Joryn Bynum, 42, struggled with excess weight throughout her life.

“I can’t remember when I weighed less than 200 pounds,” Bynum said. “I weighed that much already in high school.”

Bynum has worked as a Spectrum Health phlebotomist for three years, driving in to work from the town of Baldwin, Michigan, where she now lives with her parents.

“I moved in with my parents during my divorce,” she said. “And that’s when my weight really went up. It got up to 275 pounds. Food was my coping mechanism.”

Bynum had been thinking about bariatric surgery for years.

It seemed like a last resort after trying most every diet she had heard about—keto, Weight Watchers, an assortment of diet pills.

“Some of those worked, but the weight loss was always temporary,” Bynum said.

Bynum had always been an active person. She tried working out to shape up, but that didn’t seem to do the trick, either.

“Weight had never kept me from being active,” she said. “I’m an outdoorsy person and I enjoy kayaking and fly fishing with my dad. But these last five years, my weight was starting to hold me back.

“That became part of my decision to consider bariatric surgery more seriously.”

She had a family history of diabetes and high blood pressure.

As her own blood pressure began to climb, she grew concerned about her future.

During her marriage, her weight caused fertility issues. Despite having fertility treatments for five years, her body did not produce progesterone and she couldn’t have children.

So she decided: The time had come to get serious about bariatric surgery.

Food as fuel

In September 2019, Bynum’s primary physician referred her to James Foote, MD, FACS, a bariatric surgeon at Spectrum Health Zeeland Community Hospital.

She weighed 257 pounds and had a body mass index of 40.35.

“But I still didn’t go to see Dr. Foote,” Bynum said. “I actually gained 20 more pounds after I got the referral. Anxiety, I guess.”

Bynum attended a free orientation session in October 2019, where she learned more about bariatric surgery and what it involved. She considered how it might change her life and what it would require from her.

“My big mental challenge was the portion size of the meals I would have after the surgery,” she said.

Bynum enjoys cooking.

The thought of cutting her portions to meet the required 3 ounces per meal seemed daunting.

“Yet I realized I needed that kind of restriction,” she said. “Nothing else had worked. I had long treated food as a reward.

“I learned through orientation that I would need to start looking at food differently—as fuel for my body rather than as a reward. I would have to learn to reward myself in different ways.”

Later, she made an appointment with Dr. Foote.

A life-changing hour

The team at Zeeland Community Hospital scheduled surgery for June 3, 2020.

“Around 99% of the bariatric surgeries I perform are the sleeve gastrectomy,” Dr. Foote said. “That’s what Joryn chose, too.

“It’s the simplest and the safest and it can be done in less than an hour, either robotically or laparoscopically with five small incisions,” he said. “Recovery is quick and success rates for lasting weight loss are high.”

Dr. Foote removes about 80% of the stomach during a gastrectomy, including the part that produces ghrelin, the hormone that causes hunger.

“That doesn’t eliminate cravings entirely, as ghrelin is also produced in the intestine and in the brain,” Dr. Foote said. “But it reduces cravings substantially.”

Despite the fact that about 77,000 people in the greater Grand Rapids area would qualify for bariatric surgery, only a small percentage seek the procedure, Dr. Foote said.

“Yet the surgery is one of the safest elective surgeries performed and the benefits are great,” he said. “Once a person is 70 pounds overweight, the body reaches a set point that makes it extremely difficult to lose weight.

“Only 2% are able to do so on their own. Our bodies are made to store energy and maintain weight. Surgery is often the only option remaining.”

Bynum stayed in the hospital for one night after her laparoscopic surgery.

“No issues,” she said. “I’ve been through surgery before, so I wasn’t worried.”

She found herself up and walking shortly afterward.

“I went home the next morning,” she said.

For the first two weeks after surgery, Bynum stuck to a liquid diet—broth, protein shakes and water.

Then, in the two weeks after that, she ate pureed foods, and two weeks later, soft foods.

“And then I was back to a regular diet,” she said. “I learned to eat more slowly, 30 minutes for a meal, because that is easier on my stomach.”

She now eats a high-protein diet—80 to 100 grams of protein a day—to keep up her metabolism.

As of January, she has shed 90 pounds to reach a weight of 179.

“I feel great,” she said. “I never set a weight goal for myself—just wanted to feel good, feel healthy.

“In fact, I wish I had done this sooner,” she said. “My aunt and a close friend are now going to have the surgery after they saw how it helped me. My advice to anyone considering bariatric surgery is to not hesitate. Consider it an investment in yourself.”