An inspiring weight loss journey of perseverance and the courage to ask for help.
Shandon Smith didn’t just lose some weight. She dropped 200 pounds in one year.
While a portion of that jaw-dropping number is certainly thanks to a Vertical Sleeve Gastrectomy (VSG or more commonly known as a Gastric Sleeve), a big chunk of it is due to her commitment and hard work. Shandon chose to change her life for the better. It’s a choice she continues to make on a daily basis. And, it’s one she’s courageously shared with those around her — letting her own trials and triumphs be a source of inspiration for others.
We met at St. Mary’s College of California. Over the years we’d grown apart. Distance and time have a way of doing that. But thanks to Instagram, we re-connected near the beginning of her weight loss journey.
I’d been following her from the sidelines — never sure about what to say or how to say it. But after I read about another woman who turned the diamonds from her shrinking wedding band into a necklace, I sent Shandon a private message recapping the amazing idea.
At the time, I too was going through a life transformation of sorts — trying to figure out how to take ownership of my own happiness and what role food and exercise played. That one message spiraled into hundreds as we both shared the crazy individual battles we were facing. We became one another’s cheerleaders, commiserates, and accountability partners.
I was overwhelmingly inspired by not only Shandon’s openness, but the way she prioritized her health in a sustainable and enjoyable lifestyle. I still am.
The following Q&A explores Shandon’s decision to have surgery, her experience, the ways she’s made sustainable changes, and the surprising non-scale-victories she’s experienced.
Q&A with Shandon Smith
Mikaela: What made you consider weight loss surgery?
Shandon: I’ve always been a heavy girl, but I’ve never let that keep me from doing the things I wanted. I went to the parties. I’d go swimming. I hung out with friends. But in the months leading up to my consultation, my weight really started to impact me.
I was depressed. I was in pain. Everything hurt. All the time. And I was becoming bitter and mean in ways that weren’t like me.
Mikaela: What did your friends and family say when you brought up surgery?
Shandon: Everyone was incredibly supportive, but it was hard to admit. The first time I said anything to anyone was when a girlfriend was over for lunch.
The three of us were at our kitchen table and I snapped at David about the sour cream. She called me out on it and asked me what was going on because that wasn’t like me.
I just broke down.
I admitted that I wasn’t happy. That I hurt all the time. That I felt awful because I was snapping at David constantly. And then I said, ‘I haven’t vocalized this to anyone — and David I know this is the first time you’re hearing this — but I think I want to have that weight loss surgery.’
My friend was never a big girl in her youth, but she’d put on weight after her kids. And I think it just felt safe to admit to her because I was half expecting her to say, ‘Me too.’ And she did.
That was on a Sunday. By that Wednesday we were both at a seminar learning about the surgery and starting the process.
David was incredibly supportive. I knew he would be. He’s been nothing but our entire relationship. But there was something really difficult about admitting that I couldn’t do this myself and I needed medical intervention.
But literally, from the time I started the process, it was like a weight was lifted off my shoulders. I suddenly felt like there was light at the end of the tunnel — because there was.
Mikaela: Were there any responses that were surprising?
Shandon: Yeah. I didn’t realize how much of a conversation piece I was among my friends.
When I told two of my best girlfriends I was going to get the surgery, the immediate reaction was a look of relief. They quickly told me how happy they were for me and how scared they’d been of losing me.
They admitted they’d been trying to find ways to invite me to workout with them or do a diet challenge. That they were scared for my life, especially after the comment I’d made that summer.
The July before my surgery I went floating with my friends like I do every year. The river access point is this really steep hill. It was incredibly difficult for me to climb up the riverbank because of the big, wet spring we’d had. Two of my best friends had been helping me up the bank and I don’t remember saying it, but I guess I mumbled to myself, ‘I think this is my last float.’
So yeah. It was surprising. Really hard. And incredibly touching. I hadn’t realized how big I’d gotten, but other people had and they were talking about it — all because they were scared I wouldn’t be around.
Mikaela: Tell me about the process? What did you have to do to prepare?
Shandon: Increasing my water intake was a big thing. I really had to concentrate on hydrating. But one of the biggest ‘preparation’ keys was an all-liquid diet for 10 days prior to surgery. This not only jump started my weight loss, but also helped shrink my liver for surgery.
I could have protein shakes and sugar-free liquids in all forms — including herbal tea and broth. My favorite was a chicken soup flavored protein powder that you could drink hot. Something warm and savory was the mental game-changer from the cold and sweet.
Shandon’s Favorite Soup: UNJURY Protein Chicken Soup
Mikaela: How was your recovery?
Shandon: Mine went really well. Assuming you’re recovering well, which I was, you get to go home after just one night in the hospital.
After that, I was still working closely with my doctors and nutritionists to make sure my numbers were within a good range. For a good amount of time you’re still on a liquid diet. Eventually you introduce purees and then soft foods and then very small amounts of normal food.
Mikaela: Did you have to make big lifestyle changes?
Shandon: Oh God yes! The whole thing is about changing your lifestyle. The people who don’t just put back on the weight.
In the case of food, my portion sizes are tiny and I still drink protein shakes to keep my [protein] numbers up. But more than that, I’ve become really conscious of what I put in my body. For example, I don’t casually eat croissants wrapped in plastic.
If I’m going to eat a croissant, it’s going to be from Perenn Bakery. And I’m only going to eat one — over more than one sitting. And I’m going to let myself enjoy every damn bite — without any guilt.
But it’s more than just food. It’s been finding ways to enjoy life that aren’t focused on food. Savoring a sunset. Focusing on the conversation with friends. Things like that.
And, of course, it’s incorporating physical activity. That’s been huge. And surprising.
Mikaela: How was physical activity surprising?
Shandon: I’m genuinely excited about working out. David built me a home gym in the garage and I actually find pleasure in going out there. I look forward to it.
I fell not too long ago and my first thought wasn’t ‘how embarrassing.’ It was, ‘Fuck. I’m not going to be able to workout for a few days.’
That’s a huge shift for me. My family never exercised. So wanting and prioritizing that has been a totally different mindset.
Mikaela: It sounds like there have been a lot of victories that aren’t just about the scale?
Shandon: Absolutely. My non-scale victories have been so amazing. The first one I remember was being able to wear one of those really delicate necklaces. I’d never had a visible clavicle. But as the weight melted off and I did, it was like a whole new world to me.
Travel is another big one. Specifically, nine months after my surgery I rode on a plane and didn’t have to ask for a seatbelt extender. I was able to put the table down and extend it — and it didn’t hit my legs or belly. That was amazing.
Mikaela: You guys seem to travel a lot. How have you been able to manage your weight loss goals on the road?
Shandon: I wasn’t a huge traveler, but I married one. David loves to travel.
For me, food really is one of the best parts of traveling. I take a lot of joy in trying the best a region has to offer. So I’m not going to not do that. I’m just going to be smart about it.
Yes, in Hawaii I’m going to go get a malasada. In England I tried the fish and chips. But I’m not eating like that for every meal. I pack a ridiculous number of protein bars. I watch my portion size. And, I’m not afraid to not finish something or save it for later.
The other big thing has been incorporating more movement into our travels. That’s not something I could have done when I was heavier. It just hurt too much. But now I’ll check my FitBit and I’ve gone 5, 6 or even 10 miles in one day. And I’m LOVING that. The chance to walk through a tropical garden in Hawaii or explore a castle in Scotland. That’s amazing. I want to do those things. And one day, I want our kids to do those things.