Ana Barboza had been steadily gaining weight since moving to a new state and dealing with a hormonal imbalance. Before she knew it, she was 262 lbs. Gastric Bypass Surgery, Gastric Bypass.

“I had a bad relationship with food,” the 5’3″ IP docketing systems coordinator, 30, tells PEOPLE. “I grew up in a Latin culture and my parents were always telling me, ‘You have to eat all your food!’ And they gave me massive amounts of food.”

She put on more weight when she relocated from New York to Washington, D.C.

“I used to live in New York, and I was more active and moving around. When I moved to D.C. for work, I gained 35 lbs. and I couldn’t drop it,” she says. “I also have PCOS [polycystic ovary syndrome, a hormonal disorder that can cause irregular periods, unexplained weight gain and difficulty getting pregnant], which makes you gain weight. I was pre-diabetic, my feet would swell and my cholesterol was through the roof. I was a heart attack waiting to happen.”

Ana Barboza

After trying calorie counting and various diets with no lasting results, Barboza — who says she never liked junk food and would “rather have steak over a piece of cake any day” — decided to look into gastric bypass surgery.

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“I didn’t think I had any other options,” says Barboza. “I was so overweight that when I went to the gym, I was in pain. I had sciatica. I couldn’t work out — I couldn’t even walk. I didn’t think I would make it to my 30s and that worried me.”

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Ana Barboza

She consulted with Washington D.C.-based bariatric surgeon Dr. Brian Long about the procedure in May 2014, and six months later she had her bypass performed.

“I know some people describe the surgery as an easy way out, but it’s very difficult,” says Barboza. “It doesn’t make you lose the weight, it helps you lose the weight.”

In preparation for her surgery, Barboza had to learn to eat smaller portions and spend more time chewing her food to aid in digestion. After the procedure, more adjustments needed to be made.

“I can’t have high-sugar foods, fruit and juices, bread, rice or fatty foods,” says Barboza, who first shared her story on RealSelf. “With the surgery, when you eat, you’re not supposed to drink 30 minutes before or after. Those are things you have to learn.”

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