‘I’ve lost nearly 10kg – but can I keep it off after spinal surgery?’

By | October 7, 2019

You may recall in my last update, I was congratulating myself, perhaps a little prematurely, on my ‘gin and sparkling water loophole’. Turns out, like most things, if it seems too good to be true, well, it usually is. God I hate it when the professionals are right and you’re wrong.

The problem with looking for an escape clause when changing your attitude to food and alcohol is that reality always catches up on you. And besides, this is something I signed up for – willingly – so why would I self-sabotage? I guess that just the human in me and it’ll take time to unlearn years of bad habits.

Now while I was no longer craving sugar, I still found myself yearning for something to snack on when having my weekend tipple – celery sticks just weren’t cutting it, especially as my other half sat happily munching away on his crisps – insert evil side-eye emoji. So in order to get complete control over my food decisions, I said goodbye to alcohol, to allow myself to focus fully on the task ahead.

The difference from week one (right) to week six
The difference from week one (right) to week six

In any event, I had bigger things to be concerned with; my spinal fusion operation was imminent and I was determined to hit the target I had set myself – which was to lose a stone. I wanted to go into the operation in as good a shape as possible and to be mentally prepared for coming out on the other side. Six weeks at home recovering would be no joke – I find it hard to sit still at the best of times, so this was going to be the big daddy of tests.

Alongside cultivating a healthier me both mentally and physically, I was also preparing our home for my impending house arrest. Grass was cut, beds were changed, bins emptied, dog walked (lots), handy grab stick purchased and of course I absolutely had to finish painting the wooden fence panels in the garden… and I wonder why I have a painful bulging disc requiring surgery.

The two weeks leading up to the operation went by quickly. I started my exercise programme three times a week at home. My nutritional therapist and personal trainer, Daniel Meany, devised a plan based on my back problems; he sends videos of the exercises via an app called Trainerize, which will track all my progress in real time.

To be honest, I was slightly concerned about my fat and weight loss results going forward. I wouldn’t be able to exercise for the six-weeks post-surgery and beyond, with the exception of a little walking. But the Elate team reassured me that plenty of clients cannot exercise for various reasons and still manage to achieve great fat loss results.

Writer Audrey Kane at the start of her healthy eating challenge

Encouraged by that news, I got the wobbly bits out and uploaded my pictures to Trainerize. It compares the snaps side-by-side from previous weeks and it’s then you realise the point of this necessary evil. You start to see even the smallest difference in body fat. It’s also great motivation to keep going. While some weeks you don’t lose weight (explained in the panel), you lose inches and this is something that struck me. I can see myself shrinking little-by-little. At the start of the process, you try on a ‘goal’ item that no longer fits you (choices, choices) and at the end of six weeks mine fitted, along with the other rascals tucked down the back of the wardrobe.

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READ MORE: ‘I’ve entered the sugar-free zone and I’m 8lbs down – but it wasn’t fun getting there’

At the same time that I started the exercise programme I was also feeling a lot better about my food choices and expanding my meal menu. With dark chocolate also on the approved plan (anything above 80pc cocoa) I’d been allowing myself two squares every evening and it definitely helped to keep me off the ledge. Also for the sake of a decent cuppa I gave up on the almond milk and reverted to slimline – some things you just don’t mess with.

As I was now a few weeks into the programme I was partaking in group challenges, where I aimed for ‘lean days’ which will help the fat come off quicker. On these days the fats are under 20g which initially proved to be quite tricky. But I found opting for lean choices like prawns or chicken, with a small amount of fat and a lot of protein, meant I could still have my two squares of dark chocolate a night… this is not a loophole, honest.

Intermittent fasting was also going on in the group – this terrified me- in my head it simply translated as hunger and I get angry when I’m hungry. When I chatted to the team about it, we decided it was best not to start anything new until after I got home from the operation. Music to my ears and stomach, as I knew it would take all my willpower to just stay on track being at home all day during recovery.

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The day of the operation finally arrived and after years of battling excruciating back pain, I was ready. I was anxious, but mentally and physically prepared. Not only had I managed to hit the weight target I had set myself pre-surgery, I’d surpassed it.

READ MORE: ‘After the death of my parents, I comfort ate and drank red wine. Now it’s time to future-proof my body.’

And the weight-loss is not just superficial either. To help you recover from the operation and reduce the risk of complications, it helps if you’re as fit and healthy as possible before surgery. Even getting out of bed requires a special technique – known as log-rolling – to avoid twisting the spine. So not having the extra weight really helped.

My surgeon, Prof Joseph S Butler at the Mater Private Hospital Dublin also advised weight-loss during one of our early consultations. The Mater is the only hospital in Ireland to offer the latest in robotic-assisted surgery to patients with spinal stenosis (compression) or spinal instability – so I knew I was in good hands and happy to heed any advice that came my way.

The operation went really well and a small deviation involving post-op tea and buttery toast (delicious) did not throw me completely off track. I’m home now and I know this is where the real challenges will start. For the next few weeks the rules include; no bending – hence the grab stick, no twisting, no lifting, no driving, no dog-walking and absolutely no comfort eating.

Back surgery I can do, staying away from the fridge while at home recovering – well, let’s just hope my new mindset will still be with me by the next installment!


⬤ Stats: I have lost 1 ½ stone (9.5kg) and 34 inches (86cm)

So let’s talk stats. Apparently only oldies – like me – still use imperial measurements. I know we’ve switched to metric so I’ve popped this ‘new’ system on there and that should keep everyone happy.

⬤ My face is a hell of a lot slimmer.

⬤ I’m feeling more confident about my post-op recovery.

⬤ My progress pictures show a massive difference in my back – no more bits of flab trying to squeeze out under the bra straps and I’m beginning to see the makings of a waist again.

⬤ I’m thrilled my original picture is no longer gracing the front page – besides I have cheekbones now.

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Before you start any diet, it’s always advisable to get checked out by your GP first, especially if you have any health issues

What do the scales say today? Who cares!

Audrey’s trainer Daniel Meany of elate.ie


⬤ There are tonnes of reasons why the scales go up instead of down every now and again and it has nothing to do with fat gain.

⬤ Stand back and look at the bigger picture. The scales don’t show an accurate fat loss result. Remember, if you are seeing positive change in your photos and/or measurements and if you are seeing change in your clothes, then it doesn’t even matter what the scales say.

⬤ These are the main culprits for overnight weight gain, i.e. water retention.

⬤ Menstrual cycle: Estrogen and progesterone control the way your body regulates fluid and in the days before your period these hormones decrease. The result is water retention – regularly as much as 7lbs.

⬤ Alcohol: Alcohol dehydrates the body as it has a diuretic effect, meaning that while you are drinking you’ll urinate more. Afterwards, as your body is dehydrated from all that drinking, it will retain fluid to make up for the loss. It can take up to five days to flush out.

⬤ SALT: Extra salt from one day to the next (slight increase and decrease) – If you happen to have more sodium today than yesterday then that will act as a magnet and attract water.

⬤ Starches or sugars: Your body has the capacity to store at least 500g of carbs. To put that in perspective, one slice of bread contains 15g of carbs which is approximately three teaspoons of sugar. When you eat more carbohydrate than your body immediately needs (which happens a lot), the leftover glucose is stored as glycogen in the liver and muscles.

For every gram of glycogen you store, you also store up to six grams of water which adds a lot of extra weight! This water weight can then take a week to flush out.

⬤ So shift your focus away from the scale and toward how you look and feel. It’s very possible to see more muscle definition and even a reduction in inches when your weight in pounds hasn’t budged.


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