I had been overweight for as long as I could remember, and after trying everything to lose weight, I was exhausted and defeated. I had my daughter Matilda in January 2015, and this made me realize that I owed it to myself to be a healthy mother so that I could model healthy self-esteem and be somebody that she could look up to. I had a series of health issues including postpartum anxiety and depression, and I was diagnosed with thyroid cancer shortly after Matilda was born. This, too, made me realize that my health was something I had taken for granted and that I needed to reach and maintain a healthy weight. I then opted for Vertical Sleeve Gastrectomy (VSG) surgery in November 2015, and it has been the very best thing I have ever done for myself.

In preparing for my VSG surgery, I did a lot of research and started looking for support groups, resources and anything that could teach me how to utilize my sleeve for success. I stumbled upon the OAC a few days before the 2015 Your Weight Matters National Convention, and I watched the Convention unfold from my couch in Australia while thinking, “I have to try and get myself to this in 2016”. We have nothing like this in Australia – the only conferences offered are for medical professionals, so I was inspired to attend the OAC’s Convention to learn all that I could about my procedure and how to best manage my obesity moving forward. I desperately wanted to be a part of the amazing OAC community; however, I wasn’t in the financial position to attend. I saw that Convention scholarships were available at the time, so I applied and crossed my fingers that I would be selected to go.  When I woke one morning to see an email confirming that I had been granted a scholarship, I was elated!

Straight away I thought, “Wouldn’t it be wonderful if my friend Dyana could come with me?” Our husbands met on an online forum from across the world in 2003 and introduced us in 2005, where we clicked instantly. Dyana had bypass surgery five years ago and was a long-time member of the OAC. I was determined to finally meet the girl who had inspired me to have my surgery, so I emailed her and said, “Hey – I couldn’t think of a better person to attend the OAC’s National Convention with. Are you interested?”

Thankfully, her wonderful husband organized her registration and flights as a birthday present, so I got to meet an amazing girl in person for the first time that I had been friends with for 11 years and spend an incredible weekend with her. I also got to meet my gorgeous friend Shana. We met on Instagram at the beginning of the year, and she is always the first person to cheer for me when I post something I’m happy about or cheer me up when I’m struggling. I think we hugged for 15 minutes when we spotted each other on the first evening of the Convention!

I attended the OAC’s Nation Convention hoping to be inspired – by the incredible people presenting and by the amazing people attending. I came away from the weekend filled with ideas, brimming with excitement and thrilled with all the amazing new friends I had met! I got to run for miles with my running inspiration (OAC member Pandora Williams), share foodie tips with my foodie inspiration (the lovely Nikki Massie, aka Bariatric Foodie) and got to meet some amazingly awesome presenters. A highlight for me was meeting Convention speaker Merrill Littleberry – even if one of her inspirational sessions had me in ugly tears! The amount of wisdom this woman has is infinite.

The presentation by YWM2016 speakers Dawn Jackson Blatner and Jasmin Queen was also electrifying, and I have tried to instill joy in the journey in everything I do (which they taught me). For example, I quit the gym (which I hated) and instead I go for long walks, hikes and swims – all things which I adore! I stopped counting calories and obsessing over carbs, and instead decided to eat more protein and less ‘crap’. Overall, I’m much happier with where I am and what I am achieving, and it’s largely thanks to their presentation that had me dancing on my feet.

I think it’s quite easy after the surgery to become complacent and to rely solely on the sleeve. I learned so much about nutrition, weight bias, motivation and goal setting – but I mostly learned that this is a life-long journey for me and that I owe it to myself to learn all I can and continue learning all I can about obesity and post-op care. The Your Weight Matters National convention has opened my eyes to weight bias and discrimination, and I challenge that wherever I can.

To anybody in two minds about whether to attend or not, GO!! If you want to learn new methods for approaching weight-loss or weight maintenance, make a difference, meet wonderful new friends on the same path and become more self-aware, this is the event for you. Going to the Your Weight Matters National Convention will be the highlight of your year. It was THE MOST amazing experience and I haven’t stopped raving about it!

I came away from my first National Convention so full of knowledge and inspiration that I couldn’t wait to share what I learned with my Australian bariatric surgery community.  I since joined the OAC and want to always stay engaged with the amazing campaigns and initiatives they are a part of. My husband and I are hoping to go to the United States for our 10 year wedding anniversary in 2018, and he has agreed that we can plan our trip around the 2018 Your Weight Matters National Convention – so I’m looking forward to once again joining-in for that one!

I am so grateful and appreciative of every scholarship donor that made my attendance possible – and I made it my mission to thank every OAC staff and Board member that I could. One of the nicest moments of my trip was meeting someone who had made a donation to the Convention Scholarship Fund, and he said to me, “Alana, I donated so that people like you could be here, and I am so glad my donation helped make  that possible”.
To learn more about the OAC’s Your Weight Matters National Convention and make your plans to attend this August 10-13 in New Orleans, please CLICK HERE.

Written by Alana Garrett, OAC Member and YWM2016 Attendee

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