The Weight Loss Surgery That Helped Turn One Woman's Life Around

Written by Lambeth Hochwald

Nancy Sayles, a 60-something author in Woodland Hills, California, who considers herself in diabetic remission since her gastric band surgery six years ago, exudes life.

But she wasn’t always this bubbly. When she was diagnosed with type 2 diabetes just before she turned 50, she remembers being ‘good and scared,’ especially since no one in her family had the disease.

What her family members had was another disesase that shortened their lives considerably.

“My mother was 56 when she died of cancer and my sister was 51 when she died of the same disease,” she says. “I lost my middle sister to cancer a few years ago, so you could say that I hope I take after my father’s side of the family.”

So when Sayles began experiencing numbness in her toes, she wasn't going to fool around. A visit to her internist lead to her type 2 diabetes diagnosis. It wasn't cancer, but it was serious. "In the middle of the doctor outlining the importance of diet and exercise, and prescribing three diabetes medications to get my disease under control I just broke down into tears,” she says.

But she was also determined to manage the disease. Over the next decade, Sayles diligently tested her blood sugar daily and had her A1C checked every three months and tried to eat healthy.

“The medication and attempts to change my diet kept my A1C in an acceptable range for a number of years...until it didn’t,” she says. “Despite a continual effort with many programs, my weight was not getting down to an acceptable level. I’d lose two pounds, then regain. People don’t realize that diabetes medication and weight loss do not necessarily go together.” (Certain diabetes medications can cause weight gain.)

Another part of the challenge was Sayles’ love of all-things carb. “I was a carb fiend. Breads of any variety...cereal for breakfast, or eggs with toast; sandwiches for lunch; often rolls with dinner, or rice, or potatoes," recalls Sayles.

And while she attempted exercising, “it’s difficult when your knees are shot, your hips are going and you have chronic back pain,”she says.

Frustrated and nearly out of solutions

By her late-50s, Sayles had reached a crossroads. “My symptoms got worse, my A1C crept up. My doctor said the next step was insulin, and that it would be unlikely I would ever get off,” recalls Sayles. “He also said if my kidneys started to show real damage, it would be impossible—or at least unlikely—that he could fix that. That conversation scared the living daylights out of me. I had a teenage kid. I realized that if I didn’t do something huge to improve my diabetes numbers, I was going to be in real trouble.”

It was during that appointment that she asked her doctor for his opinion on weight loss surgery. “I’ll never forget it,” she recalls. “His response was ‘I thought you’d never ask.’”

With that, Sayles’ began a new chapter. Six years ago, she booked gastric band surgery and, shortly after the all-liquid diet she had to be on for the first couple of weeks post-op, she began a diabetes-friendly diet (see her daily menu blow) and started losing weight.

Within a couple of months, her diabetes medications were reduced and then she went completely off medciation for four years. Within a year, thanks to a rigorous diet and determination, she had lost 40 pounds and dropped the remaining 30 pounds within two years of her surgery.

Facing Diabetes Head On

These days, Sayles is quick to offer advice to other diabetes patients. “I try to help people face the fact that there is no ‘I’m going to lose weight and then I’ll be cured.’ This is a chronic disease that can do considerable damage before you even know it.”

The nerve damage in parts of her feet is likely permanent. “Nerve damage is nerve damage, and I will probably not get my feet back,” says Sayles, who adds “however, my kidneys are fine, my heart is fine." She attributes this to the surgery that helped her to shed 70 pounds.

Today, she is also vigilant about getting her A1C levels tested a few times a year. She now takes a small dose of metformin once a day and follows a strict eating schedule so she doesn’t crash. For the past six years she’s also been exercising five times per week. “No more back, knee or hip pain, which had all been caused by putting too much weight on joints that are not designed to carry that kind of load.”

As a result of all of these things, she says she feels healthier—and younger—than ever. In fact, she has so much energy that she teamed up with her surgeon, Scott Cunneen, M.D., director of bariatric surgery at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles, to write a book for the American Diabetes Association tentatively titled “21 Things to Know about Diabetes and Weight Loss Surgery.” The book is scheduled for publication next spring. Sayles is also proud to have self-published with Dr. Cunneen “Weighty Issues: Getting the Skinny on Weight Loss Surgery.”

“If I hadn’t embarked on this journey, I would be the woman on the little scooter in Walmart. That’s how I know I would have ended up.”

The Secret Sauce for Sayles' Success

Staying totally committed to healthy eating has been a big part of Sayles transformation. Finding diabetes-friendly recipes that work for her and that she enjoys preparing—and eating!—is what keeps her on track.

Nancy’s Daily Menu

Breakfast: A protein shake with whey protein, three tablespoons of nonfat plain yogurt, half a cup of skim milk and half a banana. Coffee with Sweet-n-Low.

Lunch: Grilled chicken or fish or a bowl of Lifesaving Vegetable Soup* and a small plate of fruit with Greek yogurt.

Dinner: Chicken or fish with a small yam.

Snacks: Two sugar-free Fudgsicle chocolate pops (one in the afternoon and one in the evening).
Trader Joe’s brown rice crackers. (“You get 33 of them for 110 calories!”)

Nancy’s 3 Weight Loss Tips

Sticking to the following three weight-loss rules have also served her well:

#1: No more free-feeding: “I no longer put my hand in a bag of anything. I take out a measuring cup and measure out what I’m having as a snack. I put it in the cup and take it with me in front of the TV. If I want more, I know I can have more, but it means I have to get up and walk to the kitchen, open the pantry and measure it out or count it. I rarely go for seconds—too much work!”

#2: Savor the first (and last) bite: “You can let yourself have one bite of something delicious since experts say that the best bite of a treat is a first one— and the next one is the last bite— so two bites ought to do it!”

#3: Skip the alcohol: “I learned a while ago that I don’t want to drink my calories! Drinking water is my best bet.”


Lifesaving Vegetable Soup

"Make this soup just to have on hand when you’re starving but can’t afford copious amounts of calories and/or carbs."--Nancy

Serves 12

Ingredients

Directions

Cut the fresh vegetables into large chunks. Put in large pot and season with pepper and garlic. Add canned vegetables. Add broth. Pepper whole mixture to taste. Bring to a boil, throw in noodles, cover and cook on low/medium heat for about an hour and a half or until fresh vegetables are soft. Shred any leftover chicken that you just can’t look at one more day. Add to soup.

Note: To double the recipe, add one can each of tomatoes and green beans (or vegetables of your choice), plus 5 cups of water to original mixture. When pot boils, add 5 Tbsp (or 5 cubes) chicken bouillon. This will last all week in the fridge. Great midday or late-night snack.

Serving size 1 cupPer serving: 90 calories (1 % calories from fat), 7 g protein, .75 g total fat (0 g saturated fat), 10 g carbohydrates, 2 g dietary fiber, 15 mg cholesterol, 252 mg potassium,  213 mg sodium

Skinny Lobster or Crab Bisque

"A rich, creamy soup without those nasty calories and abundance of fat since the butter, whole milk and heavy cream are out. Light margarine, skim milk and nonfat yogurt in!"--Nancy

Serves 8

Ingredients

Directions

In a saucepan, melt margarine on medium heat. Whisk in flour and Old Bay, continue stirring for 1 minute. Add stock and continue to whisk over medium heat until smooth.  Add milk and tomato paste.  Cook on medium for 10 minutes until the soup begins to thicken, stirring periodically to make sure the soup doesn’t burn! Lower the heat.  Continue to cook until desired thickness is achieved.  Salt and pepper to taste.  Add seafood and yogurt.  Garnish with a dash of Old Bay and chives.

Serving size 1 cup

Per serving: 203 alories (15 % calories from fat), 19.7 g protein, 4.9 g total fat (1.4 g saturated fat), 16.5 g carbohydrates, 2 g dietary fiber, 87 mg cholesterol, 515 mg potassium, 796  mg sodium.

Editor's note: We were so inspired by Nancy Sayles' total health turnaround, that we've asked her to join the DiabeticLifestyle blogging team. Stay tuned as we gear up to feature regular posts from Sayles in the coming months about her journey with diabetes, including more details around her gastric band surgery and her advice and inspiration for living with a chronic disease and the many challenges that come with this.

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Recipes with Yogurt