Why I Chose Not to Have Weight Loss Surgery
by Stacey Ogden
I have been overweight, or felt overweight, my whole life. My relationship with food is ridiculously unhealthy and heavily tied to my emotions. So it's no surprise that my doctors are concerned about my weight's impact on my health. They wouldn't be very good doctors if they weren't.
However, I was a little surprised by the fact that so many doctors were recommending surgery without discussing other options, or even getting a full history of my weight loss efforts.
My primary care doctor first mentioned the idea a couple of years ago. At this time it had become a pretty common procedure, and the risks had largely been mitigated (bariatric surgery had a fairly high mortality rate in its early years), but it was still pretty taboo. She brought it up in a "something to think about" sort of way.
I thought about it. Nah.
Then last year I saw a sleep specialist because I was, quite frankly, exhausted. He was the first doctor to bring up the surgery in a more suggestive way. He told me of the benefits it could bring and the successes some patients have with it curing their sleep apnea.
I thought about it. No, thanks.
Finally I saw a cardiologist. I was having what felt like extra heartbeats and decided to be safe and get it checked out. Thankfully it was nothing -- muscle spasms in my diaphragm related to caffeine -- but that was enough to make me stop and think. I'm only 37. I have a really clean genetic slate in terms of disease, yet I was concerned about my heart. At 37.
Doing My Homework
This time I began to really look into the surgical option. I know a few people who have had it, with mixed results, but those who followed the plan were healthier and, it seemed to me, happier. I had to acknowledge that this was a viable option for me.
Still, I had concerns.
My husband is old school when it comes to diet and exercise. He follows the eat less, move more mantra, and has never struggled with weight, which makes it hard for him to understand where I'm coming from. I know he'd stand with me, no matter what I chose, but he'd have some tough questions I didn't know if I'd have an answer for.
Also, let's face it, surgery is a big deal. I know that today's surgeries are safer than they've ever been and people hardly give them a second thought. But for me, someone cutting into me and altering my God-given body is a big deal. Weight loss surgery in particular is major surgery, with a significant recovery period and life-changing effects. It's not something to be entered into lightly. The people I know who've been successful at losing and keeping off weight seriously considered all options before going under the knife (or laser, as it were).
The most important thing I learned through my research is that the success of the surgery is completely dependent on the person's dedication to following the plan. Weight loss surgery is not a shortcut. It is not the easy way out. Those who view it that way are rarely successful in the long term. It is a long and difficult journey that will last for the rest of your life.
In the end I decided to take a different path. I am not yet ready for such a drastic step. I don't feel like I've exhausted all the other options.
Around Thanksgiving I had an "aha" moment. Are you ready for this?
Weight loss surgery doesn't make you lose weight.
Here's the thing. Weight loss surgery does not directly cause weight loss. The nutritional plan and lifestyle changes you make are what lead to weight loss. The surgery just forces you to stick to the plan, or at least makes it very uncomfortable to deviate from it.
There is some evidence that there are hormonal changes that accompany the surgery that contribute to weight loss, and the gastric bypass option can prevent some fat (and nutrients) from being absorbed, but that's not really a selling point for me. In fact, it can lead to life-long deficiencies of vitamins and minerals your body needs.
What I really need is a plan and someone to help me follow it. It struck me that people who have weight loss surgery, when it's properly done, are provided with not only a surgeon, but a team of people to help them learn how to change their eating and activity habits.
That's what I want. I want the weight loss surgery team minus the surgeon.
So that's what I'm doing. I've found a nutritionist that's going to help me learn what I need to know, help me with meal planning, monitor my progress, and make sure I'm staying the course. When I'm ready I'll seek out help for exercise, too.
I don't know if it will be enough. I've been defeated in my weight loss efforts enough times to know that it's not easy. But I owe it to my body to try. The surgical option will still be available if I choose to take that extra step later.