Healthy spirit

She leads Holy Trinity Community Church, the fastest growing church in the southeast conference of the United Church of Christ. Each Sunday she preaches during three worship services to accommodate more than 350 people in attendance. Her days often begin as early as 6 a.m. and can last until midnight. In the course of a workday she can counsel more people than we could ever imagine. Despite this growing ministry, she struggled for years with her weight. So why would Reverend Cynthia Andrews Looper (or Pastor Cindy as she is known) have gastric bypass surgery? I sat down with her to find out.

O&A: Out of all the weight loss options, why surgery?

Pastor Cindy: I grew up without having a weight problem. But in my mid 30s, I started gaining and I knew my metabolism was slowing down. I tried a number of options to get the weight off, including the Adkins Diet, Weight Watchers, Body for Life. In 2001, I lost 60 pounds, but by 2004 I gained it all back and then some. I could lose 20 pounds here and there, but that wasn’t enough to affect my health in a positive way.

My doctor started talking to me about surgery. I had high blood pressure, I was pre-diabetic, I had sleep apnea and high cholesterol. I also began doing a lot of research on line to get as informed as I could.

In February 2010, I had gastric bypass surgery which means they create a small pouch and bypass your stomach. Initially, you can only eat a tablespoon of food, but over time, the pouch stretches and I can now eat about a cup at one sitting.

O&A: How does this affect your nutrition?

Pastor Cindy: I generally eat three small meals a day with an occasional snack. The rerouting of my stomach means I absorb less of what I eat, so I have to be careful because there are nutrients we need daily. So I take a number of supplements every day and will have to the rest of my life.

I also have to count my grams of protein. I need to get 50-70 grams daily, which is a lot! And since I can’t eat a lot at one sitting, I have to be very conscious of this. If I don’t get the protein, other problems can arise. So every morning, I have a protein shake whereas beforehand, I would have had cereal.

O&A: What was the recovery process?

Pastor Cindy: It took me about six or seven weeks to recover. Though it was laparoscopic surgery, it was still considered major surgery. I got tired very easily and was extremely sore.

O&A: How will this benefit your ministry?

Pastor Cindy: Being healthier and having more energy will allow me to be more effective and Lord willing, have a longer life. I saw my life going down a similar path as my father who passed away this past March. I’m 47, and at 47 my father also had high blood pressure, was diabetic, and had sleep apnea. The quality of life he had in his 50s and 60s was horrible. I knew if I didn’t get control of this issue, I would have the same life in a few years.

I also just feel healthy, and that affects ministry in a variety of ways. Hopefully, I can be a role model in terms of health. Members of the church have already told me they are thinking about it as well. It is a very personal decision, so make sure you have a good surgeon and do what they tell you to do.

O&A: To the nay-sayers who might feel you took the easy way out, what would you say to them?

Pastor Cindy: It is not the easy way out! I still have to exercise; I still have to be disciplined. I tried other methods, but they simply did not work with the schedule I keep as a pastor. I never know when my day will begin or when it will end and trying to find a diet and exercise plan that worked with that schedule was difficult. Add to that the complicating issues of high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and sleep apnea, I knew I had to get this under control.

I went through a lot of soul searching over this…I found myself before God saying I should be able to do this. For the most part, I saw getting my weight off as a spiritual discipline, but with me working my hardest, I was losing 25 pounds at the most.

Let me assure you, it is not the easy way out. Major surgery is never the easy way out. The reality is, this surgery has changed the way I eat and I will have to take supplements the rest of my life. I saw surgery as being a tool I could use to get the weight off and keep it off.

O&A: What are the personal benefits of this surgery?

Pastor Cindy: Well, I’ve lost 70 pounds, I don’t take high blood pressure or diabetic medication and I don’t have sleep apnea anymore. I feel much healthier; I have a better attitude and feel in control of this part of my life. 

O&A: Did you do this for anyone other than yourself?

Pastor Cindy: I did this first and foremost for my son. I also did this for my church family. I want to have a positive legacy here at Holy Trinity so that God can continue to use me. In some ways, I felt my weight had become a stumbling block for me. Getting it under control is the one of the best things I’ve done.

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