Monica Alvarez-Mitchell, a 43-year-old CEO of a marketing agency and mom of four kids aged 12 to 20, wanted to be around for her kids as they grew up. So she made the decision to undergo surgery to help her change her life.

By Krystal Hagan
Monica Alvarez-Mitchell at her heaviest weight vs five days post-op. Photo via @nikalove_lives

What made you decide to finally commit to losing weight?

Ironically, my kids were the reason I gained the weight but also my reason for losing the weight. I began having health-related issues due to weight in my mid 30s. It got worse as I headed into my 40s. It started with diabetes, then foot and knee issues, then more weight gain. Despite diet attempts, I always boomeranged back higher. Then high blood pressure and high triglycerides hit, then an erratic pulse.

But the icing on the cake was chest pains. I was repeatedly told that weight would catch up to my health; then it did. I went to my annual checkup and they told me I was trending towards heart attack and heart issues. I was 39 when they told me that. When I approached 40, it weighed heavily on me that I could leave my kids motherless. I was getting anxiety and couldn’t sleep. I felt helpless. This was my lowest point in life. I was feeling isolated, alone and worried.

On my 40th birthday, I made the decision to do something; I couldn’t live like that anymore. I talked to my family. I had my husband’s support and my parents’ as well. They wanted me healthy. So they were behind my decision. And I just said to myself: it’s time to get help. I was a boss chick who was in control of everything in life except my own body. I had everything else under control: kids, clients, projects, my team, my house; but not my health. And I didn’t want to die young. I wanted to be there for my kids. I had to make it a focus.

I had heard about vertical sleeve gastrectomy (VSG) from my cousin who had the gastric bypass and wished she didn’t. She told me to get VSG. I found a bariatric doctor who was supposed to be the best: Dr. Alfons Pomp of Weill Cornell. I went to him immediately and got lucky he could see me right away. And even though I qualified for insurance, I didn’t want to wait for fear I would chicken out. I did the surgery about six weeks later. It was the best decision I ever made.

How much weight have you lost and how did you do it?

At my heaviest I weighed around 228 pounds and have lost anywhere from 62 to 70 depending on my weight that day. I did it with the weight-loss surgery called VSG plus diet and a healthy living regimen.

What is your goal weight? Have you reached it?

155 is my ideal weight. I have hit that and gained a little back. But I’m around my goal. My reach goal is 145, which was my pre-pregnancy weight from 21 years ago. My doctor said it’s a bit unrealistic with the extra skin from my weight loss.

What other diets/routines you've tried in the past?

Too many to name. I’ve done the master cleanse, Atkins, liquid diets and medicines and supplements like Xenical, diet pills etc. Even this “miracle” pill called fairy pills from Korea. You name it; I tried it.

What has been the hardest part of your journey?

Relearning my body and my lifestyle. I had a very different understanding of my body from before. I’ve had to learn the difference between food as fuel versus a security blanket. I’ve had to learn to read my body urges when it comes to food, then to practice patience in all things.

Food was an analogy for my entire life. I lived to the extreme. I was a workaholic. I would work to the point where my body was depleted. Then I would consume to absolute fullness. When I took a break, I would go out and dance and drink to exhaustion. Moderation wasn’t something I understood. Learning how to live balanced was a big shift in my approach to life, my lifestyle and to everyone who knew me.

I look back and recognize that I didn’t take care of myself back then. I thought I did. But I didn’t take care of my needs. Today, I pamper myself in ways I never did before, like sleeping well because doing so keeps me stronger. I was constantly sleep deprived. Sleep was a luxury I couldn’t afford as a boss chick. But after the surgery, I had to learn to live differently, shift my life perspective and be dedicated. I get rest now. It makes a huge difference in how my body functions.

Today, I can easily go back to my old ways. I fight those urges daily. And it’s sometimes a struggle, but I’ve thus far found a decent balance.

Who/what inspires you to keep going?

The weight-loss surgery (WLS) community. Before I did this surgery, I went onto Instagram. I followed so many vets on there. Their journeys gave me the strength to take the step I needed. Watching and helping others take this step inspires me now in ways I wouldn’t believe. I actually host a meetup for bariatric patients in New York City every year. We have people from all over the world attend. That’s how strong our community is. It’s sort of insane how strangers from around the world can inspire you, but it’s true. I hope I’m a good example of why this surgery is an amazing choice and not an easy way out or a failure, because that’s often what WLS is looked at as.

My kids still inspire me. Being able to watch them grow and not worrying that I won’t be there. They keep me going. It makes me smile when my older kids tell me I look like a kid some days.  

My hubby and our life. We live and enjoy life so much together now. I’m more agile. Our lives were less fun when I was heavier. We did a lot, don’t get me wrong. But we enjoy life so much more lately. We don’t push our limits. I don’t push us. We just enjoy like we have time to enjoy. That inspires me to keep this up.

What made you decide to share your weight-loss journey online?

I watched others do so. Because of following them, this decision became easier. Then they saved me when I was alone and had no one to talk about this journey with. They became lifelines at some of my lowest moments. The least I could do is return that favor in kind. They truly helped me get here. I hope to help others change their life for the better.

Are you glad you’ve shared so much online? Why or why not?

Yes and no. Yes, because it has helped others. Yes, because I belong to a community of amazing people. No, because sometimes my openness has been uncomfortable for my family.  The downside has been outweighed by the upside. But some days it has been tough. 

What does your typical day look like?

Get up. Use my infrared sauna for 40 minutes to burn about 700 calories. Get showered and dressed. Prep my food for work. Then office all day long. Lots of meetings and fun work stuff. Dinner often with associates and friends. Then home to bed. Weekends are for relaxing. But this is my usual regimen. I also travel a lot.

Could you give us an example of what a typical healthy meal is for you?

Protein. Protein. Protein. Hydrate. Repeat.

Lunch

  • Gyro chicken lettuce wraps with tzatziki
  • A proti-diet chicken noodle soup (protein soup)
  • Grapes
  • 32 oz. of Crystal Light

Dinner

  • Oysters
  • Steak (4 oz.)
  • Grilled mushrooms
  • Gelato or protein ice cream

It’s all about portion control.

What are your go-to snacks?

  • Salami and cheeses photo
  • Pickles
  • Watermelon
  • Grapes
  •  

Do you have cheat meals/cheat snacks? If so, what are they?

Healthy cheats

  • Protein ice cream (Yasso, Chilly Cow, Breyer’s Protein)
  • Siggi’s peach yogurt
  • Power Crunch bars

Total cheats (A girl has to live a little!)

  • Mac ’n’ cheese
  • Red velvet cupcakes
  • Chicken and waffles
  • Peach cobbler

Do you have a “go-to” tool that keeps you on track?

  • My infrared sauna that I use daily to help me burn about 600-700 calories.  
  • MyFitnessPal to track calories.
  • I also do intermittent fasting to help speed up my metabolism.
  • I take hiking trips annually to keep fit.

Do you find yourself focusing more on diet or exercise? Or do you try to find a balance?

My focus is food intake and calorie counting. Calories matter most. I am very balanced these days.

What is your favorite way to work out? How do you motivate yourself on the days you don’t want to exercise?

I love hiking. It’s my absolute favorite way to stay healthy. Hiking vacations are what I live for. I use the infrared sauna as a daily calorie burn approach. Thus far it has worked.

How has your weight-loss journey affected your family?

It has made life a bit more fun. I enjoy experiences and vacations with them better. I feel like I can keep up with them better. I sleep well at night. And my husband has gotten to be married to three different women all in one the last 21 years. The new version of me is like a younger, more fun model of myself. Honestly, it’s only changed everything for the better, thankfully.

What advice do you have for other women, especially moms, who are struggling with weight loss?

5 tips:

  1. Don’t compare yourself to others. It’s the worst form of self-punishment.
  2. Don’t make a bad meal a bad month. Even if you have a bad food moment, like a bad meal, just make sure you do better on the next meal. Don’t give up on a diet or a plan because of a bad moment. Weight loss is a long-term approach. It isn’t defined by this moment. It’s defined by your long-term habits.
  3. Find the right balance for you. Maybe fitness isn’t for you. So you like to calorie count.  Maybe you like hiking and not the gym, like me. Or you like sweat lodges to detox and calorie burn. There is no one way to succeed. It’s your weight-loss journey. Define it by what you like best. Because you need to love the lifestyle to keep doing it long-term.
  4. Take care of your needs. Make you a priority. Your sleep. Your diet. Your beauty regimen. Your happiness. It matters. It’s all part of your health and wellness. So make sure to make time for you. You can’t be a good mom if you aren’t healthy. Remember that. So you make you a priority daily. Not just for an occasional trip to the nail salon or a quick escape for dinner with adults. Make your health a priority throughout the day.
  5. Find balance. You have to live. Starvation isn’t living. Enjoy a good meal. Have that glass of wine. Occasionally indulge. But balance it with extra calorie burn the next day. Balance in all things is how you can sustain this lifestyle.
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