lives gives me hope. I believe that their message is being heard and shared, and I hope that it’s as helpful to others as it has been for me.


How I Take OAC Action in My Own Way

Following surgery, I learned a lot about obesity and about myself. I’m still learning, but I know it’s on me to take charge of my weight and health long-term. I believe that what I’ve learned must be shared because there are too many people who don’t have access to these resources or know they even exist.

I strive to pay it forward by sharing my story and what I have learned. I have changed in many ways. I am now a fitness coach who helps others meet their fitness needs both pre- and post-surgery. I became a weight-loss group support leader because support is so important to weight management success. I’m also a bariatric coach so that I can help surgery patients find what works for them to have long-term success on their journey.

Each role I play fuels my passion and need to help others. I share as much information as I can to help others learn how to succeed and thrive after bariatric surgery, manage the disease of obesity and keep the weight off!


Want More OAC Community Perspectives?

For more from the OAC Community, including personal stories, words of wisdom and more, visit: and click “Find Support and Connect” on the left-hand menu of the Community home page. You can share your own perspectives and experiences too!

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