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Pastor takes big step to make himself smaller Fred Koenig, Dec 6, 2011
By Fred Koenig Special Contributor
Last summer during the Missouri Annual Conference session, the Rev. Eric Moore was disregarded and ignored by colleagues he had known for years. They looked right past him, and didn’t speak when they saw him in the lobby, as though he were a stranger.
But the United Methodist pastor wasn’t being intentionally shunned. His friends did not know him.
The identity crisis Mr. Moore continues to experience can be attributed to one thing: He has lost 100 pounds since February.
Mr. Moore, pastor of Linn Memorial UMC in Fayette, Mo., has struggled with his weight since he was in second grade. With his peak weight being about 300 pounds, he had weight-related health problems, including diabetes and chronic pain. He had tried various approaches to weight loss, and might lose up to 50 pounds through Weight Watchers, but he wasn’t able to maintain weight loss. And things seemed to be getting worse.
“My weight-related health problems made it very difficult to be active, which would in turn make me gain more weight,” he said. Mr. Moore didn’t see things changing unless something radical happened, and didn’t like the prospect of continuing to try to manage his life being overweight to the degree that he was. As a pastor, he had seen the end result of that.
“Of all the funerals for families in my ministry career, I’d never officiated a funeral for a person who had lived the length of life I hope to live who was the size person I was,” he said. “I realized my physical self had become a barrier to my living out my calling as husband, daddy and pastor.”
Recent weight-related illnesses brought Mr. Moore to point of deciding to address his weight through a very direct method: having a surgical procedure that would limit the amount of food he could eat. As he started considering this seriously, he met with the Rev. Keith Vessell, associate pastor of Missouri UMC in Columbia, who had recently had a gastric bypass surgery.
“I took him out to lunch because I wanted to hear what he had to say about the surgery, but I also wanted to see him eat,” Mr. Moore said. Mr. Vessell lost more than 100 pounds from his peak weight.
“I have struggled with my weight my whole life, and tried everything in the book multiple times,” Mr. Vessell said. “I had the surgery because I wanted to be a healthy pastor, be a good example to my congregation, and do the things that a healthy person can do.”
Mr. Vessell didn’t announce what he was doing to the congregation before the surgery, but when he started losing weight afterwards he started explaining to people why it was occurring.
“A lot of people were asking me about it, and I was honest about what I had done and just let God use it. It became another ministry for me,” he said.
As Mr. Moore moved toward making a decision, he made it clear to his wife, Molly, that she had veto power. He would consider the options and the risks and proceed carefully, and she could put the brakes on at any time.
“Molly has been a rock for me, and has been extremely supportive of whatever my decision was throughout the process.
The more that he learned about the process, the more confident he grew that it was the right thing for him.
Molly Moore is also an associate pastor at Missouri UMC, so she had observed Mr. Vessell daily after his procedure, and knew that he had a positive experience. And she trusted her husband’s judgment.
“When Eric brings something up, I know that he has already thought things through very well and has considered all of the implications,” she said.
Mr. Moore was confident that it was the right thing for him.
“Once I got to know the doctors and the clinic, the decision was easy,” he said.
The decision may have been easy, but the process wasn’t. Two weeks prior to the surgery Mr. Moore was put on a clear liquid diet, taking only dietary supplements and vitamins.
“I know they said it was necessary to get the body ready for surgery, but I think it was also part of the process of making sure people are taking the procedure seriously, and are ready for what’s to come,” Mr. Moore said.
The clear-liquid fast made Mr. Moore forgetful, he had difficulty concentrating, and he said he was cranky. But he made it through.
Mr. Moore’s surgery was Feb. 1, the day a big blizzard hit Columbia, shutting the city down. But his surgeon was at the hospital, and things proceeded as scheduled. Despite being snowbound in the hospital, there were no complications.
During the procedure a bariatric surgeon removed about 85 percent of Mr. Moore’s stomach so that it would take the shape of a tube or sleeve. This limits how much food can be consumed, and causes the person with the procedure to feel full after a very small quantity of food.
Certain aspects of a pastor’s life are public, and so Mr. Moore felt that he needed to talk about the procedure with his congregation. Most were aware of weight-related health problems he had been experiencing, and they knew what he was doing during the time that he had to miss work.
Post-surgery, Mr. Moore was away from work for a couple of weeks, then on light duty for another week or so. For several weeks he had trouble keeping food down, but that eventually faded. During his recovery he also had to have his gallbladder removed, a complication that occasionally occurs following a bariatric surgery.
During his recovery, the Moore household focused on healthy eating, and Molly met her goal of losing 35 pounds through a Weight Watchers program.
Mr. Moore now takes no prescription drugs, including what he used to have to take for diabetes. He follows a healthy diet, and is advised to take in 80 grams of protein a day because he can no longer absorb it as well, and to eat plenty of green vegetables. He is currently at 185 pounds.
Like any surgical procedure, there are risks involved. And not every bariatric surgery is successful. Mr. Moore knows people who have had a surgery for weight loss, and ended up gaining back the weight.
Even though Mr. Moore’s stomach is smaller, he could still regain weight. Overeating can stretch a stomach out, decreasing the effectiveness of the surgery. Eating a small amount of junk food throughout the day could add up to calories that put extra weight back on.
“My diet is still a constant concern,” he said.
And as with any weight loss, Mr. Moore has needed new clothes. But because the loss has been so dramatic, he’s needed new clothes more than once.
“Everything that I once owned is now owned by Goodwill, save my shoes, and they don’t really fit right anymore,” Mr. Moore said. “It’s not just that you have to get new clothes when it’s over, you need to get them at every step along the way. My waist was 46 inches, now it’s 34 inches, there were a lot of sizes between those two. Some of my new clothes didn’t fit for very long.”
When Mr. Moore goes out to lunch, a little more than half of his order goes into a to-go box. He’s still a little under eating a typical, balanced diet, but is close to where he needs to be. He has more energy, and is able to be more active with his two young daughters. And both parents are doing what they can to help their daughters be healthy.
“We talk to them about making healthy choices, and eating in moderation,” Molly Moore said. “Hopefully we will be able to teach them healthy habits, and they will be healthier than we were.”
Now 10 months down the road from the surgery, Mr. Moore is very happy with the life-changing result.
“For me, this surgery was transformative of not just my body, but of my purpose on Earth,” he said. “It’s easy for pastors to put care of family and care of self at the bottom of the priority list. I’m so thankful that God helped me to discover that all of my life would be blessed for my taking this journey.”
Mr. Moore has been blogging about his experience since deciding to have the surgery. You can read his blog at www.mooreminorityleader.blogspot.com.
Mr. Koenig is editor of the Missouri Conference Review, where this story first appeared.