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'Losing weight is hard, but being fat is harder'

August 25, 2016 | Patricia Harriman
Cathy Paxton in Africa after double balloon gastric procedure
Cathy Paxton in Africa after undergoing the dual gastric balloon procedure to lose weight.

Traveling the globe to exotic locations has always been something Cathy Paxton enjoys. But her most recent trip — a 17-day African excursion — was the best ever.

“Last spring I went to Galapagos, and this trip to Africa was the direct opposite,” she says. “I am not that person. In Galapagos, I was too fat, too tired, didn’t like my clothes and didn’t want to socialize. I am an entirely different person now.”

New outlook on life

The difference between the two trips is not just the 8,000-mile geographical distance. It’s the 25 pounds she’s lost since undergoing the dual gastric balloon procedure in November 2015.

“The weight loss gave me a whole new outlook on life,” she says. “I felt a calm I had never felt before. Seeing the animals and the skyline and the scenery in Africa, I felt at peace. I’m more relaxed and energetic. Psychologically, I’m in a great place.”

The big removal

Dual gastric balloons are one of a new generation of non-invasive treatments designed to help the obese lose weight and improve health conditions. For the first six months of the 12-month program, Paxton had two saline-filled balloons in her stomach to help her to eat less, but feel fuller sooner and for a longer period of time. 

Dr. Ninh Nguyen, UC Irvine Health chief of gastrointestinal surgery, inserted two uninflated balloons via a flexible tube called an endoscope into Paxton’s stomach through her mouth and esophagus, and then filled the balloons with saline. The six-month mark for removing the balloons was just a few days before Paxton’s Africa trip.

The 66-year-old had tried and failed many times throughout her adult life to lose weight. She had done well during the six months with the balloons in her stomach, and now she wondered what would happen during the next six months without the balloons. How would she feel? What would she do? Could she stay on her program and continue to lose the last 25 pounds to reach her goal?

The weight loss epiphany

Paxton was pleased to discover that six months with the balloons was enough time for her mind and body to adjust, and that after removal, she was able to continue making non-emotional, healthy, controlled-portion food choices, even while on vacation.

“In Africa, I realized that losing weight is hard, but being fat is harder,” she explains. “When you’re fat, you feel bad. You’re a negative person, not a positive person. Every day you wake up, determined to eat only protein and vegetables, and not sugar. But when you fail, all the negative talk inside your head starts again. It’s a cycle. You’re not active, you’re not social, you’re not good to yourself. Where you are physically, mentally and emotionally is not easy. It’s hard. Very hard. Harder than losing weight.”

Added health benefits

Losing weight is not the only health benefit Paxton enjoys since her procedure. Her blood pressure is now under control without medication and her blood sugar is lower.

During the last six months of the program, she will be examined by Nguyen and continue to receive lifestyle coaching support from her social worker Janet Ramirez and dietary counseling from her nutritionist Amber Isenhart.

“I feel so healthy. I feel so good. This was what I needed,” she says. “It was a great decision and I have no regrets.”

Read Cathy’s story, “Can a balloon change your life?” ›

Learn more about UC Irvine Health Bariatric Surgery Services ›

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