Give Back – Pay it Forward

22 years later, I still find myself so very grateful for the doctors, who dedicated their lives to provide a surgical intervention option for those who struggle with the disease of obesity. Like many of you, I took that leap and had weight loss surgery in 1995 and my life has been changed for the better, forever. And like you, I want others who struggle to have the same opportunity.

In 2003, my story was featured on the cover of WLS Lifestyles Magazine. The title, “Paying it Forward” You see, that feeling of gratitude and desire to give back is why I created Bariatric Support Centers International. And through the years, we have had the privilege of helping tens of thousands of weight loss surgery patients, supporters and professionals.

That sense of profound gratitude is at the heart of so many great groups, associations & foundations within the bariatric community. Perhaps, it’s your time to give. If so, the opportunities are many. Reach out, get involved, tell your story, share your success, connect people, encourage and support. Here are just a few of the outstanding organizations who welcome like minded people who want to volunteer.

Obesity Action Coalition

Bariatric Pal Community

Weight Loss Surgery Foundation of America

Walk From Obesity

Obesity Help

“It is so very important that we, as today’s weight-loss surgery patients, recognize and are grateful to courageous souls who opted to have weight-loss surgery when it wasn’t the ‘in thing’ to do – those daring few from the late 70’s and early 80’s who experienced both successes and failures and in doing so have provided us with greater understanding of what it takes to make the surgical treatment of obesity our answer. Has someone led the way for you, inspired you, encouraged you? Often weight-loss surgery patients express heartfelt gratitude not only to their surgeons for having saved their life, but to friends and family members, neighbors, work associates and even strangers who have motivated them and provided them with the encouragement and support they needed to move forward on their journey. To those looking for a way to express their gratitude, may I encourage you to turn and help others along their way. Become involved; lead a support group; become a volunteer; serve on a patient committee; lobby for better insurance coverage for weight-loss surgery; help new or struggling patients with online posts or encouragement and support. Give back by paying it forward.”

Excerpt from The Success Habits of Weight Loss Surgery Patients #1 best selling bariatric book. SHBookCvr2012

The Top 5 Reasons Bariatric Patients Attend Support Group

indexColleen M. Cook, President, Speaker, Author

From the “Do I have to go?” to the “I can’t wait until next month” attitude, feelings about bariatric support groups are as diverse as the groups themselves. At any one of the thousands of bariatric support group meetings held each month, you will find that those in attendance include:

  • Weight-loss surgery investigators seeking information and the “real story”
  • Anxious pre-op patients waiting for surgery
  • Early post-op patients or “newbies”
  • Long-term veteran patients checking in
  • Back on trackers seeking to re-lose pounds
  • Friends and family members
  • Volunteers
  • Professionals

Each person is there for a different reason, with different needs and doesn’t it make you wonder, “What is it that draws these people together? Why do they come?”

Our experience with thousands of weight-loss surgery patients and hundreds of support groups has provided us some valuable insight into why people attend support groups, how they are benefiting and why those who are not attending should. Here are just a few of the benefits that we identified:

Validation: From my own experience, I recall the weeks prior to my surgery were a time of great trepidation; a time full of questions.
For instance:

  • “Am I doing the right thing?”
  • “Will I be ok?”
  • “Will I succeed?”
  • “Is it worth the risk?”

Many turn to bariatric support group to find not only answers to practical questions, but also for validation for my decision to have weight-loss surgery. While each must find his or her answers to these questions and come to feel good about their choices, support groups can help provide insight, perspective and real world experiences from those who have been there and now are able to share their perspective.

Education: Quality support groups provide more than just social and emotional support. They provide a wonderful opportunity for learning. Some groups provide a more structured agenda, featuring scheduled topic presentations and discussions. Others enjoy participatory activities designed to reinforce key principles of success and help patients learn new how to incorporate them into their own lives.

Many groups often invite guest speakers. Some are bariatric professionals like dietitians, psychologists and fitness instructors. Other guests provide presentations on topics like grooming, dating and cooking. All are designed to educate, inform and provide a well-rounded foundation of knowledge for long-term success.

Motivation: There is a wonderful story told of a young mother wanting to have her little boy learn to play the piano. He was taking lessons and she was just sure that he would become a famous pianist. She made arrangements for him to go to Carnegie Hall to the see the Master Ignacy Paderewski play.

She dressed-up her son in his little suit and took him to the concert. They found their seats, settled down real close to the stage, and the mother turned around and saw a friend of hers and started talking. When she turned back around the little boy was gone, and she panicked immediately. “Where did he go? Oh, no!” Moments later, she noticed her son up on the stage, at the grand piano on Carnegie Hall, playing “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star.” He had just learned the song. The audience was aghast – “Somebody stop him!” “That is awful!” “Somebody get him down from there!”

From the back of the room came the Master Ignacy Paderewski at a dead run, down through the aisle, up onto the stage, and behind the little boy. He began playing an accompanying melody to the little boy’s song and as he did, he encouraged, saying, “Don’t stop, keep going, you’re doing fine.”

As weight-loss surgery patients, we sometimes feel alone and misunderstood in the real world. It is so very important to surround ourselves with people who understand our decision to have weight-loss surgery and what it is like to deal with the many physical, emotional and relationship changes that we experience throughout our journey.

Support groups are a place to find people who provide us with understanding, compassion and encouragement.

Celebration: As pounds come off, health is restored and dreams come true. It is a wonderful thing to have an opportunity to share successes with others. Support groups provide just such a place. Whether formally or informally, comments like these abound: “I am half the woman I used to be!” “I can cross my legs!” “They didn’t even recognize me!”

What an exciting time for weight-loss surgery patients. Support groups provide patients a time to share their success; to have a moment in the sun, to be queen or king of the prom, to graduate, or to receive a personal recognition for their achievement with a pin, photo or certificate.

Re-dedication: The first few years following weight-loss surgery are awesome, but there comes a time when we reach, “the end of invincible.” It is not uncommon for patients to slip back into old habits, regain a few pounds and become discouraged. When and if that happens, support groups become an even more important connection to help stay focused, in control and successful. A monthly weigh-in or check-in at a support group meeting provides an important element of accountability and an opportunity to reconnect and rededicate ones self to long-term goals.

So, how does your support group measure up? How are you providing opportunity for patients to be educated, motivated, celebrated or rededicated? As always, BSCI is here to help. Click here for more information on our Support Group Leader Certification Courses, lesson plans, teaching aids and resources.

Tips for stress free support groups

My how time flies when things are crazy busy! At BSCI, are busier than ever doing all we can to support you, the bariatric professional, as you work to provide quality support and educational programs for your patients. We know that those who work in the bariatric community are some of the most talented, dedicated, genuine people anywhere. And we are keenly aware of the many hats you wear. You work tirelessly to improve the health and well being of the patients you serve. But, what about you? What about YOUR health and well-being?

For many, support group night comes at the end of an exhausting full day of work. The time and energy it takes to pull together a meeting agenda, lesson topics and activities when your best self has been all but spent, can turn what might be a fun and fulfilling end to you day to a dreaded obligation. We hear you! We have put together some helpful tips for Bariatric Support Group Leaders to help reduce your stress while planning, preparing and facilitating great meetings.

1. Calendar topics in advance. Time spent planning several months or even a year ahead for support group topics, guest speakers and activities will pay off great dividends especially on those crazy busy days. Survey patients for hot topics, reach out to other professionals, vendors and educators and schedule them in. Having a plan will reduce your stress and let your patients know in advance what great meetings they can count on.

2. Involve more patients, more often. Our research has shown clearly that patients want more patient involvement in support groups. You likely have a room filled with willing volunteers to contribute in a big way. Patient volunteers can arrange for room set up, welcome at the door, arrange for spotlight patient presentations, serve on special event committees, and even research and present a lesson topic. While it takes a bit to get organized, set guidelines and communication, involving patients will help them engage, while giving you a helping hand.

3. Invest in Lesson Plans. Since 2000, BSCI has been known for our research based, quality support group lessons. Each has a lesson plan, handout, activity and visual aids. Have a topic in mind that you don’t see? Let us know, we’ll put our heads together and see what we can come up with. Remember, those attending support group come for a variety of reasons. A good facilitator will incorporate a variety of teaching methods to give each participant opportunity to learn, grow and share in their own way. And in doing so, make the meeting exceptional!

4. Use readily available newsletter articles, stories and research. It is likely that you receive a variety of eNewsletters, updates, articles and research notifications every week from various sources within the bariatric community. For an easy and fun support group on the fly, print out several articles, ask patients to read aloud, then discuss by asking questions like: “Is this true for you?” or, “please share your thoughts and experience on this topic.” If the group is large, you could divide up, have each smaller group take a topic, discuss, then share with everyone.

5. End on time then go home! Many patients enjoy the social aspect of support groups and often meetings seem to go on forever and end way too late, especially for busy professionals. First, set your boundaries. Establish a reasonable time to end, and stick to it. (We find that most groups are about 1/1/2 hours). Dismiss everyone and suggest that those who want to continue visiting meet ‘in the lobby, or turn out the lights when they leave. You may want to ask a patient volunteer to arrange for the after support group get together. Finish your meeting on time – then, go home!  Go see your family and take care of you! We need you.

All Creatures Great and Small…

zoey-lost

Knowing in our hearts that it would be impossible for our little dog Zoey to survive the -21 degree temperatures, our hope was that someone picked her up and decided to keep her. After 3 subzero nights, that was the only scenario we could live with.

On Friday, January 16th, 2016, amidst one of the coldest and snowest winters on record, Roger and I were on our way from Alpine, WY to Jackson, WY to stock up on food and supplies. The week ahead was to be treacherous. When we stopped for gas at the Alpine Junction Chevron station, neither of us noticed that our 2-year old little Morkie had jumped out of the car. It was only 20 miles up the canyon that we realized that she was not in the back, as we had expected, but that she must still be at the gas station.

In a panic we called the Chevron station. “Yes, she said, “we saw a little dog running around the parking lot.” Please bring her in.” I pleaded. “We are on our way!” We quickly made our way back down the icy canyon road to rescue our Zoey. Our hearts sank when we arrived and she was nowhere to be found. We called, searched, drove, walked and hiked for 4 ½ hours. Asking anyone and everyone if they had seen her. People were kind and sympathetic, offering to “keep an eye out” and “spread the word” and “pray for her.”

Surely someone has picked her up. But why haven’t they called? She had a tag on with her name and my phone. We called the vet, the sheriff’s office and Lucky’s Place, the local humane society.  All were kind and sympathetic, but I could hear in their voices that at this point, it was likely that we would never see her again. And with the temperatures, well…

Our desperate prayers were pleas for help that she would be safe and if not, that our hearts would be healed from the loss.

By Saturday afternoon, the hard truth began to set in. There was no possible way she could have survived the night and if someone had her, surely, they would have called us by now. With each passing hour, the prospects grew dimmer. Saturday passed into Sunday and we began to feel the emptiness.

img958367On Monday, beyond all comprehension, and in disbelief we received a call from an awesome family that Zoey had been found! They had seen her running through their field and assumed that she had found shelter under their shed. She was wet, cold and scared and would not come to them or let them catch her. She just kept running. They took photos and tried to zoom in to see if they could read her tag, but to no avail.

This great little family, The Dales, went above and beyond to rescue her. Adam & Gretchen put out a wild animal trap with some food on Sunday night.img_8397

They caught her on Monday morning and brought her in to warm her up and called us. We, of course dropped everything and through roads were closed, schools had been shut down and the county was calling for no unnecessary travel, we went to pick up our Zoey. She was about 1 mile north of the Alpine Junction where we left her. Safe, but frozen, exhausted, hungry and thirsty.

20170110_085354Today, she is bundled up on the sofa with her little toy lamb, warm, fed and loved more than ever. Words cannot express how grateful we are for the power of prayer and for this kind family who knew how much this little dog needed help. They refused our reward asking us to pay the kindness forward.  What a great lesson they have taught their two daughters, Juniper and Hazel. Thank you for your example of goodness and caring.

As I close this remarkable story, may I share with you a poem that I learned when I was little. “All creatures great and small, the good Lord watches over all.” Indeed! And please enjoy this song that has been playing in my head this morning. Consider the Lilies of the Field. We are beyond grateful. May we show our gratitude and do as the Dale’s asked and pay it forward at every opportunity.

 

Activate Your Own Auto-Correct

 

coronajrs38

I have been thinking about typewriters. Both of my grandmothers had typewriters. I remember my Grandma Gwen, typing out letters and invoices for my grandpa’s construction business.  I also remember how cool it was that my Grandma Pearl had an electric typewriter. When I was a young teen I was able to use it to retype a letter and it was pretty great.

Back in typewriter days, if you made a mistake you had a few options. 1. You could completely ignore the mistake and act like it didn’t happen at all and then finish your document. 2. You could backspace and X out the wrong word or letter, or 3. You could backspace and type the right letter over and over again until it was darker than the wrong letter. Option 4. was to use erasable typewriter paper – (I think it was called onion skin).  If a mistake was made, you could take the paper out – use an eraser to erase the error and then put the paper back in, hoping that everything would line up ok, but often it didn’t.

Then along came the infamous ‘white out’ Great stuff. If you make a mistake, you could use white out to cover it up. At first white out came in a liquid, then correction tape, and eventually some typewriters included a white out key to type over the mistake, like my grandma Pearl’s. I learned quickly how important it was to let the white out dry before starting again to type the right word or letter or it would smear and make a terrible mess.

As we look back, the evolution from typewriter to word processor is truly remarkable. Today, we are fortunate to have word processing programs with spell checkers! Right now I am typing in a Microsoft Word Document. If I make a spelling or a grammatical error – it marks it accordingly. And, it suggests possible corrections.  That’s cool. But what is even greater, is the auto-correct feature. I have used this program long enough that now it recognizes some of the words I use often and it automatically completes my words and sometimes my sentences – without me!

What a great feature – auto-correct. Wouldn’t it be awesome if we could train ourselves to auto-correct our bad behaviors, before we made a mistake? I personally would love to be able to engage an auto-correct feature that would prevent me from eating the wrong thing or making a bad choice.  I think that is possible. Somehow it seems to me that thin people have great control over their auto-correct feature.  So how can I?

I suspect that each one of us is at a different point of being able to engage our ability to auto-correct ourselves.

Take our eating habits for example. When we eat the wrong thing, some ignore it and move on. Others try to X it out or cover it up with miss-placed beliefs like – if I eat it fast the calories won’t count. As I have thought through this analogy, I have challenged myself and now challenge you to spend some time thinking not just about your mistakes and wrong choices, but more about what you do about it ‘after the mistake has been made and what it might take to activate your own autocorrect feature for next time.

Next time you eat something that you consider a mistake, pause a moment as ask yourself these questions.

  1. How did this food get here in the first place? Likely it was a conscious choice when shopping. Auto-correct with more mindful shopping.
  2. Was it in-sight or did you have to search for it, deliberately go for it. Auto-correct with out of sight or hard to reach placement.
  3. Were you really hungry? Auto-correct with using the HALTS technique. Ask yourself am I Hungry, Angry, Lonely, Tired or Stresses? Then act accordingly.
  4. Was there something else I could have eaten instead? Auto-correct by surrounding yourself with better choices – again that decision is made in advance.
  5. So now that you have eaten that cupcake what are you going to do now? Auto-correct by coming to understand your own metabolism and know that if calories went in you need to work them off!

Like you, I have come too far to allow myself to repeat mistakes over and over again without making an effort to understand and correct them. I don’t want to ignore my mistakes or attempt to cover them up, “X” them out, or white wash them.  We all make mistakes, but we also all have the ability to mindfully engage our own auto-correct feature. Here’s to lessons from a typewriter!

What Ever It Takes (Or going out on a limb)

outonalimb

One of my favorite walking routes is to follow a dirt road next to a canal. The canal flows between residential backyards and farmland and I always enjoy seeing the animals and watching the farmers as they tend to their early morning chores. One Saturday, I stopped along the way to admire a beautiful tree loaded with hundreds of perfectly ripe, delicious apricots. The tree had grown over the canal and there appeared to be no way to reach them. Apricots are one of my favorite foods and I knew I just had to find a way. As I surveyed the situation, a fellow canal road walker stopped to chat with me about her experience trying to pick some of these un-reachable, but oh so desirable apricots. She said wading into the canal was not a good choice. Apparently, she got stuck in the mud at the bottom of the canal and decided it was just not worth it.

All the way home, I discovered that I indeed, wanted them badly enough to find a way. The words of my BSCI partner Janean Hall, came to me – “What’s another way?” The minute I walked in the door, I told my husband Roger about my plan. I would put a plank over the canal, walk out onto it and reap my rewards. He looked at me as if to say, “You’re an idiot” but just smiled and said that he did not think I could heave a board all the way to the other side. We might be able to use the extension ladder, he suggested! That is what we will do. So we loaded up the ladder and off to the canal we went. My daughter, 9 months pregnant and her daughter 4 were amused to say the least, and decided to join us on this adventure.

apricotpickingRoger surveyed the situation and decided that the ladder would not work either. He suggested that the only way would be a raft. A ha! Brilliant! Why didn’t I think of that? A float tube would do just fine. So back to the house we hurried as if someone else would claim our prize before we could return. But alas, success! My granddaughter Baylee and I floated down the canal until we reached the apricot tree. I grabbed a limb and we started picking apricots by the armloads – we would fill our bags and they would reel us back to the shore to offload our take and back again for more. What fun!

Many of our neighborhood friends have mentioned how they, too admired the apricots. And one said he wondered what had happened to them. One day they were there and the next day they were gone. Hmm, like magic – yeah right!perfect apricots

In life, whatever ‘it’ is for you, you must want it badly enough to do those things that others are not willing to do. You must be willing find another way when your first, second and third attempts fail. It takes courage, creativity and sometimes a little insanity to reach further, dream bigger and aspire higher in order to reap life’s greatest rewards. And sometimes it is not what we are thinking. The true reward here was not really the apricots – it was having bread and jam on the porch swing. apricots and B

Lessons Learned?

 

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Well, it was bound to happen sooner or later. Dug, our adventurous, 10-month pup met his first porcupine. Not only did they meet, but they scrambled, tangled and ran in and out of the bushes over and over again.  Not sure why, but he did not seem to grasp the simple principle that all actions have consequences and some of them hurt! He kept going back and back and back. Finally, my daughter and son in law were able to pull him away from the porcupine. With quills in his paws, his mouth and nose, off we went to the nearest country vet. With sedation, a few hours and of course, $200 all is well. But lesson learned? We don’t think so.

Truth is, I can relate. Perhaps you can too. From time to time, I find myself doing the same thing over and over and expect a different result. Isn’t that Einstein’s definition of insanity? Some of us are just slow learners, I guess. Unfortunately, the results and outcomes of many of our decisions are beyond our “here and now.” They are in the future far enough that we fail to make the connection.

I do wonder, however if timing doesn’t have something to do with it. We seek for instant gratification without considering the connection our actions have to our long term outcomes. We love to eat things that are not good for us, often without thinking of the consequences. Maybe, if we gained weight instantly! Or got sick immediately, we would be less likely to  make that choice again. Sometimes we buy things we just have to have in that moment and if we can’t afford it, we charge it! Ignoring that the time will come when we need to pay the fiddler. If the bill was due the next day, would we make that same choice?

I would like to think that I would do better if my choices had immediate consequences. You know, like chase a porcupine get shot with painful quills.

On a good day, I get it. I make smart choices.  Other days, well, I am just a Dug.

 

 

 

Embracing Moments That Matter

Embracecover

Excited to share this great new book. Honored to have had the privilege to collaborate with such extraordinary people! In this Anthology, you will find uplifting, inspiring and engaging stories from me and a select group of my fellow professional speakers. You may laugh a little, cry a little, find yourself deep in thought, or just simply relax as you read and enjoy insights from some of my favorite people. Get your copy today and pass it on!

 

Our Why

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Our decision to leave the city and build a log home in the mountains of Star Valley, Wyoming was brave, drastic and life-changing. As we have shared our plans, many of our friends and family members ask “Why?” “How can you leave your grandkids?” And my personal favorite, “Really? At your age?”

This decision was made with our family in mind. To create a peaceful, comforting retreat from the crazy busy of life. A sanctuary to connect with self, family and a loving Father in Heaven who has created this beautiful world.

May I refer you to this photo I took about 20 minutes ago. It is of our grandson’s first experience Kayaking. This week he has hiked, (saw a deer this morning) rode a 4-wheeler, learned to make a proper wood pile, ate s’mores, enjoyed fireworks and earned a BB Gun. He has a new appreciation for the outdoors.

These experiences and the many more we will have, explain our “why”don’t you think?

 

5 of 5 Ways you know the WLS Honeymoon is Over

Even at 20 years post op, I still clearly remember that fateful day when I reached the “End of Invincible” That fateful moment when the honeymoon phase ended and the real work began. I am anxious to share with you what I have learned about the top 5 ways to recognize that your personal WLS honeymoon is over and what to do about it. Here is the fifth of five installments in this series.  (Subscribe to this blog)

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#5 You stop attending support groups, telling yourself “They are just for the newbies anyway.”

We always suspected that those who regularly attend support groups after weight loss surgery are more successful than those who don’t. Thanks to our collaboration with Stanford University Medical Center, we now have the hard data to prove it.  Put simply, “Successful WLS patients are 3 times more likely to participate in support groups than their less successful counterparts.” (Read Research)

Unfortunately, sometimes we find that support groups focus on and cater to the newbies, leaving the veteran patients bored, un-motivated and less likely come back. If the topics in support group are not of interest to you, suggest some that would be.  Work to be part of the solution. Perhaps offer to do some research, share your experiences or even prepare and teach a lesson.

If you have found that you have lost interest in your support group, please consider that if you don’t need the support group, perhaps the support group needs you.

I, for one am so very grateful to the two WLS patients who at 10 years post op volunteered month after month to share their story, coach, encourage and teach those of us coming along behind them. Perhaps it’s time to give a little back by paying if forward. (Become a BSCI Certified Support Group Leader) There is nothing more motivating than having people look up to you, learn from you and help keep you on track as a good example.

For many, support groups go way beyond, “What is the topic?” People view support group attendance as a commitment to themselves to stay connected and accountable. Support groups offer opportunities to connect a network of like-minded people who understand your journey as many do not. So many life-long friendships are established at support groups.

Make support group attendance a must do on your calendar to help you stay on track and accountable. If you are unable to attend a live group, web-based forums, Facebook groups and telephonic groups are easily found. BSCI’s DreamTeam of educators host free telephonic support groups every week. Fun, easy and a great way to stay connected. Telephonic Support Group Schedule

Read our  Support Group Survey and gain insights and perspective from over 1,000 bariatric patients and how they view their support groups.

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