When Enetrea Newell underwent weight-loss surgery, she didn’t do it for herself. She did it for her family.
Special family events and the comfort food associated with them have always been important to Enetrea. Says the 35-year-old: “Food brings people together no matter what.”
Plump as a child, Enetrea never really lost her so-called baby fat, and over the years the pounds inched upward as her own family grew. She tried several diets and prescription weight-loss pills to no avail. Exercise could do only so much. And even her lifelong passion – cooking – worked against her. She was a graduate of Milwaukee Area Technical College’s highly regarded Culinary Arts Program and had a catering business on the side. The scale eventually showed Enetrea was morbidly obese – 100 lbs. overweight for her height and age.
As a young adult she had gall bladder surgery, her cholesterol numbers were dismal, her thyroid numbers weren’t normal and her doctor warned Type 2 diabetes was likely in her near future.
“That prognosis scared me,” Enetrea said.
She was worried not only for her own future, but also for her children, all living at home and under the age of 18.
Knowledge-powered decisionEnetrea began attending introductory meetings about weight loss surgery, a permanent weight loss solution for the obese, through the Froedtert & The Medical College of Wisconsin Bariatric Surgery Program. She met many of the requirements for the procedure. She also met and grew to trust James Wallace, MD, PhD, (director of the Bariatric Surgery Program and the surgeon who would perform the operation) along with the program’s nurse practitioner at the time, Deb Andris, MSN, APNP, and Nedra Ohm, RN, BSN, CBN, a certified bariatric nurse.
Initially, Enetrea’s biggest obstacle was her family.
“My relatives thought the surgery was drastic, a vanity decision,” Enetrea said.
She recalled she had only one supporter, a cousin who had the procedure for essentially the same reasons. To Enetrea, the issue wasn’t about fitting into a smaller jeans size, it was about long-term survival.
“I told them that with my growing health problems, they would lose me early if I didn’t do something. I wanted to be around for my kids.”
In July 2007, Dr. Wallace performed a minimally invasive laparoscopic Roux en Y gastric bypass procedure on Enetrea. “I had absolutely no pain afterward – my two Caesareans were worse,” she said. Two years after her gastric bypass, Enetrea had plastic surgery to remove the excess folds around her stomach, which were causing skin irritation and other issues. In all, she lost 167 lbs.
New approach to eatingEnetrea came full circle in her ongoing love affair with food. The surgery works by reducing food intake and feelings of hunger. Post-operative dietary guidelines include moderate portions, regular servings of high-protein foods, vitamin supplements and very little sugar or fat. Deviation can cause illness or nutritional deficiencies. Sessions with the program’s dietitian and nurse practitioner helped, and Enetrea utilized her considerable cooking skills to retool her favorite recipes.
“Food is still a part of my life, but it doesn’t control me. I control it,” Enetrea said. “Counseling after the surgery that’s part of the program helped me adjust my way of thinking about food. I can still sit down at a family dinner and eat just about what everyone else is eating, only I don’t need seconds anymore.”
Good nutrition for herself and her family is Enetrea’s focus. She has introduced healthful changes gradually and in some cases, subtly. Enetrea still contributes to many family feasts, but she sneaks in substitute ingredients such as fat-free sour cream and lean ground turkey. Her family has been savoring Enetrea’s healthier versions of “beef” burgers and casseroles for years, often without knowing it.
Acceptance growsEnetrea also made significant nutritional changes – and compromises – with her children, saying, “They’re on this journey with me.” For instance, milk is an important nutrient source in a growing child’s diet. Enetrea’s kids could stomach milk that had 2 percent fat. But mindful of higher calcium and lower calories available, their mother wanted nonfat. The Newell family compromises by drinking 1 percent milk.
Enetrea’s extended Milwaukee family has come to support her decision. She is the informed go-to advocate for healthier lifestyles. “Many of my friends who have been struggling with their weight for so long see how my surgery has changed my life. When they’ve tried everything to lose weight like I did, and nothing works, then it’s time to consider options. I don’t push. I just tell them they don’t have to become a statistic.” They don’t have to face a life compromised by an obesity-related disease.
Enetrea stresses that surgical options are only part of the solution; good nutrition, preventive health care and regular exercise are just as important. In fact, the busy mom finds weight loss has made physical activity easier: “Exercise isn’t an afterthought. I have a workout plan and make it part of my day every day. Now I can keep up with my kids!”
Life is good for Enetrea Newell. She now wears a wardrobe of junior styles and sizes. She was promoted recently. Just as important, the specter of diabetes and other life-threatening illnesses are gone. She enjoys food but isn’t consumed by it.
“My old body didn’t fit me anymore,” Enetrea said. “This one does.”