LUMBERTON — Imagine a meal that could fit inside a can of tuna. Five every day. For the rest of your life.
For most people, such a limited diet would be, well, tough to stomach. For 29-year-old Grover Hunt, it has been great.
Hunt, who lives in St. Pauls and grew up in Fairmont, has lost 128 pounds — 40 percent of his body weight before he had gastric sleeve weight loss surgery a little more than a year ago, on July 10, 2013.
“I get compliments all the time. After a year, some people go six months and say ‘God, Grover, you look different’ … I mean I still hear that after about a year now,” said Hunt, the environmental services supervisor at Southeastern Regional Medical Center.
Hunt says his strict post-surgery diet has been challenging at times. But, having been overweight all of his life, at 328 pounds and struggling with high cholesterol and a climbing blood pressure, Hunt knew he needed to make a change.
“A lot of my family members have diabetes, high blood pressure, so I wanted something to fix the issue before it became a problem with me as well … I knew that the weight was my problem,” Hunt said.
Hunt had tried just about everything to lose weight, so he began researching surgery options. First, he looked into adjustable gastric band surgery, known as LAP-BAND. LAP-BAND surgery typically provides about a 42 percent excess weight loss and recovery takes about a week.
According to Southeastern Surgical Center’s Dr. Barry Williamson, who has done the surgery about 170 times since 2009, LAP-BAND surgery is an outpatient procedure that takes about 45 minutes. A band lined with pockets of saline is inserted around the stomach, leaving a single-ounce pouch above the band. The band can be adjusted, expanding or shrinking the pouch, by removing or adding saline.
“Patients lose about two pounds a week, and that’s sustainable over time,” Williamson said. “Each individual is kind of able to set their own goal … as time goes on we make adjustments to the band.”
Williamson recommends the procedure to anyone with a body-mass index of at least 30 and other weight-related health issues. BMI is a measure of one’s weight relative to height and can be determined using a variety of online calculators. A healthy BMI falls between 18.5 and 25.
Hunt ultimately chose gastric sleeve surgery, during which a portion of the stomach is removed.
“Right now here in Robeson County it’s the most frequent bariatric procedure that we’re performing,” said Dr. Eric Velazquez, who performed Hunt’s surgery and also works with Southeastern Surgical Center. Velazquez performed the procedure 21 times last year.
Robeson County residents have one of the highest average BMI’s in the state, with 41 percent of adults obese.
Velazquez recommends the gastric sleeve surgery for anyone with a BMI over 35 and other conditions like type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure or asthma. The 90-minute surgery typically leads to a 59 to 62 percent excess weight loss, and most patients hit their weight loss goals in 18 months. It requires patients to stay in the hospital for two nights, and a full recovery takes up to two weeks.
“Basically [Velazquez] was telling me that this surgery is a lifestyle change, you’re not just going to do the surgery and it’s going to fix everything. You have to make lifestyle changes for the rest of your life,” Hunt said.
For Hunt, those changes began two weeks before the surgery, when he was put on a low-carbohydrate diet — sort of training for post-surgery life.
“If you get past that two weeks ….,” he said. “During those two weeks I lost like 29 pounds on that low-carb diet.”
For the first month after the surgery, Hunt only drank protein shakes; when you can only eat 3 to 4 ounces of food at each meal, protein has to be a priority.
After a month, patients can begin to mix in soft meals, always keeping portion-size in mind. For Hunt, that often meant cooking at home and measuring out meals to take to work each day, which he said could be a challenge.
“In your mind it is … but once you start eating, you feel full a whole lot quicker than before. It’s hard to explain. You’re basically eating a third or less than what you’d probably eat,” he said.
According to Velazquez, that’s because Hunt’s stomach is now about the size and shape of a banana.
“Some of my coworkers say, compared to what I used to eat, ‘God, Grover, you’re starving yourself.’ They’re used to me eating … the Five Layer Beef Burritos at Taco Bell, I could eat three or four of them no problem. Now I tear a lot of the bread off and can barely get down one,” Hunt said.
Hunt can eat just about anything as long as he watches his portion sizes, fills up on protein first, and refrains from drinking fluids during meals, which can fill him up and push nutrients through his system too quickly. To supplement his smaller meals, Hunt keeps protein bars on hand and apples at his desk, which he’s known for by coworkers.
He hasn’t had any complications from the surgery, the most common of which is leakage around a patient’s stomach staples.
Hunt’s weight loss has stalled in the last two months, but he’s still thrilled with his results.
“I have a whole lot more energy. Now that its warm out, I play basketball with 16-, 17-year-olds. Before I still would get out there but I’d be tired a whole lot faster, now I play as long as they play. That’s the biggest thing I noticed,” he said. “Well and my clothes … I went from a size 44 pants to a size 34 pants.”