My name is Olaf Nyhus, and I want tell you a little more about myself. I have struggled with obesity my entire life. I trained as a chef and working long hours, plus, never really having a regular schedule made eating healthy a challenge.  In October of 2017, I underwent bariatric surgery and managed to lose 160 pounds. Even though I do not look like I am living with obesity anymore, the mentality of my former persona, “McDonald’s Olaf,” has remained. I still identify as someone who has obesity, it’s just in remission for now.  I do believe I will maintain my success; however, some do not even get to this point. This is why I want to understand this disease better.

When I found out that there was an opportunity to take part in the first Obesity Canada Public Workshop, I knew I needed to be involved.  I wanted to understand better what is going on with treatments and how I could do my part to help others. When I wrote my application for one of the travel awards that would allow me to get from Victoria, BC to the event in Ottawa, I talked about how life has been since. How people now see me even though I was very visible before.  It became evident when a good friend of mine who also struggles with obesity would go for walks together. Others would look with disgust when we were out trying to exercise to solve what society deems as a failure. It was painful to watch, and I realized then I needed to educate not only myself but also others of what it is like to suffer from obesity.

When I received word that I had been selected for the travel award, I was so excited about what may lay ahead and what I may learn and see.  I can tell you it did not disappoint. When I arrived, I was met by two great people from Obesity Canada. Ian and Lisa made me feel extremely welcome, and I knew at this moment that I had found a place in the world that I can belong to.

The next day, I was able to take part in handing out some of the swag that was put together for the attendees of the conference.  There was an energy in the air that something special was about to take place. We heard from Dr. Sharma, and one of the lines he said has stuck with me since. He said that he has never cured anyone of obesity, but has only treated it.  Such powerful words, because I live it every day. He also told us that obesity is a messy subject for doctors due to a lack of education and training. It would seem that it boils down to eat less and move more. Well, it’s not that simple as I have come to understand, having lived it.  

We heard from many other speakers that day, all of whom were amazing, and I took comfort in knowing that there are healthcare professionals out there that do want to help those who suffer from obesity.

A pivotal moment that day was hearing Gillian Mandich.  She talked about happiness. I hadn’t ever given it much thought, but I took away a lot. All my life, I thought if I got down to that “perfect “weight or made “enough” money that I would achieve happiness.  What I learned is happiness is more complex than social status or how much money you make or a number on a scale. She talked about keeping a gratitude journal and that people who do often are happier. I would never have thought about doing this before, but what I have found is that it is something that works. I feel that it has made me a happier person. Even though I forget to do it from time to time, I am now able to reflect on what I am grateful for.  The last slide she put up had a simple quote, and this has been one of the most powerful things I took away from the event: “There is no magic pill for happiness. YOU are the pharmacist.”

I am so grateful that I was given the opportunity to take part in this amazing event.  I hope that at the next one I may be able to bring my love for cooking and knowledge to help teach others what shopping, cooking and eating will look like should they undergo bariatric surgery.  I now know that more education is in store for me. When I was going through the program, I believed that I wouldn’t have a relationship with food the same way, if at all. I know now that this isn’t the case. It has changed, but for the better.

Thank you to everyone that made it possible for me to attend, and I look forward to meeting, learning and growing to make this world a better place for those who deal with obesity every day.