Losing a large amount of weight was the best thing I ever did for myself. Dealing with the excess skin as a result? Not so much.
Bare with me – this blog post won’t be a short one. I intend to give you my best tips and information on the process of getting a tummy tuck, but I feel as though I also need to document my road to getting there too. I have previously done a Q&A video as well as a 6 month update, but I felt a guide to pre and post surgery would be useful for many of my followers. My plastic surgeon also released a video which you can see here.
In 2013 I was an overweight 19 year old, fed up with being a size 24 and unwell as a result. I decided to do something about it. Long story cut short; I was successful. I embarked on a journey over the next two years that saw me lose 40kg in 2013 and a further 15kg in 2014.
This massive weight loss left me with excess skin across my entire body; not just my stomach, but my breasts, arms, thighs, back and armpits. The worst was definitely stomach – with an apron of skin that hung below my groin and so much skin I had to tuck it into my clothing.
I did my research during weight loss and knew that for me there was no way this skin would go away on it’s own. The solution? Plastic surgery. Being 19, I didn’t exactly have the $25,000NZD I needed to go private and after looking around on the internet, I found out that you could go on a public weight list if the surgery was deemed medically necessary. I got the referral from my doctor, and a few months later an appointment at the Christchurch Hospital. Unfortunately my hope was short lived. Despite the fact I had skin irritation and problems with my skin getting in the way, I was told that I was the perfect candidate who would benefit more than most from this surgery. However I was “too healthy”. I didn’t have a hernia (which I later found out I did have a small hernia) and I didn’t have any other health problems they could use to sneak me onto the list. I was gutted.
I ended up going away and being so upset that despite my very obvious need for this surgery, I was declined. I posted my frustrations on my Facebook blog and soon enough, people were weighing in with their thoughts. What ensued, was a small media frenzy. This attracted global attention and soon enough my sister had set up a Give a Little page and incredible people worldwide were helping to get me the surgery I needed. I was donated $14,000 in total.
Amidst those people who wanted to help was one offer that I thought was too good to be true. On my initial post of frustration, I had a comment from a Dr Cat Begovic. Dr Cat Begovic had seen an article on the Daily Mail and wanted to donate her services in for an abdominoplasty.
I honestly remember not even giving it a second thought at first; I thought it was someone making a joke. But the further I looked into it, I realised it was an option. I had never wanted to go overseas for a tummy tuck but after doing some research, I realised that Dr Begovic was very real, and so was her offer. Dr Begovic is based in Beverly Hills, Los Angeles, USA and is a double board certified plastic surgeon who graduated from Harvard. I made an appointment for a skype consult with her.
Long story short – I ended up booking with her. And the whole trip, including flights and accommodation for a month for two, cost me an estimated $18,000 NZD. Much cheaper than the $25,000 I had been quoted for a surgeon to do it in NZ. The thing that really stuck out to me about Dr Begovic, was that I felt like she understood me as a patient. She was incredibly kind, caring and honest. I loved that she was transparent about she thought was right for me.
Soon I had my date booked, and it was time for me to prepare myself for surgery. I threw myself into research and did everything I could to ensure that my operation would go smoothly and I would recover quickly.
THE LEAD UP
Leading up to surgery there were a few things I did to prepare myself. I had three months to prepare myself so I knew doing my research was important so that I was in the best place to go into surgery.
The power of social media is something that never ceases to amaze me. One of my biggest tools prior to my tummy tuck was actually Instagram. Every single day, I searched the hashtags #tummytuck and #abdominoplasty and followed the journey of several people recovering from their tummy tuck. Quite often they would post tips or information, as well as their struggles and triumphs, and this really helped me get an idea of what I was in store for. I noted things down and kept ideas in my head ready for when it was my turn.
Diet & Exercise:
I have always been fairly dedicated to my nutrition and exercise since changing my lifestyle, but as soon as I got my surgery date, I became even more so. I increased my workouts from 3-4 to 5-6 and focused on a lot of functional strength based movements like squats. I knew these would be important when it came to moving around and sitting with a tight abdomen. Being in good physical shape made my recovery a lot easier.
Food was also tightened up. I wanted to make sure that arriving into USA, I had done everything I could to ensure my health was tip top. Eating well primed my body and I owe my success in the kitchen to organisation. Since I wasn’t self employed back then, I was fairly time poor so meal prep was a life saver (If you want meal prep ideas – be sure to check out my Meal Prep eBook).
I made sure I was super strict and had my strict paleo nutrition on point. I believe I also may have completed a Whole30 during this time. Not only did this make sure I kept my weight controlled, but it provided nourishment for my body which was about to undergo serious trauma. I put my fast recovery down to my excellent nutrition and exercise and cannot stress how important this was for me.
THE DAYS BEFORE
I arrived into LA a week before my surgery. That week was full of pre-surgery appointments, a couple of sightseeing adventures and getting the lay of the land.
When travelling overseas for surgery, knowing your surroundings is super important. You never know when you’ll need to get someone to go to the pharmacy or even just to a supermarket. I booked an Airbnb (if you’re new, sign up using this link for $50NZD credit) in the middle of Beverly Hills that had a handy location for everything. It was around $3000NZD for 4 weeks which I felt was extremely reasonable. I knew that nearby there was a mall, grocery store, pharmacy and it was also within close proximity to all of the places I needed to go for appointments.
Side note: We used Uber most of the time (it’s a handy phone app that’s like taxis but much cheaper, cashless transactions and in my opinion, safer than a taxi – use elorah60ue for your first ride free!) to get around if we couldn’t walk, as it was around $4USD for a 10 minute drive!
Extra Pillows and Towels:
Extra Pillows and Towels were a godsend. This was something I went out of my way to buy before surgery having seen plenty of instagram posts about extra pillows. In the first few weeks, you spend a lot of time between the couch and your bed, so extra pillows for propping yourself up are needed. You also have to sleep on your back at night for the first week or so (I think it was week two when I was finally feeling ok to sleep on my side!) and you also can’t lay flat due to the tension on your incision.
As for towels, well, picture this: you have a drain tube in each upper thigh. Not to be too graphic, but despite the gauze and packing, you often leak. Wanting to preserve the couch and the bed linen, I placed towels around me everywhere.
For the most part you have to avoid all medications, herbal pills, vitamins and minerals for at least 2 weeks before surgery. Your doctor should go through this individually with you. Something I took 3 days before surgery (and this was encouraged by Dr Begovic) was a natural supplement called Arnica. I had seen this recommended by others on instagram, and then when I arrived, Dr Begovic recommended it too. Arnica helps drastically reduce bruising. As you can see in the image below, I had almost no bruising; which is a miracle for someone who bruises easily like me! Can you say #teammysteriouslegbruise?
One supplement that I wish I had started at least a week prior to surgery (and continued after) – obviously provided Dr Begovic was happy with me taking it – was a probiotic. When you’re under anaesthetic, your gut health really takes a hit. Let alone with the additional antibiotics they often give you after. This means your gut flora is compromised and we lose a lot of that good bacteria we need. Good health starts in the gut, so for me, a probiotic would’ve been essential to add to the list. Plus you can get, uh, how to say this nicely… Pretty backed up after surgery! I take a probiotic daily these days to ensure I am looking after my gut health, but it certainly would’ve been incredibly helpful back then to start rebuilding that gut flora straight away.
DAY OF SURGERY
On the day of surgery there honestly isn’t much for you to do. Ensuring you have a support person available to take care of you for a few days is pretty important. If you’re overseas, making sure that support person keeps in contact with waiting loved ones is probably the biggest tip you can receive.
My support person was super slack on that front, and it left some of my family members super worried. I have been this support person for a friend and I know their Mum was very happy with all of my updates!
It’s likely your surgery will take place in the morning and that it will be a fasted surgery – meaning you won’t have eaten. In the US they actually send you home on the same day of your surgery, so I booked into an aftercare facility who took care of me for a night. I would’ve preferred to stay 2 nights there, however it was super pricey so I ended up just staying one! Had I of gone home, I would have just made sure I had the bed all set up along with plenty of towels to cover the linens, spare gauze and medical tape for packing around the drains and fresh food ready for my arrival.
The rest is all mental prep!
What to expect:
I arrived around 7am for my surgery, and after signing a few documents, was taken away to a consult room. I spoke to the anaesthesiologist who would be putting me under, and advised him previously I had experienced nausea after a surgery when I was younger. He assured me that he would mix me up something good!
After that, Dr Begovic came in and began to mark me up. She drew all of the lines on me for her guide during surgery.
I was then lead into the operating room and hopped onto a table where my arms were strapped to the side. The anaesthesiologist said “here comes the morning cocktail!” and before I could process what was going on, I was asleep.
My surgery lasted 7 hours. This is fairly long, but I also had a two small hernias repaired by a secondary doctor before Dr Begovic worked her magic.
Coming to was the hardest part but shortly after waking up in recovery I was taken to my aftercare facility.
Aftercare is the time in your surgery journey that will either make or break your results… apart from the surgeons work itself. Following your doctors instructions and letting them know if anything is out of the ordinary is important. You will have drains, different medications and compression garments to consider as well as scar care. Having a support person is pretty important during this time, because quite often you need to call on them.
Mine had to help me up and down for the first few days, including up at night for the loo. They also had to help me wash my body and hair, adjust pillows and get me food and medical supplies. I could not have done it without them!
Not everyone has drains, and different doctors have different rules. Drains remove any excess fluid and help to keep swelling down. I had two drains, one in the side of each upper thigh (which lead to the abdomen underneath your incision). I was unable to shower with these and had one in for a week, and the other stayed in for two. It was a long two weeks without a shower! I coped by washing my hair over the sink and regularly using a flannel to bathe. That first shower was the best feeling ever. Taking care of the drains was easy. I was given measuring cups and had to record how much I was draining each day for Dr Begovic and when they weren’t draining too much and the fluid was the right colour, we were able to remove them.
Removing the drains didn’t hurt me, but it was definitely an odd sensation. I noticed when following others that it was very much mixed emotions about the sensation of drain removal. Some people found it painful, others just found it odd. I have a reasonably good pain threshold I guess – but it simply didn’t hurt me.
There is no doubt that getting a tummy tuck is painful. At the end of the day, you have just had a massive trauma to your body. However, day 2 was probably the worst for me, but by the end of day 3 I was ready to come off my pain medication. I did make a switch to paracetamol but dropped that almost immediately as I found it didn’t do much. I was prescribed percocet for my pain but hated that it made me drowsy and felt that my pain didn’t warrant me taking it any longer. The main time I noticed pain was obviously getting up and down (mainly sitting down movements) and if I had to walk for too long, I would tire very quickly.
After 3 days of being kept inside, I was very ready to get out of the house and accompanied my support person to the pharmacy to pick up some more supplies. This was a short trip and it definitely left me pretty tired but it felt good to be out of the house!
You do get quite a sore back from spending a lot of time hunched over. It was a good 2 weeks before I straightened up again. The above picture is after at least a week.
Since they cut nerves, you do experience some numbness in your lower abdomen. After 2 years, I still have some numbness below my belly button. It’s an odd sensation but it doesn’t affect my day.
Compression Garments & Swelling:
As soon as you come out of surgery, you have a compression garment already in place. Compression garments are essential for minimising swelling. The swelling is very real! My swelling was mainly gone after 6-8 weeks, but some people experience it for much longer. I noticed at first, on day where I was more active that there was more swelling. I continued to wear my compression garment for 8 weeks in total. I switched to a pair of “spanx” type garment instead of my heavy binder after a few weeks at the instructions of Dr Begovic.
Sleeping on the first day was a breeze. But after the after effects of the anaesthetic wore off, sleeping was a little harder – especially when I wasn’t in the luxurious aftercare bed anymore. Getting comfy can be hard when you’re experiencing pain and you can only sleep in one position: on your back, with heaps of pillows behind you as well as under your legs because you can’t lay flat.
After about a week, I was able to sleep on my side and this helped a lot. Rest in general is so important as part of the healing process. I spent a good week straight on the couch watching TV before I felt comfortable getting out for very small trips.
I am lucky I have such an incredibly thin incision. This means that my scar is nice, low and thin. I did nothing with my incision until the scab had come off, then I applied BioCorneum Serum for the first two weeks. I would’ve used it for longer but that’s when it ran out, so I opted for a cheaper but also effective method of using Rosehip Oil after that. I can’t quite say how long I used it for, as in all honesty I know myself and can guarantee it maybe lasted another couple of weeks before I got lazy and forgot.
My scar looks absolutely fantastic now.
For those of us who have lost weight, not being able to exercise can be a little daunting. After around 2 weeks, I was out doing walks. Once I got home, I didn’t so much because by then I was out of routine. But at the 6 week mark I was excited to get back into the gym. I wasn’t able to do loads but I could do some basic movements and at 8 weeks I was also allowed to start working on core movements too. My first time back on the rowing machine was pretty funny – I almost fell off it backwards because I had no core strength and couldn’t hold myself up!
After surgery, I was fed really well at my aftercare facility but as soon as I got back to my apartment, I didn’t find myself hungry. When I was hungry, all I wanted was fruit. I had a lot of fruit puree during this time. But I eventually got to good meals after a couple of days and favoured salads and light meals. Ensuring you keep your water up is also vital for healing!
All in all, I have to say I kind of felt like I breezed through my tummy tuck. Sure it hurt, but it was very much worth it and I didn’t find my pain unbearable. I honestly put my speedy recovery down to good nutrition and doing function movement. Finding the right Doctor was of course an essential part of this process, and Dr Begovic is truly the best of the best. She called me every day after surgery to check in and I have even been in to visit each time I have been in LA for the last couple of years.
Having the tummy tuck truly changed my life and I am so incredibly thankful to Dr Begovic for that.
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