The numbers crept up slowly over many years, but one day Craig Howdeshell got on the scale and discovered he weighed 315 pounds. He also had two different kinds of sleep apnea and a rare swallowing disorder called achalasia, which made food stay in his esophagus so he was constantly hungry, contributing to even more weight gain.
“Finding clothing that big was kind of depressing,” Craig remembers.
It took him 10 years to decide gastric bypass surgery was the right option. He had the procedure in 2015 – as well as surgery to correct his achalasia – with Andrew Aldridge, MD.
Craig lost 105 pounds by sticking to the program – eating mostly protein and vegetables and fewer simple carbs and sugars, and by exercising regularly.
“The whole program process was very informative,” he said. “I had really strong support from Dr. Aldridge, and patient advocate Betsy Fritz as well. It’s not just, you have your surgery, and you’re on your own to figure the rest out; they have programs in place to help you succeed.”
The surgery means Craig, a high school teacher, can now move comfortably around his classroom or climb a ladder to get something off a high shelf at home.
“Before, it was like I was carrying a small person on my back all the time,” he said. “The weight loss has made getting out and doing things – something as simple as climbing a set of stairs and not getting winded – so much easier. I get to spend more comfortable and quality time with my family, mountain biking and hiking. I can fit into a seat on a roller coaster. It makes a difference psychologically, too. Once you lose that weight, it’s a relief.”
If you’re thinking about surgery, Craig recommends following the diet and exercise program protocols closely.
“One of the most important things I’ve gained is my self-respect back,” he said. “That said, it’s not a magic fix; it’s a lifestyle change. If you don’t listen to your body and your doctors, you’re going to gain all the weight back and be uncomfortable again. Yes, my weight does fluctuate from time to time but now I know I can get the weight off, where before nothing worked.
“You have to be dedicated, and if you can make the commitment, don’t be afraid to do it.”