No matter how many diets she tried, Tracie Kitts of Sevierville, 44, couldn’t keep the pounds off.
“I had tried many diets over the years. I’d lose weight, but then I’d gain it back and more,” she said.
“I did not really have morbid obesity at first, but I was always 20 to 30 pounds overweight growing up,” she said. “Then, after I got married I gained even more. And then I got pregnant and gained even more!”
By the time Kitts was 40, she was 100 pounds overweight and taking blood pressure and cholesterol medication.
“I had hypertension, high cholesterol, and I had a lot of back and joint pain. After talking with one of my doctors, they told me I needed to lose weight or I would develop diabetes because it’s in my family.”
The weight took a toll on her family life as well. “I had a baby and she was growing up, and I couldn’t play with her,” said Kitts. “I went to Dollywood and wasn’t able to ride in the swings with her, which embarrassed me big time.”
Kitts works as a patient advocate in the office of Dr. Jonathan Ray, a bariatric surgeon with Foothills Weight Loss Specialists at the Fort Sanders Center for Bariatric Surgery. Kitts helps patients prepare for weight loss surgery, and in 2011, she decided the surgery was right for her as well.
On Dec. 27, 2011, Dr. Ray performed a laparoscopic sleeve gastrectomy on Kitts. Using laparoscopic instruments and several small incisions, Dr. Ray removed about 80 percent of Kitts’ stomach.
The “gastric sleeve” procedure, as it’s commonly called, is an increasingly popular option over the older and more traditional gastric bypass procedure, according to Dr. Ray. Both procedures reduce the size of the stomach, but the sleeve procedure leaves a slightly larger stomach size, about four ounces, compared to two ounces for gastric bypass and 64 ounces, a half-gallon, for a normal stomach.
The sleeve carries fewer side effects and complications than the bypass procedure, Dr. Ray said.
With any weight loss surgery, the lifestyle changes afterward are even more important than the surgery. Kitts’ whole family, including her husband, David, and daughter, Sarah, made changes to their diet and exercise habits.
“We cut out high-carb food, anything white,” said Kitts. “We don’t eat a lot of sweets, and we really push the protein and vegetables and water. We don’t drink a lot of carbonated drinks. I don’t drink anything carbonated, although my husband and daughter may drink it when they go out to eat.”
All three of them joined a gym and go three to four days each week. “And if I’m not able to go over the weekend, we do activities like walking, swimming, and camping.”
Kitts lost 108 pounds within a year of her surgery. Her husband and daughter lost weight as well.
“I have kept it off, I continued to try to eat right and exercise,” she said. “My daughter, husband and I do a lot of outside things now. We walk the track at a local church, we go swimming. And it’s being more mindful of what you put in your mouth, too.”
Dr. Ray said his staff helps each patient to learn new ways of cooking, eating and exercising through several classes before and after surgery.
“What we have learned in the last 60 years with bariatric surgery is that this is a lifestyle change,” he said. “It’s a change mentally, spiritually and psychologically.”
“To lose one pound you have to burn an extra 2600 to 3600 calories, but walking a mile only expends about 50 to 100 calories. So that’s a whole lot of calories to expend to lose that weight, and it’s almost impossible when you’re 100 pounds overweight.”
Kitts said she would recommend Dr. Ray to anyone struggling with obesity. “Dr. Ray is a joy,” she said. “He talks about God, and I’m a Christian. He sits down and talks with you, explains things to you, any questions you have, he’s there for you. Every time my daughter sees Dr. Ray, she always says, ‘He saved my mom’s life.’”