After years of seeing his weight fluctuate and then grow uncontrollably, 29-year-old Paul Slayton knew he had to make a serious change. Known to most of the world as Houston rapper Paul Wall, Slayton set aside fame to make a decision that would best benefit his life and family. As a resolution for 2010, he opted for gastric sleeve surgery on New Year’s Eve, and has since lost over 100 pounds.
Paul Wall spoke with UrbLife.com in detail about how drugs and poor diet affected his weight, the reason for taking on surgery at such a young age, and the ways his life has changed in the past few months.
You’ve been very vocal about dropping 100-plus pounds and taking better care of your health. Tell us about the surgery you did, and why it was important for you to make these moves.
I did the gastric sleeve. When you do surgery like that, there are three different major ones. The lap band is popular right now, the gastric sleeve [Vertical Sleeve Gastrectomy or VSG] where you lose a little more weight and the gastric bypass, which is the most severe, for people who are severely overweight and people with serious heart conditions or diabetes.
With [bypass] surgery, they make you your own stomach but it’s the size of your thumb so you lose weight real quick, that causes sagging skin. That surgery is reversible, where you can go back to normal and change your stomach back to normal, but a lot of the times people gain the weight back.
With the lap band, they put a plastic band around your stomach which squeezes it to make you fuller. You can cheat with it, sometimes the band will stretch or slim down. They’re all laparoscopic, where they cut small incisions in your stomach.
Why did you feel it was so important to do at this stage of your life?
I originally wanted to get the lap band, because I had heard so much about it and seen so many ads for it. With that the doctor told me you lose 50 percent of how much you’re overweight and I was 320 pounds, which was 120 pounds overweight for my height. Losing 50 or 60 pounds wouldn’t have been enough, I would have still been severely obese.
He told me about the gastric sleeve, where they cut off two-thirds of your stomach and remove it… they cut off the part of the stomach that produces hormones and makes you hungry. Your stomach cant stretch anymore, you won’t over-eat and you’re really full, but it’s slower and your skin doesn’t sag. I had it done on New Year’s Eve, and it’s been six months now. I’ve lost 100 pounds, and it’s been slow.
Some people might say you’re still young enough that you could just eat different and go to the gym. What do you say to that?
Only skinny people with a whole bunch of muscles tell me that. I tried it the natual way, it didn’t work for me. When you start to not recognize yourself in the mirror, you’re past being just fat. The years of drinking syrup and taking Vicodin and Xanax, and trying to make up for it by taking diet pills really messed up my metabolism.
I tried to stop drinking syrup and taking pills, I was running five miles a day, eating baked fish with no seasoning and salad with no dressing and cheese and drinking just water. I tried every diet out there and it didn’t work.
After two months of doing that, I only lost three pounds. And what’s that when you weigh 320? My doctor said being 50 pounds overweight takes 15 years off of your life. More than being famous and wanting to look good, I wanted to feel good about myself. I didn’t want to be embarrassed to walk out of the house and go places. Someone would recognize me, and I felt uncomfortable in my own skin
Talk about some of the immediate [post-surgery] changes you went through.
For the first seven days after the surgery you can’t eat or drink anything except broth, but after two sips – small sips the way you’d sip coffee or hot chocolate – you would be so full that even looking at it would make you feel sick. I used to eat a whole pizza or 50 wings by myself, and now I was full off of two sips of broth. Then after seven days I could eat mashed potatoes, and after two weeks I could eat steamed vegetables, then after that you eat whatever makes you feel good.
One thing they teach you is not to eat and drink at the same time, I’m used to eating a big meal and washing it down with something. But now doing that will make you feel queasy and like you’ve upset your stomach. If I want to drink iced tea, coffee or soda, I’m drinking it 20 to 30 minutes before I eat or after, you have to give your food time to digest. You have to chew your food really well and take small bites from small portions.
Now my eyes are literally way bigger than my stomach. Once I got to the final stage where I could eat whatever I wanted, meat and dairy made me feel queasy for a while. It took a while to get used to that, but now six months later I can eat anything. But now I’ll have half a slice of pizza instead of a whole lot, and people that know me know I used to be like a human garbage disposal. I don’t drink much anymore, but if I do I’ll have half a drink, if I drink two drinks it’s like I had eight.
Has it had any influence on your friends or your wife and the way that they eat around you?
I was the elephant in the room literally, but now I’m clowning making fun of everybody because I’m skinnier than all of them. I joke around like, “I’m not the fat one anymore, which one of you are the fat one?” and they’ll try to eat right and work out as well. We line up against the wall and see whose belly sticks out the farthest! I’m proud not to be the fat one anymore. I’m 29 now and I feel good going into my 30’s.
What kind of workout plan have you done since your surgery?
Since the surgery I haven’t really worked out. Right after the surgery, since you aren’t eating as much meat and protein you don’t have as much energy. Now I’m back to a normal lifestyle, where before my eating patterns were just different.
What are some of the temptations you can say no to now?
I love to eat, and being from Texas, the food is so good. Everything from Tex-Mex to the barbecue and Cajun food is so good and a drug in itself, being addicted to eating. When you have such good food around you, the temptation is there to eat and over-eat, now that I can’t over-eat even if I wanted to, it kind of controls it for me. I don’t really get hungry because the hormones don’t make me hungry, but after a couple of bites I’m full. It makes me not want to eat junk food. I want to eat something that’s going to taste good and be worth the two bites.
What are some words of advice that you would give to your peers about eating right and watching their weight?
For some people it will work to just diet and exercise… it didn’t work for me. The surgery literally saved my life. In Hip Hop people are so concerned with their image, street credibility and fake bullsh*t like that. If you’re real, then you don’t need any of that. I think people are afraid to take their image and admit that they have something done like this, or that they need this. I needed it done, it saved my life and there’s no shame in that.
Besides that, I wanted to look and feel good, and people are so afraid to admit that that they would avoid getting it. The worst thing is to lie about it if you do it. It’s one thing if you get a surgery to save your life and another thing if you get a nose job, and even I’m not one to judge anybody, but I think it’s a little different.
Part of the reason I got the surgery I did is [because] it’s not reversible. My stomach won’t expand, and I can’t get it changed over. Being addicted to sipping syrup for over 10 years, anytime I stopped it was to lose weight, and then I’d start again. The last time I stopped I realized it was my life I was playing with, the syrup wasn’t killing me but it enabled my food addiction. They went hand in hand, it was taking my life away one meal at a time.
Syrup in Hip Hop is a “cool” drug, people don’t look at it as an addiction, because it’s not like you’re smoking crack. People don’t go breaking into people’s houses and pawning TVs to sip syrup, but it’s a real drug addiction, especially in Houston. [I have been] a promoter of the drug in my music, I loved the way it made me feel and the way it tastes.
I struggled with it, but growing up in a household where my dad was addicted to heroin and alcohol, I’m more conscious of the drug addiction where a lot of people might deny it. The biggest motivation for me [to quit] is having two kids… when I saw myself turning into my dad, that was some really strong motivation for me.
What would you tell someone who’s about to hit their 30’s who may not have the surgery as an option?
The most important thing is you have to want to be healthy. Different things motivate different people. Part of it is looking and feeling good. Part of it is, health-wise, you have to find something that’s going to motivate you and surround yourself with people who want that for you. You have to do what’s best for you, and not what people around you think is cool.
It’s hard to be aware that the people around you may not want what’s best for you, but then you take the blindfold off, [you might see] that they really may not want what’s best for you… whether it was subconsciously, selfishly or whatever reason. I had so many people talking down on the surgery like it wasn’t cool, but if I had a heart attack and died, they would have said that I should have gotten it done.