It’s just two weeks from your “blessed event”, the nursery is decorated, diapers are stacked neatly in piles, baby clothes are collected and sorted. You are out for what could be one final quiet day of shopping alone before your precious little one arrives. But, then SHE appears. We all know her, that “well meaning” woman from church, work, next door… wherever! “Oh, Stephanie, dear! How lovely to see you! Haven’t you had that baby YET?! (she laughs while you smile through gritted teeth!) Why you look like you’re absolutely ready to POP! You know, dear, (uh, oh, here it comes…) when I had my Susie I was in labor for 72 hours! And that wasn’t just 72 hours of regular labor, no sirreee! That was 72 hours of BACK LABOR! And everyone knows that nothing is worse than back labor. They tried to get me to take meds, but I refused. There was no way I would take anything that might harm my little angel! Of course, my Jack said they could hear my screams two floors down…”
You’re lying in your hospital bed – waiting. Thanks to the medication the nurse gave you, the pain is finally starting to dissipate. She said it would be about another hour or so before they came to take you back to surgery. You’re nervous, yes, but more relieved. After days of awful pain, to finally know the problem – your gallbladder – and to have a solution on the way – is a huge relief! And then SHE walks in! “Hello, dear! Imagine my surprise when I was down the hall visiting a friend and saw your mother coming from your room! Well, I couldn’t NOT stop in! They tried to tell me it was too close to surgery time, but I told them, I’m practically family! So they said just a quick visit. Oh, your gallbladder – you poor, poor dear! And you’re so young! You know my brother-in-law’s second cousin twice removed had to have her gallbladder out when she was your age – well, let me tell you – it was a nightmare! Just a nightmare! Well, they nicked another organ while they were in there and the poor thing was damaged for life! Just for life! And then she developed just the nastiest infection after the surgery and was stuck in the hospital sick as a dog for weeks on end….”
Now imagine you’re a weight loss surgery patient, pre-op or post-op, in this case it really doesn’t matter. You’ve spent a minimum of 6 months of your life just in medical preparation for this – pre-op medical testing until you never wanted to see another doctor again, psychological testing, nutritional counseling and beginning your exercise program. Perhaps you’ve been through the surgery already – major surgery, altering your body, you’re eating right, exercising, visiting your nutritionist on a regular basis, and then you run into HER – “you know my neighbor’s nephew’s son-in-law’s ex-wife had that surgery and she gained ALL her weight back!” or “I’D NEVER have that surgery! It’s far to risky… doesn’t work…” and they begin to spout a dozen other discouraging and often erroneous pieces of information, all the while not allowing you to get a word in edge wise until suddenly they’ve got to run because they’ve got a million things to do. But wait, let’s not forget my “favorite” – that dear person, who is super enthusiastic about your weight loss until they hear HOW you lost your weight and then they:
- roll their eyes
- let their eyes glaze over
- stop talking
- “politely” excuse themselves
because you didn’t “legitimately” lose the weight, you used a “cheat”, you used the “easy way out”. (Excuse me why I allow my blood to stop boiling. Ok, I’m better now.) These scenarios, dear friends, are not, unfortunately, the least bit made up. I honestly cannot count the times one of these conversations has happened to me since I very first made the decision to have my weight loss surgery. And, as I’ve spoken to other WLS patients, have discovered they are shockingly common. In fact, my first experience was after running into a friend immediately following my very first appointment with my surgeon. That was the first time I heard the dreaded “I had a friend… she gained ALL her weight back…”, but it certainly wouldn’t be the last.
I can’t help wonder why we feel the need to do that to one another. Why we feel the need to discourage one another? Does anyone honestly think that it’s helpful to tell someone who is just starting out on an already difficult journey that they are pretty much doomed to failure? So why do we do it? Interestingly, as I was pondering this, I thought about all of the many, many other diets and eating programs I have begun and not once, NOT ONCE had any one ever approached me with this same negativity with any of those programs. I’ve done Weight Watchers either on-line, with a friend or on my own four different times. I have gained all my weight back plus some each time and most of my friends that I journeyed with through Weight Watchers gained all their weight back plus some, yet I have NEVER ONCE when starting Weight Watchers had someone come up to me and say, “My friend did Weight Watchers and they gained ALL their weight back!” Why is that? Same is true for Atkins, Nutri-System, Slim Fast, South Beach, my nutritionists’ diet, Schwartzbein etc…
Why the difference, I may never be able to answer. Is it because weight loss surgery seems so different, so extreme? Is it fear? Fear of the unknown? I honestly have no idea. But, what I can try to do is clear up some of the erroneous thinking and misunderstanding about weight loss surgery and maybe that will help bridge the gap just a little bit.
Let’s start with the first one… So, weight loss surgery patients gain ALL their weight back? First of all, from personal experience, I have talked to many other weight loss surgery patients, both in person and online, and I don’t know a single one who has gained ALL their weight back. I know some who have gained some of their weight back. I know a few who have gained a lot of their weight back. But, not a single one who has gained ALL of their weight back. But, that’s just my personal experience, here’s the statistics that I’ve found:
After two years only 50% of bariatric patients have had any (approximately 5%) weight regain. Despite the weight regain, the average patient has still kept off over 60% of their weight loss after 5 years. – Bariatric Surgery Source, American Society for Metabolic and Bariatric Surgery
With traditional diets there was varying information out there. I chose to pick the most complimentary statistics I could find. According to the National Weight Control Registry, only 20% of American dieters are able to maintain significant weight loss (10% is considered significant) for a year or more. The keys to these dieters success? * Low calorie/low fat diet *high levels of activity (at least one hour per day) * self-monitoring weight with daily weigh-ins * eating breakfast daily * maintaining a consistent eating pattern
The second most common misconception I hear about weight loss surgery is that it’s so unsafe. Again – not true. Though all surgery carries some risk, let’s just go straight to some basic statistics here. The mortality rate percentages for four common surgeries, including weight loss surgery.
- Coronary Artery Bypass surgery – 3.3%
- Hip replacement surgery – .93%
- Gallbladder surgery (laparoscopic) – .52%
- Weight loss surgery – .13%
That’s quite eye opening, isn’t it? Not even half of 1%! The risks are very low! It’s all done laparoscopically now. I had four very small incision marks and was in and out in 24 hours with zero pain at the points of incision. Now, I don’t think any of us would hesitate for one moment to have hip surgery or gallbladder surgery if we needed it, even though the risk for those surgeries is more than double the bariatric surgery, yet we laugh off the weight loss surgery when the risks to our health from obesity are just as devastating, if not more so.
And just what are the health benefits we could gain from WLS surgery?
- Sleep Apnea – 74 – 98% resolved
- Hypercholesterolermia – 63% resolved
- Asthma – 69% resolved
- Non-Alcoholic fatty liver disease – 90% resolved
- Metabolic Syndrome – 80% resolved
- GERD – 72% resolved
- Type 2 Diabetes – 82% – 98% resolved
- Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome – 79% resolution of Hirsutism; 100% resolution of menstrual dysfunction
- Urinary Stress Incontinence – 44% resolved
- Osteoarthritis/Degenerative Joint Disease – 41% resolved
- Venous Stasis Disease – 93% resolved
- Gout – 72% resolved
- Cancer mortality reduced by 60%
- Quality of Life Improved in 95% of patients
- Mortality reduced by 89% in 5 yr. period
And now, I’ve saved my favorite for last… it’s the “easy way out”, it’s a “cheat”, it’s not “real” weight loss. Let me take you on quick tour through my “easy way way out”, “cheat”, “not real” weight loss journey. First came the decision to do this. That in and of itself was hard. To come face to face with the fact that you’ve “failed” every other way – that you just couldn’t do it. To come face to face with the fact that you’re so fat that you need surgery to do something about it. If you think that is an easy way out decision, think again! Then, if you’re lucky enough to be approved by your insurance company, not everyone is and I wasn’t the first time around, the process begins, and it is a PROCESS! Months and months of doctors visits of every shape and size. Making sure your lungs are ok for surgery and your heart is ok and and this ok and that is… Oh, and don’t forget the psych evaluations! Gotta make sure you’re mentally stable enough to deal with the emotional and physical changes you are going to be going through. During all this you’ll also begin seeing your nutritionist who’ll start you on your eating program and begin preparing you for some of the new eating habits you’ll have to adopt post surgery like super chewing, no drinking for a half hour to an hour after eating (depends on your doctor), no drinking from straws etc. and in many cases you’ll also begin an exercise program. Finally, you’ll schedule your surgery. (Anything about this sound easy, yet?)
Post surgery, it takes about 6 weeks to work your way up to regular eating, adding new levels of food each week to get your stomach use to each new flavor and texture. About the second or third week after surgery, you’ve probably started exercising again.
Now here I am a little over a year post-op. I’ve lost 85 lbs. (that’s a little over 42.7% of my total body weight), and am occasionally still dropping a half a pound here and there. So, what does my “easy way out”, “cheat” weight loss life look like? Well, one of these days I’ll write a blog and let you follow me through a whole week of eating and workouts, but here’s a quick run down. Everyday I have to still make choices about what I eat. Do I choose to eat sugar? Do I choose to eat bread and carbs? Or do I choose to eat protein and fruits and veggies? I have to choose everyday to drink all my water and choose everyday not to touch soda – diet or otherwise – even though I love it. ( haven’t touched it in almost two years!) I choose everyday, just like everyone else who is fighting their weight, whether I am going to workout or sit in front of the tv. Sometimes that means fighting my fibromyalgia/chronic fatigue pain or my chronic migraines or the residual pain in my back from my car accident or from my degenerative disc disease. But, you know what, I do it anyway, 3 – 7 times a week. NEVER less than 3! I still have to choose to listen to my stomach when it says “I’m full” and stop eating. Even with the surgery I am capable of pushing my limits and stuffing myself. And things like ice cream? They slide right down so my stomach wouldn’t even register them, so if I chose to cheat with full fat, sugary ice cream I could do that all day.
All day I make choices, just like everyone else, whether they do Weight Watchers, Atkins, Jenny Craig, something on their own – whatever. Weight loss surgery is a tool – like a good personal trainer or a treadmill. It’s only as good as the level to which you use it. Is it a good tool? You betcha! But it can be abused and misused and neglected, as well. Because there are people who gain weight back – just like on any other diet program! Not because the program is bad, but because people are human and we all slip and slide and give into stress and temptation. So, I’m not here to bash traditional dieting. If you can lose and maintain a healthy life that way, I’m thrilled for you! Weight loss surgery is not for everybody, nor should it be.
Still, maybe you can’t relate to the whole dieting thing or you’ve never been pregnant or had your gallbladder out, but you might be the parent of a rebellious child or you’re a spouse in a struggling marriage, or a recovering addict… drugs, alcohol, porn. Whoever you are, wherever you are, we ALL have a battle. We all have a place where we’re trying to find our footing, to gain some ground, to win a victory. So, let’s think before we speak. Let’s make sure we know what we’re saying before we open mouth/insert foot, as my dad use to say. Let’s be a little gentler, a little kinder with each other and realize we’re all fighting a battle and encourage one another rather than discourage one another.
“And be ye kind one to another, tenderhearted…” – Ephesians 4:32
“Death and life are in the power of the tongue…” Prov. 18:21