Steffney Payne decided to have gastric bypass surgery after hitting a high of 420 pounds.
Payne, a 28-year-old student who works at a bariatric clinic in Charlotte, N.C., says she thought everything would be better when she was thin. But Payne's lifelong battle with food soon became a battle against something else … alcohol.
Many people who undergo this surgery discover that weight loss is just the beginning of the story, and that their struggles do not fall away along with the pounds.
After surgeons make their stomachs as small as a walnut, patients can no longer overeat. But many of them seem to be replacing food with a "transfer addiction," such as alcohol, drugs or even shopping.
Payne was overjoyed by the results of her surgery, and remembers the day she really saw her adult face for the first time.
"It came slowly, because you're losing the weight, but when I really caught it I caught it in a picture and I didn't know who it was," she said. "I was like, 'Oh my gosh, that's me!'"
Payne says she went out and bought a digital camera and couldn't stop taking pictures of her face from every angle.
"I had never seen my nose without my cheek out to here," she said. "I'd never seen my adult face. I'd never seen what I looked like. When I smiled, my eyes closed."
Payne was finally able to see herself clearly, and can now articulate what prompted her to undergo the surgery. At age 24, when she decided to have the operation, she said she was living "on the outskirts of my life, while everybody passed me by."
"I decided to have surgery because I was battling a compulsive overeating addiction. I was battling binge eating," she said, "and not just where … somebody goes to the grocery store and they buy a bunch of food for the weekend and they sit around and watch TV. I'm saying I would buy a whole loaf of bread and I would ball it up piece by piece by piece and eat a whole loaf of bread."
After the surgery, when overeating was no longer possible, Payne found herself craving something to fill the void.
"One day I went bowling with a friend and she said, 'Hold my drink.' And I took a drink of it. It was a Long Island Iced Tea. I was never a drinker," she said. "You know, I was 420 pounds, and … I'd have a drink, but a 420-pound body, you better bring a bucket of something."
Payne says she felt buzzed instantly.
"I'd never felt that before. I'd never been drunk. I'd never been high. I'd never felt that," she said.
But she said the feeling was familiar — it reminded her of how she would feel when she binged on food.
"I had [felt that] in a binge, I had," she said. "I just met my match, but in a different form, and it was quicker and it was fast and it was acceptable."
Payne began drinking a large bottle of wine every night — enough so that she would pass out. She kept this problem quiet from her friends and family but eventually went to counseling and now no longer drinks excessively. She is now very active in the bariatric community and is studying psychology.
For Rita Haas, the problem wasn't booze, it was Wal-Mart.
Haas lost 187 pounds after having gastric bypass surgery. When she was alone after the surgery, she started shopping to keep busy.