Many of us know what it’s like to fight a lifelong battle with weight starting from a very young age. But in Shekinah’s experience, it wasn’t just society’s beliefs about weight that shaped her worldview and self-esteem. Her battle started at home, ultimately leading her down a path that included the weight “roller coaster,” pursuing bariatric surgery later in life, and learning how to change her lifestyle.
Today, Shekinah is a passionate member of the Obesity Action Coalition (OAC) Community, where she is known for her infectious energy and for always lifting others up. In this interview, she shares more about her personal journey with obesity, her decision to have bariatric surgery, and her ongoing commitment to her health, which is fueled by having a strong support system.
How has your relationship with your late mother influenced your perception of weight & health?
My mom and grandma thought that excess weight was a moral failure and that “skinny” equaled “healthy.” This led me to start dieting and battling with my weight when I was just 18 months old. I internalized their toxic beliefs, which made me feel terrible about myself. I started to believe that I was a failure because I couldn’t stick to my diet.
My mom was one of the earliest patients to have bariatric surgery in the 1970s when there wasn’t much support or information available. After the surgery, I never saw my mom eat a meal without quickly vomiting. She became malnourished, regained weight, and had other health problems because she didn’t have support to develop healthier habits. I didn’t want to go through the same experience, so I waited 20 years before considering bariatric surgery. Unfortunately, my mom passed away suddenly on March 2, 2021, just within a month of her 80th birthday. By that time, I had already undergone bariatric surgery and was able to maintain a healthier weight. I knew I had broken the vicious weight cycle, but I never got around to telling my mom I had surgery.
Can you share your experience with bariatric surgery and how it has impacted your health journey?
I was terrified of having surgery! Seeing my mom’s experiences scared me, but my increasing weight was making me sicker. I finally spoke with my trusted doctors about my options, concerns, fears, and hopes regarding surgery. After having many conversations with the bariatric surgery community and doing my own l research, I discovered that surgery had changed a lot since my mom had it. I learned that it changes your biology to support weight-loss and long-term weight maintenance. Today, six years after having surgery, my high blood pressure is gone and many of the other health problems I had are either gone or much improved. Bariatric surgery is just one tool in a larger toolbox that includes healthy eating, exercise, community support and more — tools my mom never had! My health continues to improve the more I use this tool correctly.
What were some of the challenges you faced during your weight-loss journey? How did you overcome them?
Growing up in the hometown of the Mayo Clinic, I had access to what was considered the “best healthcare available.” However, as a child, adolescent and adult, I was always significantly overweight for my age, height and gender. I was constantly trying to be “normal.” Every healthcare provider reminded me to “just lose weight,” as if I didn’t care or I wasn’t trying!
I tried every dieting method available to me. As a result, I ended up in a cycle of “yo-yo” dieting, where I would lose weight and inevitably regain even more. I tried countless approaches, but despite dropping thousands of pounds throughout my life, keeping the weight off was a different story. This was especially challenging because my lifelong habit of starving myself had led to actual nutritional deficiencies and metabolic dysfunction.
They say the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again while expecting different results. So, when I had bariatric surgery, it wasn’t solely to lose weight; it was to finally succeed at maintaining weight-loss. I had to change my approach to get different results. That was my “why” and the reason I decided to move forward with a Sleeve Gastrectomy. I didn’t truly overcome my obstacles with weight until the surgery, and I’m not sure I could have done it without it.
Could you talk about the role of support in your health journey, particularly your experience with the OAC?
Connecting with the OAC in my first year after bariatric surgery was and continues to be critical to my long-term success. Meeting others who understand and have gone through similar journeys has helped me find a sense of community. When I initially had bariatric surgery, I stayed private about it and didn’t tell many people. Unfortunately, there are many who believe bariatric surgery is the “easy way out” and pass judgment on those of us who have it. However, choosing to stay private can be very lonely and isolating. I truly need support to sustain my weight-loss and healthy habits.
The OAC gives me access to resources, education, and both local and non-local support communities. Through these communities, we can learn from and encourage one another to be our healthiest selves. I feel very blessed to have made new friends through the OAC and to be a part of a community that is dedicated to increasing and improving access to health care, understanding weight bias, and advocating for better societal health. The OAC gave me that community when I needed it most!
How do you stay motivated to maintain a healthy lifestyle?
I’m only human, and sometimes I don’t! I’m not immune to emotional eating during tough times. Fear can also be a strong motivator for me. I constantly fear reverting back to being over 300 pounds, even though I’ve maintained my weight for six years.
However, in 2017, I made the choice to have bariatric surgery to improve my lifelong health. So, when life challenges me and setbacks occur, my tools remind me that:
- I feel better when I maintain healthy eating and exercise habits.
- My long-term health matters to me.
- I want to live — for as long I possibly can, as healthy as I can possibly be.
I never imagined the life I have now would be possible! I am currently in the best health of my adult life — able to function, work, and participate in my community better than ever. I have been able to fulfill some of my lifelong travel dreams with my husband, and there are still more to come! I have more places to go, more things to do, and I look forward to living long enough to fulfill those goals.
Do You Want to Share Your Story?
Whether you have a story about navigating obesity, facing weight stigma, or inspiring others, your voice is important. Visit the OAC’s story project at WeightoftheWorld.com to share yours today. Not sure what to say? Consider one of our question prompts to guide you.
If you would like your story to be featured in a future issue of Weight Matters Magazine, please email firstname.lastname@example.org.