In 2015, I stepped on the scale for the first time in years and was shocked to see the number staring back at me. At 5 feet 5 inches, I weighed 275 pounds. And it wasn't just my physical health that was suffering; I was also utterly depressed, had no self-esteem, and was headed down a path of total self-destruction.
That number on the scale motivated me to take control of my life and my health. Over the next year and a half, I underwent gastric sleeve surgery (a permanent procedure where doctors drastically reduce the size of your stomach), hired a trainer, and lost 175 pounds-something I've maintained for the past two and a half years.
I'm not going to lie: I'm damn proud of my hard work, dedication, and commitment to regaining my health. That's why I've shared my progress on social media: to help others who might be in my shoes. While I get a plethora of positive and heartwarming messages, I receive a lot of negativity as well-mainly surrounding the fact that I've had weight-loss surgery and plastic surgery.
Just the other day, for instance, I had someone write explicit body-shaming comments on over 200 of my posts. That's right: 200. The common theme? That I'm a "total phony" and don't have the right to show before-and-after pictures because I took the "easy way out" through my surgeries.
But here's the thing: There is no easy way out when it comes to extreme weight loss. Yes, I've had surgery-which is something I'm very transparent about. But I, like most women who undergo these kinds of procedures, learned the hard way that surgery only works if you do.
From my gastric sleeve procedure, I lost 60 pounds in two months. Not because I changed my lifestyle, but because I had to go on a liquid diet for about three weeks before the surgery and for three weeks post-op. News flash: Any person who does that (regardless of their size!) is going to lose a considerable amount of weight.
What most people don't know, however, is that once I was able to eat normally again, I gained almost all of that weight back because I didn't make any changes to my lifestyle or eating habits. Sure, I couldn't go and binge on my normal portion sizes (because my new, smaller stomach wouldn't let me), but I still found new and creative ways to eat my feelings. Within the next two months, I regained 45 pounds and was basically back at square one.
It was humiliating. Even though I could only eat about four ounces of food at a time, I was still gaining weight. How? Well, what some people don't know is that even after gastric sleeve surgery, there are still some foods that can "slide past" your sleeve. While I couldn't eat a lot of bread, fried chicken, steak, and other high-volume foods, junk food like chips, popcorn, frappuccinos, and sugary drinks "slid" right past my sleeve.
Regaining so much weight even after weight-loss surgery finally made me realize how desperately I needed to change my horrible relationship with food. I sought out a trainer and nutritionist who understood my situation, and it was through him that I learned how to choose what I want most versus what I want now. I had to learn that when I "messed up" (because we all mess up) it didn't have to become a pattern and that I could get right back on track. Like any other person going through extreme weight loss (surgery or not), I had to practice those things every single day to finally lose all the weight and keep it off.
Along the way, I've gotten a tummy tuck and breast augmentation-but not only for aesthetic reasons. I had a lot of loose skin in those areas that kept getting infected. If I really wanted to restore my body to its original shape, I could undergo four or five more surgeries to remove loose skin around my butt, legs, and arms, but I'm perfectly okay having that extra skin as a reminder of what I've been through.
At the end of the day, weight-loss surgery is only a tool that works if you put in the effort. I know the work, blood, sweat, and tears that went behind my transformation. By no means was it as simple as saying, "I had three surgeries and look at me now!" It was a complete and total evolution of my mindset, my approach to healthy eating and fitness, and my desire to be healthy and strong.
Today, I follow a strict ketogenic diet, spend half an hour at the gym five or six times a week, and live a pretty active lifestyle overall. I've maintained my 175-pound weight loss for over two years. But still, every day has its ups and down. I have to watch what I put into my mouth because if I slip up for an extended amount of time, I know I'd gain all the weight back pretty easily.
Without that weight-loss surgery, I would have never regained the weight, never hit rock bottom, and never made the changes I desperately needed to regain my health. Even with the surgeries, the road was painful and difficult and will continue to be for the rest of my life.
So for all you haters out there: I did not "take the easy way out." I fought to be where I am today and that's something I refuse to be ashamed of.
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This article originally appeared on Shape.com