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As she turned 60, Diane Thomas started transforming her life. Her husband, Leigh, retired. They sold their Wayzata home and moved to their cabin on Lake Superior. Next was her health. At 289 pounds, she knew her weight was taking a heavy toll. “I’m a foodie. I love to eat,” says Thomas. “I love gourmet cooking and entertaining. When I plan a trip, I search online for the best restaurants.” Her love of food had led to a lifelong battle with weight and a succession of diets. In her 30s, she had success with Weight Watchers and even became a lecturer. “I kept the weight off because I was being held accountable,” she recalls. That changed at age 40 when she began working as a Realtor. “I was extremely busy, especially during the real estate boom. I didn’t make time to care for myself.” Now semi-retired, Thomas had the time -- and the determination. After extensive research, she also had a plan: weight-loss surgery. Her body mass index was 50, above the qualifying criteria of 40 for healthy people.
Thomas began working with the supportive team in Weight Management Services at Essentia Health-Duluth Clinic. She met with a surgeon, nurse practitioner, dietitian and psychologist to help her prepare not only for the surgery but also for the changes she would need to make after surgery. “The idea that I could be thin, something that I wanted my whole life, made me perfectly willing to do whatever they told me to do,” Thomas recalls. Thomas decided on gastric bypass because it has the highest success rate. The procedure permanently links a smaller stomach with a shorter intestine so less food and fewer calories are absorbed and weight loss is faster. “You’re altering your digestive system, which sounds drastic to some people, but I knew that gastric bypass wouldn’t allow for cheating,” says the veteran dieter. Four days after her surgery on July 8, 2008, Thomas welcomed guests to her home near Beaver Bay. She prepared gourmet meals for them, and for other guests who visited through the fall. Even though her post-surgery diet was highly restricted, Thomas didn’t feel deprived. “I was losing pounds so rapidly and feeling such a sense of accomplishment, that’s what kept me going,” she says. “I knew that eventually I’d be able to eat almost anything.” Thomas learned a new approach to eating. She knows her stomach can only accommodate small portions. While she serves multiple dishes to guests, she chooses two or three favorites and focuses on high protein foods. “I choose what I like best, and what’s best for me,” she says. Thomas heard the consistent message from her Weight Management team: Bariatric surgery is simply a tool and patients must commit to other changes to lose weight and keep it off. “Your stomach will tell you when to stop. Your new smaller stomach is the best tool,” Thomas says. “You don’t have to rely on willpower.” While Thomas is vigilant about what she eats and when she eats it, she doesn’t feel deprived like when she dieted. “I always remember that nothing tastes as good as thin feels,” says Thomas, who now weighs 149 pounds and went from size 26 to size 6 jeans. She lost 100 pounds in 10 months, which allowed her to have both knees replaced, and another 40 pounds in eight months. “We moved to the North Shore to take walks and hikes,” Thomas says. “Now that I’m not carting around that extra 140 pounds, it’s a lot easier because I don’t get out of breath. I have so much more energy.” The greatest benefit is her self-esteem: “I wake up every morning and don’t dread how I look in the mirror.”
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