For many people who suffer from obesity, even simple, everyday tasks like shopping for clothes or taking public transportation can be a challenge, and that often means missing out on things or putting activities and goals "on hold." That was definitely the case for Tina Minasyan — and at 320 pounds, she decided she had to make a change.
For her, that change began the day she said yes to vertical sleeve gastrectomy, a weight-loss surgery that removes most of the stomach.
Fast-forward five years and Tina has lost an astounding 171 pounds, documenting her journey on her popular Instagram page. Her fans love her frank perspective on weight loss and her honesty about how her body and mind are changing along the way. Here, she shares her inspiring story with LIVESTRONG.com in her own words.
'I Could Get in Shape or Stay Depressed Forever'
It may sound dramatic to some, but my life truly felt like it was in shambles because of my weight. I was so lost, and no matter how hard I tried, I couldn't find a way out of the darkness.
It felt as if my weight held me back from everything, and while that may not be the case for everyone, it was for me. I decided I had a choice: I could get in shape or stay depressed forever.
I'm glad I picked the first one.
I wanted to feel more confident and happy, and at 320 pounds, I knew I had to make some big changes. The first one was opting to have a vertical sleeve gastrectomy — aka gastric sleeve surgery — which also meant that I had to make better lifestyle choices before and after the procedure.
It wasn't easy, but taking on those challenges allowed me to start to actually live my life. I could go out and see friends, I could travel, I could be myself, I could connect with the opposite sex. I'm so glad I finally bit the bullet and transformed my life.
How Gastric Sleeve Surgery Changed My Life
There are many weight-loss surgeries out there for people who fall into the obesity category (at my heaviest, I had a BMI of 56 and was morbidly obese). I decided to go with gastric sleeve, which is a procedure that removes a large portion of your stomach, trimming it down to about the size of a banana. In return, I naturally consume less since my stomach is smaller.
What many people don't realize is what goes into weight-loss surgery: It's not something you just decide to opt into and complete the next day. Doctors require preparation leading up to the surgery day and afterwards, not only so you're safe but also so it's successful.
For three weeks before the operation, I had a very strict eating regimen. Every doctor is different in the pre-operation diet they assign to each patient. For me, I had to 'copy' how I was going to eat during my first few weeks after surgery, meaning extremely low-carb and mostly 'soft' foods like sugar-free Jell-O and broth.
It wasn't an overnight fix, by any means, but those weeks allowed me to mentally and physically prepare for what was to come after I actually got my sleeve done. In that time, I lost almost 30 pounds!
For me, recovery was both really great — and really difficult. Physically, it's a super short amount of time to heal — it took me about three days to get back on my feet and about two weeks to feel like myself again physically. But the mental healing is a whole other ballgame.
So much of weight-loss surgery (and any weight-loss journey, to be honest) is shifting the way you think about food, your body and your health. When people ask me how long it takes, it's hard to answer, since I think it's an ongoing process and commitment to be better.
I lost the majority of the weight over a year, but honestly, it never truly ends. The more you start loving the way you feel and look, the more it motivates you to continue the journey.
That's why I think it's so important for people to really wait to lose weight until they are truly ready, not only physically but mentally. Weight loss isn't only a physical change, it's a huge change mentally, and if you're not prepared for it, it can really damage the way you look at a 'healthy' lifestyle. Don't fall into diet culture — do it because it's right for you.
"I think it's important to not only eat 'good' foods all the time. No one can live a full life like that!"
Portion Control and Mindful Eating Have Helped Me Succeed
There are all sorts of tricks out there, but for those who tend to overeat or have trouble controlling their meals, smaller plates can be a game-changer. At least, they were for me! I go over everything I eat on my YouTube channel, and if you notice, I serve myself on a non-dinner plate. This very easy trick limits portions and makes this reduced size the new normal. When I finish my plate, it's a signal to my brain to stop eating.
Before surgery, I ate a lot of fast food from places like In-N-Out Burger and Taco Bell. I also loved hot Cheetos. I want to say this, though: I don't think fast food was the main reason for my weight gain — portion control was! I had tried cutting out fast food but still didn't lose weight because I was eating about 3,000 to 4,000 calories a day, and at the end of the day, calories are calories.
Now, instead of reaching for my keys to drive somewhere and get lunch, I cook! Cooking has changed my life. It lifts my spirits and makes me feel so good because I know every single thing that's going into my food. I'll usually eat a chicken salad, eggs or a low carb sandwich.
For dinner, I was lucky enough to live with my amazing mom, who would cook for me. I'm currently in the process of finding dinner options I can make and be proud of.
I think it's important to not only eat 'good' foods all the time. No one can live a full life like that! Food is nourishment and fuel, but it also is happiness, laughter, family gatherings and so many more things. Enjoy it. So many people have turned a slice of pizza into a sin. The only sin is limiting and restricting yourself. Live your life, but be mindful.
My Biggest Challenge: Coping With Regain
Now that I've been on this path for five years, I've learned that I can't simply lose the weight and then never gain it back again. One of my greatest challenges was (and continues to be!) wrapping my head around regain.
I didn't drop to a certain weight and stay there — instead, I now fluctuate between 140 and 150 pounds.
Some regain is bound to happen, since nothing is linear. And it happens to all of us — you know, when the holidays come around, or if you go on vacation. So many factors play into why we add on pounds or lose them. I have learned that regain is a part of life, though, and now I never punish myself for it.
Exercise has also been a challenge for me. I am not a big fitness girl. I've always been more of an activity person, like "let's play tennis," but I have never liked the gym. I think this came from so many years of being overweight and feeling self-conscious about my body.
Last month, I went into the gym, and even though I am in the best shape of my life, my anxiety didn't allow me to enjoy my workout. I hope that I can change this about myself one day, but in the meantime, I always try to stay active.
'Don't Ever Compare Someone Else's Highlight Reel to Your Behind-the-Scenes'
Please don't compare yourself to me — or anybody else. You have to go at your own pace, even when it feels like the weight is slowly, painfully coming off.
That was my biggest insecurity when it came to extreme weight loss: It seemed so unreachable. I'd see people with their transformations and think, 'That could never be me.' Don't ever compare someone else's highlight reel to your behind-the-scenes. Everybody struggles, it's hard work — but boy is it sweet at the end.