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Losing it and then finding myself: Department Secretary Krissy Ludemann on her journey to a healthier life

Written by Krissy Ludemann

I had always been a big kid, both tall and overweight. I was teased and bullied through most of my childhood—I have distinct memories of being spit on after getting off of the school bus as well as having a group of boys follow me around the playground calling me “Miss Piggy.” It was the 1980s and the zero tolerance for bullying was not in place so my teachers didn’t do much to help me. I also didn’t tell my family out of embarrassment. I always had the mindset that if I didn’t think about it, it wouldn’t bother me, but of course it bothered me.  When I reached high school, the bullying subsided, but I was ignored most of the time. I thought no attention was better than negative attention and my goal was to just blend in with the crowd to get through to college. I masked my insecurities and self-doubt by being upbeat and funny to the people who knew me, primarily my small tight-knit group of friends.

I always had the mindset that if I didn’t think about it, it wouldn’t bother me, but of course it bothered me.

I grew up in El Granada near Half Moon Bay. It was a great place to be a kid but there’s hardly anything to do on the coast if you’re a teenager.  For various reasons, I attended 6th through 12th grade almost 30 miles away in San Mateo. All of my friends lived in San Mateo so I spent most of my free time in the evenings and on the weekends alone on my computer. My older brother needed more attention and parental guidance from my parents than I did so I was left to fend for myself most of the time. But what was there for me to do while I was alone? A simple answer: food. I ate out of loneliness and boredom—something I still struggle with today. By the time I graduated high school, I was wearing a size 20 jean and weighed almost 300 pounds. College wasn’t much different; I went to class, came home and ate by myself.

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A childhood photo. Photo courtesy of Krissy Ludemann.

I never really hated myself nor did I love myself. I settled into comfortable indifference. I always believed, “Well, this is how I am and nothing will change.” Every relationship I ever had began online, including with my husband. I thought that I wasn’t attractive enough to catch someone’s eye in person but I could win them over with my personality first so that they couldn’t reject me right off the bat.

My husband, John, however, loved me no matter what size I was. He also loves food, so we ate together with reckless abandonment. When we got married, I was well over 320 pounds and wore the largest wedding dress size that the store carried. While I felt pretty on my wedding day, I was still embarrassed about my size. All the photos and memories I have of that day are of me squeezed into that size 28 dress with my flesh bulging out of the top. My mom even told me to keep my veil on throughout the whole night to try in vain to cover my back fat.

Before I had my son, I had high blood pressure and was very close to being put on medication. I was considered a high-risk pregnancy and had to monitor my blood pressure daily. Thankfully, everything was fine and my son was born perfectly healthy. I desperately wanted to be healthy and set a good example for my son, and so I decided to look into having weight loss surgery.

It wasn’t until I had my son that I kicked myself in the butt and actually took charge of my weight loss. I remember the day of my life-changing decision: I was at a park with a friend whose son was around 3 years old and mine was an infant. Her son took off running while she chased him. I watched them frolic through the grass with tears in my eyes, holding my son and thinking to myself, “I’ll never be able to keep up with Ben when he starts to walk.” I was tired, hot and sweaty most of the time, my legs and feet hurt and all my clothes were tight on me. I wore the largest sizes most stores carried (size 24 pants and 3X tops) and I was worried that soon I would run out of options.

I desperately wanted to be healthy and set a good example for my son, and so I decided to look into having weight loss surgery.

Now, don’t think that I hadn’t tried other options before turning to surgery. I had tried all sorts of diets, pills and programs only to give up after a while. I knew I needed help, a tool to aid me in my quest to get healthy. However, my family was very much against me having surgery, which broke my heart. They had seen me struggle with my weight my entire life and I couldn’t understand why they didn’t support my decision to help myself. The old me would have let the idea go, wanting to go along with whatever my parents wanted me to do to win their approval. But for my son, my husband and myself, I had to do what was best for me. I wasn’t shy about telling my close friends about the surgery and all of them showered me with their love and support. My husband told me the best thing anyone could say: “Krissy, I love you the way you are but if this is something you need to do then you have my support.” Now, I’ve learned to focus on the people in my life who support my decisions and that at 35 years old I don’t always need my parents’ approval; I need to live life for me and not for them. This was something I wished I had learned when I was younger.

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Out and about with my son Ben. Photo courtesy of Krissy Ludemann.

It took me several years to finally have surgery after that day in the park. First, I had to lose about 20 pounds in order to make the surgery safe for me. It was really hard but I was determined and I did it. On June 17, 2014 I had gastric bypass surgery. Since then I’ve lost over 140 pounds, going from that size 24 jean to a size 6. I have had “high blood pressure” and “obesity” officially removed from my medical chart, which felt amazing! I can do things I had never been able to do before that so many others take for granted like crossing my legs, tying my shoes without holding my breath and walking long distances without my feet hurting, to name a few. I’ve done things I’ve always wanted to but couldn’t at my old weight like hiking, walking across the Golden Gate Bridge and horseback riding.

Please don’t think that weight loss surgery is the “easy way out.” It’s far from it! I read an article once that said, “It’s like climbing Mount Everest and then living there.” It is a tool to help you but you have to do the work. I’ve had to change my lifestyle completely. It’s also expensive. I had to replace every article of clothing that I owned except for my socks! I had to buy a new wedding ring because it was impossible for my old one to be sized down as much as it needed to be.

I read an article once that said, “It’s like climbing Mount Everest and then living there.” It is a tool to help you but you have to do the work.

When one has weight loss surgery, one’s entire relationship with food changes. I’m supposed to eat a lot of protein with my three daily meals and drink a ton of water. There are also many types of food that I cannot eat anymore, mainly foods that are high in sugar. After surgery one can have what’s called “dumping syndrome,” which happens when one consumes sugary foods. The food passes through the system very quickly and can cause one to feel very sick. One of the foods I had to give up was ice cream because it made me ill every time I ate it. That was hard because it had always been a favorite of mine prior to surgery—a go-to comfort food. Also, the amount of food you can eat at one time is cut down to a fraction of what you’re able to eat before surgery because the size of your stomach goes from being the size of a football to the size of an egg. “Normal” sized portions look huge to me now.

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Walking across the Golden Gate Bridge with my family. photo courtesy of Krissy Ludemann.

There are downsides to this weight loss. I have to take a ton of vitamins for the rest of my life and my hair started falling out a few months after surgery. I chopped it off after it started coming out in my hands while I was washing it, much to the disappointment of my husband. It finally stopped falling out after about year but it’s never really returned to what it once was. I’m left with extra skin that won’t go away without surgical help that insurance won’t cover. I hate my extra skin because it reminds me of how I once was, but I also love my extra skin because it reminds me of how I once was and that I will never return to that place!

Through this weight loss journey, things have come to the surface about why I was obese through most of my life. A lot of it had to do with my family. I was considered more independent and self-reliant than my brother so I assume my parents thought, “Oh, Krissy’s fine, she doesn’t need help” while I was screaming in my mind, “Look at me! I’m over 200 pounds! Of course I need help!” But I never did tell them. I don’t want to blame others for what I did to myself but a lot of my weight issues stem from family dynamics. I’m still facing these demons to this day and trying to make sense of everything. I was always seeking my family’s approval but I’m learning that I don’t need the approval of others to be happy. Since losing the weight, my parents have told me that I made the right decision but their initial disapproval of the surgery still hurts. I love my family very much but I’ve learned through my weight loss that having both a physical and an emotional distance between us has been healthy for me. Those voices in my head still say, “What will people think if you do this?” or “Don’t draw too much attention to yourself,” but I am learning to silence them. Through this process I’ve gained confidence and self-acceptance, which I am so thankful for!

I was always seeking my family’s approval but I’m learning that I don’t need the approval of others to be happy.

I’m still adjusting to my new body and my new life. I’ve had over 30 years being obese and only two years being this new size. Some days I still feel like I’m lumbering around at over 320 pounds while other days, as my husband can attest, I’ll be posing in the mirror seeing how my new clothes fit on my new body. My marriage hit some rocky moments after my weight loss but we were able to come through as a stronger couple. My husband tells me I’m beautiful even though I’m still having trouble believing it myself. He even gets a little upset when people tell me how good I look after my weight loss because to him I’ve always looked good.

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Before and after staff pictures. Picture courtesy of Krissy Ludemann.

Even though I’m still discovering myself after years of hiding who I was behind all that extra weight, I know I have become a better employee, co-worker, friend, family member, wife and mother. Most importantly I’m starting to feel comfortable in my own skin and living life instead of sitting in the corner watching it go by. I am finally starting to feel free from the “old me.” Now I am able to dance badly around my living room to Sia’s Chandelier just to make my son laugh. Moments like those make it all worth it.

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