Struggling with your weight? You’re not alone: As of early 2020, over 40 percent of U.S. adults are obese, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. That figure does not include the percentage of people whose weight puts them in the “overweight” category. Being overweight or obese can have detrimental effects on your overall health. Obesity-related conditions include heart disease, stroke, Type 2 diabetes, and certain types of cancer. When neither diet nor exercise help you shed pounds that put your health at risk, then you may want to consider bariatric surgery.
Bariatric, or weight-loss, surgery helps you lose weight by reducing the size of your stomach and therefore limiting how much you can or want to eat. There are various types of bariatric surgery procedures. There are also many myths about it. As the director of bariatric surgery at Stamford Health, I’d like to clear up a few common falsehoods I frequently hear.
Myth #1: Bariatric surgery is cheating.
A lot of people buy into the idea that weight-loss surgery is an easy shortcut for people who lack the discipline to diet and exercise. This is an unfair stigma on people who are overweight or live with obesity. It is also untrue.
What people don’t realize is that many patients come to bariatric surgery feeling fine. For them, surgery is preventive care. They’re looking into the future and don’t want to suffer the health-harming effects of long-term obesity.
Obesity is a disease that can lead to a variety of potentially life-threatening conditions, including cardiovascular disease, high blood pressure, sleep apnea, and Type 2 diabetes. If your body mass index or BMI (a measure of body fat based on height and weight) exceeds 30, then you are clinically obese and a candidate for weight-loss surgery.
Just as you would not think twice about having surgery for coronary artery disease, you shouldn’t think twice about surgery for obesity, especially when all other weight-loss methods have failed and your health — and life — are at risk.
Bariatric surgery isn’t a shortcut to successful weight loss. It is a critical first step that allows you to regain control of your eating and your weight by preventing you from eating freely or irresponsibly. It not only helps you lose weight, but also lowers blood pressure, eases joint and back pain, and resolves shortness of breath, all of which could be making exercise uncomfortable or impossible, and stopping you from getting, and staying, healthy.
Myth #2: Weight loss surgery is a cure-all.
It won’t solve all the problems that made you gain weight in the first place. Nothing is a permanent fix without fixing the psyche. You have to be focused to lose weight and keep it off. You have to be committed to helping yourself. This usually means modifying your lifestyle: making exercise a regular part of your day and changing not only what but how you eat.
Although 70 percent of our patients maintain their weight loss for four to five years, some people do regain the weight after surgery. Even though their stomach capacity is reduced, they snack on high-calorie foods that dissolve in the mouth and never even reach the stomach.
Why? Because life is full of stressors that can lead you right back to your bad habits, like overeating. So, we evaluate every patient seeking surgery and require them to undergo nutritional education and counseling. We emphasize that you don’t gain weight without putting calorie-rich foods in your mouth; that cheating on your new stomach is like cheating on your spouse; if you’re not on the same page you won’t succeed.
If you’ve put weight back on after surgery, don’t give up and say it never worked. Find support to help get back on track. Your chances of doing well are excellent. We’ll have you up and walking on the same day as surgery, and back to work and doing gentle exercise in a week.
Myth #3: Weight-loss surgery is very dangerous.
Of course, any procedure has risks, just like driving a car. But without weight-loss surgery, you face an even greater risk that your high blood pressure, diabetes, or joint pain will get worse. You don’t want to have surgery when you’re in a more debilitated state.
The alternative to surgery is doing nothing, which in itself is dangerous. If you have overweight or obesity, then bariatric surgery is your best option for achieving long-term, weight-loss success. It could save your life.
About the Author
James Bonheur, MD is Stamford Health's Director of Bariatric Surgery.
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