For Thanksgiving 2017, James Edgar skipped the turkey, dressing, gravy and pumpkin pie. He had a chocolate protein shake instead.

He was on a strict, liquid-only diet as he prepared for weight loss, or bariatric, surgery. But he was ready for the journey after years of struggling to lose weight. He also struggled with high cholesterol and blood pressure and as his weigh climbed, even a walk to the mailbox was too much to bear some days. His weight topped out at 288.

The surgery isn’t a quick fix. There’s a lot of work required of the patient in advance of the procedure. Edgar, 48, began the journey in June 2017 at a consultation with Dr. Ellen Carraro, a Novant Health bariatric surgeon. She declared him an excellent candidate for vertical sleeve gastrectomy.

“Mr. Edgar had made multiple attempts at weight loss in a really thoughtful way,” Carraro said. “He was motivated to use surgery as a tool for effective weight loss. He had the support of family and friends and was willing to change his lifestyle. He had everything we look for.”

During this surgery performed laparoscopically, or through small incisions, Carraro removed about 75 percent of Edgar’s stomach leaving a small, banana shaped stomach which can hold only a fraction of the food his pre-op stomach could hold.

Edgar was ready. “Novant Health Bariatric Solutions does a great job preparing patients not only for surgery, but for the changes that must be made before and after,” he said. “It seems like a long process, going through the dietary and therapy sessions, but it is more than worth it.”

During the pre-surgery counseling sessions, he had what he calls a revelation. His Novant Health therapist, Janet Jones, suggested this tactic: Every time you get ready to put food in your mouth, ask yourself why you’re eating and then make the healthiest decision possible. He put it into practice immediately and still asks himself that question today.

'Pizza was my middle name'

One reason Edgar was considered a good surgical candidate is that he’d tried to lose weight on his own without success. When asked what methods he’d tried before seeing Carraro, he said, “It might be easier to list what I hadn’t tried.” The list includes the Atkins and Mediterranean diets, Nutrisystem and WW, formerly known as Weight Watchers. None of them worked, and Edgar knew why. He was eating out of boredom. And he wasn’t munching on cauliflower and carrots.

“Friends used to joke that pizza was my middle name,” he said. He still enjoys pizza – just less of it.

Edgar began making lifestyle changes before his Nov. 28, 2017, surgery. A year out, he’s down 90 pounds. “I weigh less than 200 pounds for the first time since the 1990s,” he said. “There’s no doubt in my mind that this process saved my life.”  

That’s why Carraro loves her work. She gets to see her patients reclaim their lives. “The medical problems such as diabetes, high blood pressure and high cholesterol that are the downstream result of carrying too much weight improve, if not resolve, as a result of this surgery.” 

Edgar, who’s self-employed, has always been the chef in his family. Now, he cooks chicken, fish and lean meat. He uses an air fryer rather than a fat fryer. Lunch is often a protein bar. He’s intent on losing another 30 pounds.

He listens to his body, too. “They say there’s a 15- to 20-minute lag time between when you’re full and when you feel full,” he said. “That’s not how it is for me, post-surgery. The very second I’m full, my stomach says, ‘All right, bro. Fork down. I’m in charge now.’”

Carraro said patients who undergo bariatric surgery don’t have to deny themselves foods they love for the rest of their lives. “It’s all about making smarter choices while still celebrating and enjoying good food.” 

Edgar started exercising regularly a few months before surgery. With arthritis in both knees, Edgar needed an exercise that would be gentle on his joints. Swimming and other water exercise were the perfect answer.  Support from family is imperative with bariatric surgery, and Edgar has plenty of it from his wife, Anjanette. “My wife has been my most ardent supporter,” he said.

There was a lot to be thankful for around the Edgars’ table last Thanksgiving. And there was plenty of turkey and all the traditional sides, too. All were enjoyed in moderation.

And not a protein shake in sight.

Novant Health weight loss services provide a comprehensive array of services, from lifestyle and nutritional counseling to bariatric surgery.