By Elia Esparza
127 pounds lighter and counting!
Spicy Cilantro is all about women empowering themselves and tapping into that “I can” voice. So when one of our own relatives accomplishes any type of victory, we rejoice and share their stories.
Meet Adelina Alcaraz, our 34-year-old second cousin.
Her dad is Lino Alcaraz. Lino’s dad was, Tio Armando, my mom’s brother. Both Lino and Tio are now deceased. Lino and I were raised in the same household as children. At the age of 18, we went our separate ways. Lino had good looks and much promise, but somewhere he took a wrong turn. Long story short, he died a few years ago under mysterious circumstances at the age of 55. I never really knew his children except for seeing them at family funerals. I remember Adelina as this cute, cheerful girl who was very chubby. She never really got to spend quality time with her dad and was raised by her maternal grandparents. Her mother and father met as teens and didn’t have much of a chance at a long-term relationship.
A couple of years ago, I ran into Adelina at my Tio Armando’s funeral, but we really didn’t talk much. My aunt gave us a quick re-intro’… “This is your prima (cousin) Adelina, Lino’s daughter…” something like that. Enter Facebook and our scattered family from my mother’s side started to reconnect via the Internet. Adelina and I got to know each other a lot.
I was especially inspired by the photos she was posting about her amazing weight loss. With each photo, she was a few pounds lighter and it showed! My little prima was wowing me. Last December, we all met up at my sister Olivia’s house in Escondido and we spent several wonderful hours sharing our life stories.
I was thrilled when Adelina, a shy and quiet young woman, agreed to be interviewed about her massive weight loss. Deep down, I think we sealed the deal when I agreed to share more stories about her dad (who she very much resembles). It was a win-win. Lino was as close as a brother and losing him was deeply painful. I realized that telling legendary “Lino Tales” would be cathartic for both of us.
Listening to Adelina’s journey opened my eyes. She debunked a common misconception about obese people – not all have self-esteem or confidence problems. Personally, I feel like I need to lose 40 pounds and act like it’s 200! But Adelina seems to be the same person she was before. She just fits into smaller sizes and her shopping experiences are a 100 times more fun!
Adelina opted for gastric bypass surgery last June 2012. To date, she’s lost 127 pounds in 7 months and it’s only February! She was ready and her health was in danger. The decision was not hard.
Spicy Cilantro: In your lifetime, what was the most you weighed and how old were you?
Adelina: The most I have weighed is 337 pounds, which was before my surgery, and I was 33 years old.
She’s half way to her goal and already she’s swimming in her old clothes.
SC: Are you an emotional eater or just plain love food?
A: I don’t consider myself an emotional eater. I ate socially and I also love food. Sweets [were especially] my weakness.
SC: Are there incidents in your childhood that triggered your overeating?
A: As I remember, I was never made to eat healthy so [I ate] a lot of sweets and McDonald’s. My grandparents basically gave me whatever I wanted and if I didn’t like what my grandmother cooked, my grandfather would take me to McDonald’s to get a kid’s meal.
SC: How has being overweight affected your self-esteem and confidence?
A: Actually, no it has not [affected me]. I have always liked who I am. And, I don’t care what people think of me and never have.
SC: During your journey of losing weight, who has been your biggest supporter?
A: My biggest supporter has always been and hope always will be myself. I have had to live with a new changed life and keep up with it – to not fall back into old habits. Also, my family and my friends are here for me and support the choice I made on having this surgery for my health.
SC: What has been your most negative experience while being at your heaviest?
A: I haven’t had any… maybe except from my mother reminding me that I gained more weight and needed to do something about it. I know she was concerned and didn’t want me to have health problems or worse.
SC: Were you overweight as a teenager? If so, did this cause depression?
A: Yes, but not as overweight as I ended up to being. At 16, I was 160 pounds. By the time I was 18, I found out from my doctor that I had thyroid disease which causes you to gain weight without meds. In my earlier teens, I was especially active in school. P.E. with daily exercise helped but, without physical workouts, I gained more weight. My poor eating habits topped with thyroid problems were challenging, but I was never depressed about it. I have amazing friends that are there for me to this day.
SC: You opted for surgery. How did you decide which surgery was best for you? And, how much did it cost? How long was recovery period?
A: My breaking point to having gastric bypass was when I found out I was borderline diabetic. This scared me and that was one thing I did not want to become… another diabetes statistic. I was determined to do whatever I had to do to prevent this disease from [harming] my body. In addition, the simple things like walking a flight of steps were becoming harder and I would get so out of breath. Not fitting into my clothes and not being able to wear heels gave me motivation to do something drastic.
My mom agreed that gastric surgery was the best thing to do. I got the referral to see the surgeon. My process took about three months before my insurance covered all but 20%. My mom helped me pay the co-pay and it is the best investment, in my life, I’ve ever made.
SC: There is a lot of pain and a lot of lifestyle changes to make. Tell us about your recovery. Any regrets?
A: Recovery, I have to admit, was not a walk in the park! It was painful! But, I have no regrets. It has been worth it. The nurses had me up on my feet as soon as I woke up. I also had my gallbladder removed and ended up staying in the hospital for two and half days. The first week was the hardest, but I made myself walk as much as I could and still do.
The recovery time for me to go back to work was one month. As my mother always said, “you can never put a price on your health.” But in 2007, I did have another procedure. A gastric balloon was put into my stomach in Tijuana [Baja California, Mexico]. It worked to help me lose 50 pounds back when I weighed 295 pounds. But eventually my stomach stretched and I gained it all back and more.
The balloon was made to take up 90% of the stomach. I also tried the Atkins Diet, the kind where you use drops on your food. Also, back in Tijuana, my doctor prescribed diet pills; all failed. These weight loss efforts worked temporarily but I would gain it all back. My body was a yoyo with so many diets.
SC: Seven months have passed since your surgery, how much weight have you lost? And, other than the obvious smaller sized clothing, what has been the greatest thing about losing the weight?
A: I have lost a total of 84 pounds, putting me at 219. To reach my goal weight of 135, I will have to lose a total of 200 pounds. (Note: This interview was conducted in December 2012 and, to date, Adelina continues to lose weight. She is projected to reach her goal in June, her one-year anniversary of surgery.)
SC: How do you feel?
A: Amazing!!! I can walk forever and stand without being tired; my knees and back are not hurting! But the best thing was going to Disneyland where I was able to walk all day without being tired. I fit better on the rides and kept up with my six-year old niece. Plus eating is way cheaper for me now [laughs]. But the best thing about losing weight is being healthy and not having diabetes and high blood pressure.
I feel like I have my life back, and my youth, and I feel amazing.
SC: What are some of the side effects you’ve encountered as a result of the surgery?
A: The only thing is my hair falling out… but its growing back with my vitamins and plenty of protein. Also using Ovation Shampoo is helping decrease the hair loss. At times I do have problems with my multi-vitamins when they upset my stomach and I vomit the stomach acid, but other than that no problems.
I also have to get used to not drinking and eating at the same time. I have to wait thirty minutes after eating to have a beverage. The same if I happen to drink something without eating, I have to wait thirty minutes before putting food in my stomach.
Absolutely no sodas or sugar because it makes my heart race if I’m not careful. I must chew, chew, chew and eat slowly to feel the food…feel each bite…so I don’t overeat.
SC: Do you think that growing up without your father in your life contributed to your overeating?
A: I don’t believe so. [Being overweight was] simply because I enjoyed fast food and sweets. (Note: Maybe one of our therapist readers can chime in. Is it possible to overeat just for the love of food? I always thought it was to fill a void. But maybe I’m wrong.)
SC: Growing up, was your household typical of many Mexican families where it was important to eat everything on your plate? Is there a particular food you absolutely hated as a child?
A: I was never made to clean off my plate by eating everything. But I did hate veggies, salads, and water! We ate a lot of Mexican food which was mostly non-healthy and we washed it down with sodas and sugary juices.
SC: What is your biggest weakness: Starchy carbs or sugar treats?
A: My biggest… hmmm, I would say is sweets. I love ice cream and anything chocolate.
SC: If a young woman or teenager asked you for advice about your weight loss journey, what would you say to them? How would you inspire them?
A: My advice would depend on how much their struggle is with their weight. I would recommend that if they tried and failed many diets, than they have to make a decision: a commitment to take care of their health first and foremost. Without it, you have nothing. They should not think that surgery is an easy fix. It is more of a training tool and should not be taken advantage of because they can still gain back the weight if they fall off track.
I know temptations can be hard and I do have a chip or a bite of a cookie but that’s it. I have it just to settle my taste buds. I don’t waiver because I remember how hard it has been to get to where I am today. Also, I workout five times a week at my local gym… something I never did before.
SC: What is your current diet and meals you eat daily? Any particular products? Shakes, etc?
A: The protein shakes I drink are called Premiere (chocolate flavor). I buy them at Costco and they are pre-made which is easier to grab out of the fridge. Each shake contains 30 grams of protein. I also buy Premiere protein bars to alternate when not drinking shakes. As for what else I eat: chicken, fish, beef, salads, and fruits.
I learned to keep my plate colorful. I eat three meals a day and no snacking in between. If I am hungry between meals, I eat raw almonds or a slice of cheese.
SC: How hard has it been to drastically change your lifestyle?
A: It hasn’t been really hard. In the beginning a lot of my favorite foods made me sick by their smell. And, I discovered that I can fight temptations. Also, if I really want a bite of something not allowed on my diet, I have it. But, most times, it does not agree with my stomach as I chew and I end up spitting it out on a napkin.
SC: What is the biggest or most important benefit you hope to attain from your massive weight loss?
A: Being healthy and more active are best. I get excited not to have to shop in the plus-size stores!
SC: Will the way you feed your future children differ from your own childhood?
A: I would make sure to introduce them to vegetables and fresh fruits at an early age, especially since I now cook healthy. And, my children will learn to love drinking water and the sugary and salty snacks will be limited.
Adelina’s story is inspiring and I’m happy to report that her doctor has taken her off thyroid medications and the pounds are melting. We’ll check in again so she can share more on her journey. As for me, I’m so inspired, I’m into my 8th day of a doctor monitored detox and feeling so good. 20 more days to go!