Gladys Alcazar-Anselmo was heavy her whole life. From her youth on, she always thought she'd lose the weight. Despite countless efforts to shed unwanted pounds, nothing worked.  For years she lived with sleep apnea, joint pain and a myriad of other physical conditions that were the result of the strain weight put on her body. She adapted to the constant pain by telling herself it was normal. Eventually, however, her weight crept high enough that something needed to be done. At the age of 40, weighing 368 pounds, Gladys made the life-changing decision to undergo gastric bypass.

The decision to undergo the procedure was not taken lightly. It wasn't as though Gladys walked into her doctor's office, had gastric bypass, and walked out a few hours later a thin and healthy woman without a care in the world. The process was much more complex and required a proven commitment to a new lifestyle. Seeking assistance from Rush University Medical Center's Bariatric Surgery Program, Gladys was needed to meet regularly with a team of professionals from dietitians to surgeons and everyone in between to ensure that she was prepared for just how much her life would change after the surgery.

Six and a half years have passed since Gladys' surgery. Today she is a much leaner and healthier woman who maintains her weight through eating right and exercising regularly. I had a chance to ask Gladys a few questions about her experience with gastric bypass surgery, and this is what she said.

What are a few things you do today to take care of yourself that you didn't do before the surgery?
Some of the significant changes that I have made to my daily routine are taking vitamins, planning meals and snacks for the day and incorporating exercise formally or informally. Planning meals and snacks is significant. It helps prevent the daily grab of garbage when [I'm] out. I also have healthy alternatives in my car, purse and gym bag to make sure I don’t slip up. Most significantly is planning a daily visit to the gym. This has become a regular part of my day, just like eating or checking the mailbox when you get home.  If there is a day I can't make it to the gym, I plan a workout at home or a long walk to make sure that I incorporate some exercise to my daily movement.

What have you done to maintain a healthy lifestyle?
I’m honest with myself in the understanding that I have to work hard at [staying healthy] everyday. I speak openly about eating healthy with friends and family, and encourage their support. I understand that I will have a bad food day from time to time, but I get back on track the next day. I have developed a core group of friends that I exercise with, we email each other and plan specific classes to take together to encourage and support the commitment. I cook more often than I eat out. When I do go out to eat, I choose places that have healthy option. I also periodically maintain a food journal when I am concerned that I might need to refocus. I especially journal during the holidays, when friends and family bring out their arsenal of food favorites.

Can you tell me about a couple unhealthy habits you were able to overcome by adopting a healthier lifestyle?
Not exercising was the greatest unhealthy habit that I overcame. I maintain my weight, tone up and burn calories by exercising. I  lose weight by combining [exercise] with

A healthier Gladys and her husband, Rich

changes in nutrition and lifestyle. I also stopped eating out as much. When you eat out,  you have no control over what's in your food. What you perceive as a healthy meal might be loaded with salt, fat, chemicals and extra calories. Honestly speaking, however, I do love a Reese’s peanut butter cup from time to time. I eat one, not the whole bag.

What do you say to someone who says gastric bypass is a short cut?
Many critics of gastric bypass believe that it really is the obese person’s fault that they are heavy, they lack some intrinsic will power or that they have a failure of character. Believe me, for the obese person it is not a lack of trying to lose weight, it's finding the correct tool, program or method to lose weight.   Also [for those who don't know], you can gain all the weight back after  surgery if you don’t changed your behavior and lifestyle. I like to think of the surgery as a tool I used to reboot my system for the behavior and lifestyle change.

What's a typical reaction of someone who hasn't seen you in several years?
The reactions have been interesting. In the beginning, people did not recognize me at all; they would walk right by me and not even have a clue that it was me. The best reaction was from an older neighbor that I had not seen in a couple of years. My husband, Rich, was chatting with her, and she asked who I was.  Rich said “my wife” and her response was “what happened to the other one?” She thought he had traded up! Sadly, I have also experienced  negativity from a few people that were rather critical and judgmental. They feel I somehow cheated. Believe me going through the pain of surgery and the lifestyles changes I have made was not a cheat. People tend to look at themselves through their peers and sometimes it makes them feel better to judge someone else. I've learned to focus on the positive.

How often do you hit the gym?
For consistency, I go to the gym six days a week. Since I have incorporated this as a social component with friends, it’s like going out for coffee and hanging out. It has become rather fun, and I have met so many wonderful people.  It really is not work. I have also found people that share my desire to be healthy and garner support and ideas, try new classes, share articles, books and recipes.

If we were to pick up your i-pod, what three songs would we most likely hear?

  • Jodie Resther - Doucement
  • Pendulum – Propane Nightmares
  • Panic! at the Disco – The Ballad of Mona Lisa