Scott Ellis didn’t think he was fat until his doctor brought up the subject of weight loss surgery during a routine checkup.
The 56-year-old software engineer from Nipomo knew he had put on some weight over the past few years and was getting heavy, but obese? Not likely.
Dr. Greg Wolff, Ellis’ primary care physician, told him it was time to do something drastic about his weight.
“I’d always been a fairly athletic person. In fact, I ran three marathons in 1997 and 1998 — Houston and Chicago twice — so I used to do a lot of long-distance running,” Ellis said, adding he used the exercise and pick-up basketball games to control his weight.
But the wear and tear of running led to several knee surgeries during the early 2000s, eliminating both of the activities Ellis enjoyed. So like most middle-aged men, he began putting on the typical 5 to 8 pounds a year.
However, marriage to Renee in 2004 and a love of anything “bready” layered more like 50 to 60 pounds on one year. Still, Ellis justified the added pounds.
“My dad’s side of the family is kind of big. I’m actually even small for that side of the family,” he said. “But it would be hard for me to feel full. I could just eat and eat and eat.”
Ellis said he never had cravings but could easily eat “a cookie or 12” if they were laying around, and a trip to the pizza parlor wouldn’t be complete without eating half a pie with double cheese and double pepperoni.
The result left him to Wolff’s office tipping the scale at 309 pounds with 44 percent body fat.
“He’s kind of a hard-nosed doc,” Ellis said of Wolff. “He was like, ‘I don’t want to keep treating you, because if you don’t start taking care of yourself, you’re going to die.’
“He said, ‘You’re at a point where we need to talk about bariatric surgery.’ For me, in my mind, that was always for somebody who was gargantuan — somebody who was like 500 pounds and that wasn’t me.”
When Ellis finally decided to listen, Wolff recommended he see Dr. David Maccabee at the Weight Loss Surgery Institute of the Central Coast.
They met in October 2012, and Maccabee explained the process and the procedures of bariatric surgery — insertion of a lap band, a gastric sleeve and full gastric bypass.
After doing his research, Ellis, who has a “go-big-or-go-home” kind of personality, chose the bypass.
“I didn’t ever want the option of going back, so I didn’t want a band. To me, the sleeve was a halfway measure, so why? I wanted this to be a lifetime commitment, so I wanted to go the whole route. Plus, that supposedly gives you the best results anyway, so I opted for the most drastic procedure,” he explained.
After a battery of tests, both physical and psychological, Ellis had his surgery Feb. 25. On a Monday morning, Maccabee made two small incisions and performed the procedure.
By Wednesday, Ellis was back at home. After feeling like he’d been kicked by a mule for a few days, the pain subsided by the end of the week to something “like I had done a bunch of (abdominal) crunches,” he said.
Ellis lost 20 pounds in the first month, 34 pounds after 60 days, and he weighed in at 264 pounds last week. His goal is to get to 200 pounds by the end of the year.
“Scott is having a very typical recovery,” Maccabee said. “Not everybody has amazing results, but the vast majority do.
“Men typically don’t do quite as well as women as rapid weight loss and body changes. Statistically, from 300, he’ll lose about 70 to 80 pounds and end up around 220. That other 20 pounds will require a lot of work, but he’ll do it.”
He said Carrie Smith, nurse coordinator, and Shelley Matson, a registered dietician, prepared him for life after surgery. He said Matson showed him how big — or small — one of his meals would be after the surgery.
“I told them ‘That’s not a meal. That’s a bite. I can do a whole bunch of those,’” he said with a laugh.
But it didn’t take Ellis long to adapt and for Renee and him to notice a change.
Since surgery, he’s eating less, has more energy to do more and is experiencing a renaissance. He said he tries to get in 5,000 steps each day, even if it only involves taking the long way through the building he works in at Johnson and Johnson in Santa Barbara.
Weekends — Ellis said his goal before surgery was to take a nap — are now filled with hikes, activities and spending more time with Renee and their two teenage girls.
“It’s just been great. I’m somebody who likes to go do stuff on the weekends. Now, he likes to do that, too,” she said.
Ellis said it’s not always easy. He has to prepare the lunches he takes to work in advance so he won’t slip in the occasional burger and fries.
He takes vitamins and supplements. He monitors his progress on a smart phone app called Spark People. And life is no longer centered around food.
“This isn’t a cure-all in and of itself. It takes a lifestyle change, as well. This just gives you a head start,” he said. “Now, I have so much more energy. It’s been great for my work. It’s been great for home. I feel like I’m getting so much more out of life.”