Why I Became a Bariatric Dietitian
Jamie Carpenter, MS, RD, LDN
I have been asked multiple times why I decided to work with bariatric patients. Patients often assume that I have never struggled with a weight problem. The truth is that I have personally struggled with my weight in the past (during my college years) and I have a VERY strong genetic background to make me more susceptible to being overweight. Because of that, I decided many years ago to absorb my studies in nutrition for both undergraduate and graduate school and become a Registered Dietitian with the goal of working with patient wellness and/or weight loss. I am personally dedicated to lifestyle choices with healthy and mindful eating, regular physical activity, stress management and I believe that a healthy lifestyle is the key to weight maintenance.
On Thanksgiving Day in 2003, I received the dreaded call from my brother with the words I will never forget, “Jamie, dad has passed.” My heart sunk and I couldn’t speak. My dad had unexpectedly passed away from a massive heart attack. My worst fear had come true. He had walked me down the aisle to give me away in marriage and three months later, he passed away. To this day, I will never forget his shortness of breath when walking me down the aisle. Not only was he short of breath, but his knees were in so much pain from all of his weight. I remember feeling his body weight practically leaning on me. He danced and even sang to me during our father-daughter dance. I’ll cherish that dance forever but I still remember how tired he was afterwards. I look back at wedding pictures and video and although my dad was so very happy, he was so very tired and sick.
My dad had always been medically obese for as long as I can remember. During childhood, I witnessed him overindulge in foods and live a sedentary lifestyle. My dad just loved food! He was overweight, had a high stress job and smoked. His first heart attack happened when I was in 2nd grade. After he was diagnosed with hypertension and congestive heart failure I witnessed him go on diet after diet. He would lose weight and then rapidly regain it and then some. He participated in the typical yo-yo dieting that so many of my patients have participated in over the course of years.
Our family was relocated to Memphis, TN in 2008 for my husband’s job. I found a job opportunity for a part-time bariatric dietitian at Saint Francis Hospital Center for Surgical Weight Loss. I applied and was hired. Less than a year later, I eagerly accepted the opportunity to work full-time. Over these past 8 years, I am amazed at how much our practice has grown and how many lives our multidisciplinary team has helped transform in so many awesome ways.
I shared with Dr. Virginia Weaver early on that I wish my dad could have had the opportunity to have had bariatric surgery. Bariatric surgery was not a popular option for weight loss 15-20 years ago. I feel sure that had he been given the opportunity to have bariatric surgery before his diagnosis of Congestive Heart Failure he would have been around a little longer on earth to enjoy life and meet and play with all his grandchildren!
This time of year, I always feel a little sad because Thanksgiving Day is when he passed away. My work reminds me of my dad daily and even though he didn’t have the opportunity to have bariatric surgery to expand his life and improve his quality of life, it always makes me happy to see all the patients that are gifted with this opportunity! I love hearing patients share their personal weight loss journeys with me. I love hearing how their health conditions have significantly improved or been resolved. I love hearing when patients are playing with their children and grandchildren when they weren’t able to prior to surgery. I love hearing all their non-scale victories like crossing their legs, riding in airplanes without seatbelt extenders, riding amusement park rides, wearing high heels, and walking without feeling shortness of breath. I do what I love and love what I do! I enjoy being a part of their journey!
In the spirit of Thanksgiving, I am so very thankful that I was led to work in a field of nutrition that I am so passionate about. I am even more thankful for the opportunity to work with two miracle worker bariatric surgeons, Dr. Virginia Weaver and Dr. Robert Wegner, as well as an amazing multidisciplinary team and most importantly– our inspirational and hardworking patients who have chosen to make healthy lifestyle changes!