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Cutting Out the Fat

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Now 170 pounds lighter, Tracy Bynum can attest to the benefits of bariatric surgery

nol_jan08_medres_page_22_image_0002.jpgTracy Bynum’s story is inspiring for its passion and determination. It’s a powerful story of a young man’s battle with obesity, his unwavering quest to find a healthy solution and the truth he found in bariatric surgery.

Tracy grew up in a small, close-knit community. Much of the old neighborhood in LaPlace remains unchanged. His parents still live in the house he grew up in, and the same neighbors greet him at their doorsteps each time he returns to visit. He recalls childhood days spent with his maternal grandmother who adored and spoiled her grandchild, as grandmothers are wont to do. She plumped him up with sodas and sweets and goodies. Active on the playground and in school sports, he was stockier and heavier than many of his peers. But when he continued to gain weight in junior high and then into high school, his parents began to notice. By the time Tracy graduated high school at 17, he weighed 280 pounds.

nol_jan08_medres_page_22_image_0001.jpgThus began a roller coaster ride of restrictive diets, diet pills and failed weight-loss regimens. It would take more than two decades to find the answer to his problem with weight. In March of this year, Tracy underwent bariatric surgery. When he entered surgery on that purposeful day with Dr. William Richardson at Ochsner Hospital, he weighed a whopping 365 pounds.

Not only has Tracy lost the weight that kept him down, he is healthier than he’s ever been. He works out with a personal trainer, exercises at least five days a week, and fastidiously monitors his caloric intake under the guidance of a nutritionist. He beams, positive and full of life.

I met Tracy at his home one morning following one of his usual overnight nursing shifts at the transplant unit of Ochsner. I found him trim and fit at 195 pounds, and very charming.

What was the defining moment for you, when you realized your weight was affecting your health?

I think what really, finally made me change my whole outlook on what I had to do for my life was that I was just scared. When I was about 25, 26, I got my first real job as a teacher. I started going to the doctor and discovered that I had high blood pressure. I was borderline diabetic. I was hyperthyroid, and I was diagnosed with obstructive sleep apnea. And it just really scared me. I always tried to lose weight and always had the best of intentions. And I’d lose a few pounds here and there. But then I’d gain it back.

Has your weight ever affected your ability to be happy?

I never felt unhappy. There were certain things, like when I wanted to be active, it was virtually impossible. And that affected me somewhat, but then I always found other things to do that didn’t require being active. Like, I really like movies, so I’d go to the movies. Eating out. Which is so easy to do in this city.

I was going to ask you about your eating habits.

Oh, they were horrible. I ate out all the time. I don’t ever remember eating at home unless I went out and visited my parents.

What lifestyle changes were necessary to your success?

I really don’t think I could have done this without the surgery, but having had the surgery it has allowed me to make certain lifestyle changes, one of which limits my intake of food. Before I always had a voracious appetite; I was never satisfied. I could eat and eat and eat, and I never felt that full feeling that most people feel. So limiting the intake but also having worked with a nutritionist. It allowed me to see how I was making these really super poor choices. And now [I] make better choices in terms of nutrient-dense foods that I don’t need to eat a lot of to get satisfied.

So there’s a danger in your overeating.

Yes, there really is. Naturally, the pouch they created through the surgery will start to stretch out over time. And so the more you eat the larger you’re going to stretch your pouch. And so that’s why people think the surgery is sort of a cure-all, but it’s not. If you don’t learn the lifestyle changes while your pouch is small, when it stretches out you’re going to have the same issues that you had before the surgery.

Who is your nutritionist?

Actually, I work with two. Laura Peirou at Dr. Richardson’s office and Molly Kimball.

What inspires you the most?

My work inspires me a lot. Dealing with transplant patients and their innate ability to just bounce back. They’ve taken all these hits and you just watch these patients come in hoping to get a heart, let’s say, and it just doesn’t work out for them. And they come back and forth, back and forth. And you watch them every time, they come in and they’re just some of the happiest, most generous people.

I can’t help but think how that parallels you.

You know, I never thought about that. You just never give up. You just can’t. You don’t think about it. You think about your family and your life, and you just go on every day.

What do you most want to say to someone struggling with his or her weight?

You know what, weight is so personal. My parents hounded me for years until I finally made the choice. You have to be ready to make the choice. You can’t make it for somebody else. If it’s not something you feel in your gut, then I really don’t think it’s going to work. Whatever you decide to do, you should definitely consult a nutritionist. Don’t try to do it on your own. Most people tend to fall under those unhealthy traps, and people go for a lot of fat-free foods. And those are just full of sugar and things that aren’t good for you. I would do the personal trainer again. Because [I learned] the correct way to lift weights, the correct way to exercise. And if you are considering bariatric surgery, you just need to do your research. Don’t just jump into it. I talked to people who had had surgeries before. I did a lot of research online, and went to all the seminars they offered. I actually went to the seminar that Dr. Richardson offered three different times. Just to make sure that it was right for me. Do everything you can to make the best choices so that it will work for you.