Everyone’s weight loss journey is a little bit different, and for Tenika Flowers, the pivotal change started with a memorable conversation. Flowers, aged 36, has been a registered medical assistant III in the Gastrointestinal Center at Washington University School of Medicine since 2014. it was an inspiring conversation with a physician that made her determined to lose weight and return to good health.
“It was a four-year process to commit to the surgery, but it was then I became determined to find a way to get the weight off,” Flowers says. “It was a mental turning point for me hearing it from one of our doctors.”
Flowers recalls struggling with her weight for years, adding a significant amount of pounds 14 years ago while grieving from the loss of her grandmother. She later had another large weight gain after using Prednisone to treat an allergic skin condition, and it was around this time that she had the conversation with Dr. Lisker.
She had previously tried Weight Watchers and other weight loss programs, but they were unsuccessful as she found herself falling into former habits. She experienced difficulties with everyday activities and gives the example of being uncomfortable and embarrassed when trying to fit into an airplane seat. Her knees hurt when walking to catch the train, or when doing CPR for her job. She was starting to have borderline lab numbers for obesity-related health problems.
She started asking questions and getting more interested in surgical treatment. After winning “Guiding Star Award” in 2017 for Washington University, she got a confidence boost to take the next step. “That let me know that I can do anything. It showed me that hard work will pay off,” she says. At 310 pounds, standing 5’ 6 ½ “ tall, she underwent gastric bypass surgery on July 18, 2018, with J. Christopher Eagon, MD, as her surgeon.
She said the majority of the success during the process comes from mental preparation. “Even now, I have to stay focused and push myself,” she says. This includes blocking from her mind the temptations of non-healthy food choices. She also draws support from her family and work colleagues to stay committed to a healthier lifestyle. “My co-workers encourage me and tell me how proud they are of my journey,” Flowers says.
She says her recovery went well. “There is going to be some pain. But I was back to work in four weeks and had no complications,” she says.
Flowers says the largest impact on her life has been with everyday things. “Now I can walk to the train without getting winded,” she says. “Just things like playing with my niece and being able to work a full day and still have the energy to go to the gym after work. I feel better overall.”
Her advice for people contemplating weight loss surgery is to be mentally prepared to make the changes necessary to have a successful experience. “You have to make up your mind that you are doing this for yourself,” she says. “You also have to plan financially. You have medications and protein drinks, and healthy food is more costly. The whole lifestyle change is expensive, but it is well worth it.”