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How Big Weight Loss Leads to Big Joy

After surgery, being able to run a 5K is part of a new life

By Kevin McGrath

Editor’s note: This is the fourth installment in an ongoing Next Avenue series about one Minnesota man’s lifelong struggle with obesity and what he’s learned since deciding to confront it through weight-loss surgery. Find earlier posts here.

It’s the simple things in life that often bring joy and satisfaction.

Things like not having to ask for a seatbelt extension on an airplane; walking a mile without stopping; being under the weight limit for a zipline; buying a pair of “skinny” jeans; stopping your insulin or blood pressure medication.

In the world of weight loss surgery, these are all examples of NSVs: Non-Scale Victories.

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Like all communities centered around a common cause or interest, weight loss surgery patients have their own unique way of communicating. With weight loss surgery, the NSV is a way to celebrate achievements without resorting to the beacon that nearly every WLS patient worships: the scale.

The scale brings its own vernacular: “Onederland” is the place you reside when the scale reads less than 200 pounds.“Twoderville” is that place that comes when you dip below 300 pounds. 

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NSVs are not always physical. The sheer joy of being able to do something previously impeded by your weight can be immeasurable, as is the sense of opportunity that emerges following significant weight loss. It really is a new life, as predicted by my nurse Deedee in my hospital room after my vertical sleeve gastrectomy in Texas in August of this year.

Two Big NSVs For Me

Since my surgery, I’ve had my share of NSVs. Most measureable was a walk to the back of our acreage to decide where to have a fence installed. It’s not a long walk, but I don’t recall doing it on foot in the three years we’ve lived there — I always took the tractor. That beautiful fall day, as I hiked and climbed, I realized my desire to explore had more to do with the positive mental energy this change in lifestyle promised than the physical changes my body was experiencing. 

My most significant NSV to date happened on Thanksgiving Day, part of a plan we put into place shortly after my surgery. At the hotel in Texas, our family discussed participating in a Turkey Trot 5K. The plan was for my wife, Molly, and daughter, Vika, to run the 5K and I would walk or maybe go a shorter distance.

To begin, Molly and Vika dutifully downloaded a training app onto their phones. I was not on their Couch to 5K plan. Mine was more of a Get Off The Couch plan. 


The author, his daughter and loyal companion at the finish line of his first 5K since undergoing weight-loss surgery.

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While Molly and Vika alternated walking and jogging to build stamina, I got in daily elliptical and recumbent bicycle routines. As I began to lose weight, I wondered if I, too, could jog or shuffle my way through a 5K. So I practiced one. I jogged (very slowly) 3.2 miles about a month before Thanksgiving. I didn’t walk a step. I did, however, ache to my bones the next few days.

So Thanksgiving 2014 arrives. The scene: New running outfit. Protein shake. Family and dog, Bermuda, in car. Temperature: -2 degrees! Windchill: -17 degrees! Molly clearly is ready to bail on the plan. Vika thinks we’re nuts, but she’s always game. So we go, arriving just prior to the start. We register. I am assigned the dog as my companion. We trot off together for a few yards and Molly and Vika disappear ahead of me. 

It’s cold, really cold. I’m dressed for it, but the legs don’t want to warm up. I seek inspiration from iTunes and the music gets me moving. Halfway through the course, my iPhone, now an icicle, dies. I can’t stop to fiddle with it because if I stop I’m not sure my legs will get started again. Without music, alone with my thoughts, my mental weakness leaps to the forefront. Negative thoughts creep in. The hills look like mountains. 

But I don’t stop and at the moment I most want to, on what is the last little incline before the finish, Vika appears to accompany me to the end. We (and the dog) jog the final 100 yards together.

That I’m one of the last people to cross the finish line does not diminish this NSV. I was last but felt like I was first.

Next: Weight-Loss Surgery is Not ‘The Easy Way’

Kevin McGrath is a Twin Cities lawyer who operates a family law dispute resolution practice.  His family enjoys raising and showing American Quarter Horses. Read More
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