It all started when we moved back to the United States from Ireland in 1998. I’m not sure if it was the amount of potatoes and lack of sunshine, but I came back to the USA chunky. My mom told me relentlessly that it was baby fat, that it would come off, but if you know me, you know it never did.
Weight was always a focal point in my family. Both of my parents are overweight. My mom has always been an amazing cook, and I remember growing up with the comfort classics, but then again, there was always a salad on the table.
After I went through first grade, I started gaining weight, and didn’t stop until I was 23 years old. I remember my mom dropping me off at friends houses telling their parents, “Don’t let Aubrey eat any bread please, she’s on a diet”.
I know. Trust me, I know how bad it sounds, but truly I didn’t grow up hating myself, hating my body, or anything of the sort. I wasn’t your typical “fat kid”. I had lots of great friends, I never felt ashamed of myself, I was outgoing, and popular.
My Mom was always worried about me, making it known that my weight was a danger to my health. She did whatever she could to change my habits, but nothing would stick. After countless rounds of Atkins, Weight Watchers, Physicians Formula, Slimgenics, SlimFast, Jenny Craig, Suzanne Sommer’s, South Beach, and every other diet in the book, I was still gaining weight at a rapid rate. My junior year of high school I was diagnosed with Type 2 Diabetes and put on a cycle of Metformin and Insulin. But nothing seemed to scare me. I would sneak food and snacks, and then the day of my weekly weigh-ins, I wouldn’t eat or drink until it was over.
Fast-forward to my senior year of college, weighing in at 300 pounds, size 26 jeans, at my PCP appointment. My doctor looked at me and said, “Aubrey, you gained 100 pounds in 12 months, if you don’t do something now, you will not be on this planet in 15 years”. I was finally scared.
At this point, my weight was affecting my life. I was maxed out on Plus Size clothing brand credit cards, size limits, and personal interaction. I couldn’t stand to be touched, I didn’t want to be in public with my friends, and it was limiting my professional goals for after graduation.
As a vocal performance/opera major, I was in rounds of grad-school auditions, and while all of my schools accepted me, I was told at every coaching that I wouldn’t be cast for roles at my size, that the weight had to come off. In my mind, that never felt possible, never seemed possible, & I was devastated. I finally felt like the “fat girl”. Ashamed, embarrassed, and so self conscious.
So. I ditched the grad school idea, moved in with my recent girlfriend-Alyssa, and got a part time job rolling burritos at chipotle. I was so lost. I’d let myself go, and I was only 22 years old. I spent countless days on the couch, watching Alyssa go for runs while I would sneak fast food and binge-food while she was gone. I had truly hit rock bottom. I was unmotivated and so unhappy.
After about six months of this lifestyle, I found a better job. A local cleveland chef took me under her wing, gave me an awesome opportunity, and I ran with it. I felt worth while, focused, like my life had some direction. It was then that I started researching weight loss surgery. I felt like everything in my life was headed in the right direction, and I was finally ready to take control of the one thing holding me back, my weight.
My doctor had recommended it to me a year prior, but I wasn’t interested. It sounded like “the easy way out”. I had a friend who had it done, and she almost died. It sounded scary, and unnecessary. However, this time was different. I had no where else to go. Weighing in at over 350 pounds, I was letting my life go, watching from the sidelines, not giving myself my best.
So I did it. I made an appointment in August of 2014, and after weeks of psychological evaluations, sleep apnea testing, blood work, nutrition appointments, and physical strength testing, I had Gastric Bypass Roux En Y on October 7, 2014. It’s my second birthday. It’s truly the day I took my life back.
Weight loss surgery is a tool. How you use it is up to you. It changes the size of your stomach, but doesn’t fix your brain. I love to call it “fat brain”. What does that mean? You come home from a bad day and would love to eat an entire stuffed crust pizza covered in nacho cheese, however, you physically can’t. Just because you can’t eat a certain way anymore doesn’t mean you don’t want too. You have to commit to changing your life, to making good food choices, moving your body, because the surgery only helps you for so long. After the first year and a half, you’re really on your own.
After a large amount of the weight started coming off, I found myself slipping into old habits again. You know what they say, old habits die hard! That’s when I started working as a personal chef. I didn’t feel I could be successful with my personal goals while working in a restaurant, surrounded by heavy cream and butter based sauces. I had gained the tools I needed in that setting to make myself successful on my own. The surgery and weight loss gave me a new found confidence within myself. I felt worthy of new opportunities!
Almost three years later, I have maintained a 160 pound loss. I have gone from a size 26 jean to a size 10/12 & a 4X shirt to a medium. I have run countless 5k races, and completed mini triathlon in September of 2015.
In February of this year, I had excess skin removal surgery in Miami, Florida. Dr. Ortega at Spectrum Aesthetics removed close to 10 pounds of skin from my arms and stomach, and repaired my abdominal wall from years of stretching due to morbid obesity.
If it hadn’t been for my Instagram, @aubreystrawb_rny, I don’t think I would have been this successful, or able to create my career as a personal chef. Sharing this journey with you all has been a huge blessing in my life, keeping me accountable, focused, and bringing such great joy & friendships into my life. It’s a support system I never could have expected to make. I am forever grateful.
I guess at the end of the day, I took “a way out”. Was it Easy? Absolutely not. Was it worth it? 100% yes. I’d do it all again in a heartbeat. However, I am thankful I won’t have to. Weight loss surgery is a tool, how you use it is up to you. It was my way out of morbid obesity, my way out of an early death. It gave me my life back. I’m finally finding a healthy balance in life, and discovering it’s okay to be “healthy food obsessed”. Just know, that if you don’t think you can do it, you can. You can do whatever you want, it’s never too late. Major weight loss doesn’t fix all your problems. It taught me that I don’t have to settle for anything or anyone. I’m deserving of happiness, love, and a full life. So are you. Speaking of, that recent girlfriend I moved in with? She’s my fiancé now. It’s kind of an amazing love story, having someone fall in love with your insides, when your outsides are a mess, and sticking with you all the while you transform. I’m pretty hashtag blessed.
Anyways, I don’t regret a single choice I’ve made. Sometimes I sit back and think about the girl I was for those 23 years of my life, but she’s not here anymore. I’m proud of her, but was happy to wave goodbye to her struggles. The “new me” is settling in, feeling happy and proud. I’m realizing I’m more than my weight, my weight-loss, and how many months post-op I am. I’m just me, just Aubrey. I make more good choices than bad, still love tequila, and I know how to get back on the horse if I’ve fallen off. There’s no race here, no finish line on our journey toward health, just a steady pace of life. Don’t be afraid to take your life back because you think it’ll take too long, I promise you’re going to love the journey.