Patricia Maycumber

Less is More

    Mad, sad, stressed out? What brings you comfort? Is it a king size Snickers bar, a box of "Double Stuf" Oreos, a pint of Ben and Jerry's? Maybe it's a bag of Doritos, Mom's mac and cheese or a tub of buttered popcorn. What about when you're happy or celebrating a holiday or special event? "Food is so connected to everything emotional," said Pat Maycumber, who admits that she spent most of her life up to now feeding her feelings and fighting her weight. Four years ago, weighing in at 285 pounds, she was obviously losing the battle, but when she nearly lost her life, it was time to declare war.
    Weight was always an issue for Pat, even as a child. "I think the only time I was ever underweight was when I was born," she said. In her early 20s, she experimented with every imaginable diet, eventually devising her own "weight-control" plan (fasting, then binging and purging with laxatives). Wreaking havoc on her health, she eventually succumbed to her cravings and ballooned up to 320 pounds.
    After two failed marriages, Pat admits that her weight problem took on another dimension. "Interpersonal relationships have been scary for me. After the second divorce, weight became a solace and a protective layer," she explained.
    Yet outside of her relationship issues, Pat was, and is, the model of success. With a degree in psychology and a master's in business administration, she built a career as a top sales associate with Automated Data Processing, Inc. Today, she is the owner of a thriving retail clothing store, Patricia's, in the Village at Wexford. The wakeup call came when she almost lost it all.
    On October 4, 2004, Pat came home from work, ate dinner and then sat down to talk with her mother. "All of a sudden, I felt thunderstruck. It felt like my left foot was screwed to the floor. My mom could see my face sagging," she said. Diagnosis: stroke, brought on by a combination of obesity and diabetes. "That was the reckoning," she said.
    Pat made a miraculous recovery from the stroke but continued to struggle with her health. "I couldn't get my sugar levels down even though I was following the diet. I was scared out of my wits because I thought I was going to have another stroke," she said. That's when her physician suggested gastric bypass surgery. "I was a good candidate for all the right reasons," said Pat, who underwent the procedure at MUSC on June 22, 2005.
    "That's when my life began," she said. Through counseling, she has learned to deal with the emotions that once triggered her binges. "I've trained myself not to reach for food. I've also learned how to set boundaries for myself, learning to say no and not feel guilty about it," she said.
    While gastric bypass was the right choice for Pat, it hasn't been a picnic. She has undergone two additional surgeries to remove excess skin and tighten the underlying muscles. For the rest of her life, she must limit her food intake to six ounces at a time, carefully monitoring her diet to make sure she gets the right nutritional balance.
    But the rewards far outweigh the sacrifices. At 135 pounds, her diabetes is under control and she is fulfilling a lifelong dream. "One of the things I dearly loved to do was dance. A year and a half ago, I got up my courage and called Fred Astaire studio," said Pat. With a new appreciation for her health, at last she is stepping out. Like a butterfly emerging from its cocoon, her outer form reveals what was inside all along: a beautiful woman, aglow with wisdom, confidence and a new perspective on life. "Weight is no longer a barrier," she said. "It feels good to be healthy."

Up Close

Hometown: Upstate NY Lowcountry Resident/Business owner: since 1991 When not working, find her: dancing, swimming and going on cruises Life motto: "It's going to be okay." Fashion philosophy: "The brighter the better; the more different, the better." How to win the battle over food: Until you face your emotional connections to food, you are subject to the will of that food. You don't have the will until you reach the point of understanding that you have the control. Begin to look at food as medicine, and dose yourself. When you can look at it in that way, as opposed to being solace to something or as balm to your emotional life, you put it in perspective, and then you can eat to live instead of living to eat.