While she’s been struggling with her weight since adolescence, Heather Warnat is no stranger to adventure. Always up for a challenge or being active, Heather loves hiking, traveling, and seeing the world. When she got married three years ago, she had a travel-themed wedding and the cake displayed the couple’s motto, “Go Everywhere—See Everything.” For years, Heather and her husband, Shawn, have lived by that mantra. They’ve traveled exotic places, love to hike and spend time outdoors, and Heather even attends annual hiking retreats to keep her constantly fluctuating weight in check.
Unfortunately, amidst trying to balance an intense career as a cybersecurity executive, fighting monthly bouts with Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS), and enduring several major back injuries that came as the result of her active lifestyle (karate and parachuting)—her life became more sedentary than it had ever been. “I was in constant pain. The weight started piling on quickly, and just refused to come off.”
Heather has tried literally every diet plan, meal plan, and program available. From Weight Watchers and keto to South Beach and Whole 30, Heather attempted them all with limited success. In 2010, when her back problems got to the point that she felt like giving up completely, Heather was watching The Biggest Loser when she was suddenly inspired by a participant who had similar back problems and was treated by the show’s doctor, finally able to live an active lifestyle and lose weight. She cried watching that episode and vowed to track down the doctor and beg him to fix her—and she did just that. A few weeks later, Heather had a treatment plan at the Biggest Loser Fitness Ridge in Malibu, California. With the help of her new “Biggest Loser” doctor, and an intense six-month fitness program, Heather was able to get her back pain under control, without surgery, and lose over 65 pounds. Her doctor warned her that if the weight came back, so too would the pain and debilitation.
Despite Heather’s resolve to “never go back” to her former weight, her weight slowly inched back up over the course of the next eight years. By August 2019, Heather weighed her all-time highest at 256 pounds. The back pain returned and while her adventurous spirit still lived within—hiking and physical activity became painful and sometimes impossible for Heather.
In a leap of faith, Heather resigned from her incredibly demanding job, and decided to take control of her life and her weight. She signed up for six weeks at a wellness retreat in southern Utah, and started a weight loss account on Instagram, for accountability. She was expecting to lose at least 20+ pounds, but stalled hard at a 15 pound loss. The retreat was a success for her inner peace and mindfulness, but she couldn’t seem to lose any more weight, no matter what she tried; portion control seemed to be a major culprit.
A friend from her days at the Biggest Loser program reached out to her after seeing one of her posts on Instagram about her never-ending weight loss battle. She recommended drastic surgical measures such as bariatric surgery and the vertical sleeve gastrectomy (VSG) procedure, but Heather knew these solutions weren’t right for her. She didn’t want surgery and all the risks and long-term impacts that came with these options, so she kept researching.
“I knew I didn’t want to be cut open, and I didn’t want parts of me removed, so drastic surgery wasn’t the right option. I considered the gastric balloon, but the idea of a massive foreign body sitting inside me just wasn’t appealing,” Heather explains. “Just when I thought I was out of options, I stumbled upon a newer procedure called endoscopic sleeve gastroplasty (ESG). I called a few clinics claiming to offer the procedure, and even booked two consultations, but I wasn’t satisfied with the information I was receiving, nor was I satisfied with the doctors offering the procedures.” Determined to learn all she could about ESG, Heather spent several days researching the ESG experts across the country and their various approaches to the procedure.
During her research, Heather discovered a YouTube video with Dr. McGowan explaining and performing the endoscopic sleeve gastroplasty (ESG) procedure. She watched the video numerous times, and decided to research Dr. McGowan. “At this point, it was clear that Dr. McGowan was the most experienced doctor performing ESG, and with the lowest complication rates (virtually none for him!)—so, I booked my third and final ESG consultation with the right doctor.”
Heather and her husband met with Dr. McGowan, where he explained the process and answered their many questions—instilling confidence and alleviating any concerns they had about the procedure. Heather immediately scheduled her travel from Louisville, Kentucky, to Cary, North Carolina, to have her ESG performed at WakeMed Cary Hospital on February 7, 2020.
The day of the procedure came after tornadoes canceled Heather’s flight while she was on the tarmac waiting to take off. Disappointed, Heather enacted a spontaneous alternative. “There was no way I was going to miss this procedure, so I called my husband and asked if he wanted to ‘go for a drive.’ He packed some items into the car, picked me up at the airport and we drove 14 hours through the storms to North Carolina.” A tense and bumpy ride, with lots of detours and re-routing, that Heather explains was well worth it. She was tired and a little anxious, but otherwise, Heather entered WakeMed Cary Hospital four hours after arriving in North Carolina, excited and ready to start her new weight loss journey. The morning was uneventful—she did some yoga to chase away her jitters while in pre-op. The next thing she knew, it was around lunchtime and the procedure was finished. She was feeling great, walking the halls of the post-op area, and then headed back to the hotel to recover.
The following day, she was feeling terribly nauseous, but after a visit from her post-operative nurse—it was determined that she was allergic to both the pain medication and antibiotic. After discontinuing both medicines and using peppermint oil to stave away the nausea, she was feeling much better and was able to fly back to Kentucky the following morning.
Over the next few weeks, Heather says she felt good, although she admits she probably pushed herself a little hard over the first few days, trying to shop for groceries. She enjoyed eating chicken broth more than anything else, and found new aversions to tomatoes and beef (both of which went away after the first month or so.) One of the biggest unforeseen benefits was that her PCOS (and the associated pain) seemed to completely disappear, giving her an additional week of being active and feeling virtually pain-free every month. “If I had known this was going to be a side-effect of ESG, I would have had this procedure at age 14!”
She followed the diet plan very closely and learned about mindful eating—a strategy she believes has really helped her in the long-term. She used a timer while eating, chewed each bite 20-30 times, waited 30 seconds between bites, and used smaller plates and utensils to aid in the psychology of “fullness” with her smaller portions.
Heather says the weight came off quickly for her—and Dr. McGowan reiterates that her weight loss at the six-month mark matched what some patients achieve after a year. She went from a size 20 to a size 8 and was 75 pounds below her highest weight. Her back pain started to dissipate just after getting below the 200-pound mark—and she was thrilled to be able to hike long distances on uneven trails once again.
She’s now working closely with True You Weight Loss dietitian, Laura Sebring, to achieve her goal weight of 164 pounds. Between food journaling and Laura’s help adjusting her macros, Heather is continuing to lose weight and is excited to drop those last few pounds.
Today, Heather is feeling great and is back to the adventurous lifestyle her excess weight had prohibited. She enjoys hiking, walking, occasionally hitting the gym, and has started her own cybersecurity consulting business while she studies for a potential new career as a financial advisor. She enjoys trying all the new things that accompany a healthier, lighter lifestyle, including buying smaller clothing and seeing a single digit or letter on her clothing tags.
She is incredibly thankful to Dr. McGowan and the True You Weight Loss team for helping her start her new life. “Dr. McGowan is the best in the business—he and his team care deeply about their patients, and they’ve been there for me every step of the way.”
This summer (amidst the COVID-19 chaos), Heather and her husband traveled across the country for 10 weeks, hiking and camping their way through U.S. National Parks and Historic Sites. They’re now considering a 2021 backpacking adventure in the Pacific Northwest.
“We’ve been together for six years now—and this is honestly the first time I’ve been in good enough shape to experience life together the way we both dreamed of when we got married. I used to be excluded on backpacking trips, but now I’m stronger, more flexible and doing things I couldn’t have done a year ago. It’s a gift—and I can’t wait to see what adventures the future holds for us,” Heather concludes.