Due to the alarming rise of obesity more and more people are suffering from debilitating and potentially life threatening illnesses related to increased weight. For many people diets, exercise, and healthy eating is a challenge, not because of their lack of motivation or unwillingness to lead a healthy lifestyle, but because of injury, disability, and even socioeconomic factors that prevent them from being healthy. Take for example an individual who gets into a serious car accident and becomes permanently disabled. The physical and mental shock alone can cause the body to weaken it’s metabolism, and the depression can add on extra weight due to emotional eating. For such individuals I share a deep compassion and sympathy because they are often labeled as being lazy or irresponsible for their health. What many people don’t realize is that such people are often on many pain medications and even antidepressants which continue to add on body weight, making their lives very difficult.
So what options does such an individual have? Physical activity can be very painful, and although proper nutrition may be possible, the amount of food their body is used to may be too much now that their mobility and daily activity is limited. Starving on a reduced calorie diet is unacceptable in many cases because they need energy to heal, and many medications require that the patient eat adequately. For this reason, many patients have opted for a last resort – weight loss surgery.
Weight loss surgery (often referred to as bariatric surgery) has been around for many years. However, it has come a long way since the gastric bypass. The gastric bypass surgery (or stomach stapling) is basically a method in which the stomach is stapled close to the point where it meets the esophagus, preventing food from entering it. Then, the small intestine is rerouted so that it connects to the esophagus at the point where it meets the stomach. Hence, food now “bypasses” the stomach and goes straight to the small intestine. Once this surgery is done, the sensation of feeling full is almost instantaneous when someone eats even a small mouthful of food. However, this surgery does have it’s share of side effects. The most common complaint after this surgery is that the stomach can stretch again (even burst it’s staples). This happens when the patient ignores the sensation of feeling full and continues to eat. Secondly, many important nutrients and vitamins are absorbed in the stomach, and because the food now goes straight to the small intestine, these vitamins and nutrients become deficient in the body leading to serious health risks. You may also find interesting that the overall mortality rate for this surgery is close to 50%.
Modern medicine has however developed other options for weight loss surgery. Amongst the most popular is gastric banding. In gastric banding, an adjustable band is surgically placed (laparoscopicaly) around the middle of the stomach. This band is attached to a port through which saline can be injected and that tightens the band. Removing the saline can also loosen it up. So now the stomach works sort of like a hour glass. Food goes in normally but slows down at the point where the band has been tightened. It still has the ability to continue down the digestive tract normally, but it does so at a slower rate, and this is what gives the patient the sensation of feeling full quicker, and for a longer period of time. Gastric banding, like any other surgery also comes with it’s downside. Firstly, if you continue to eat poorly (fast food, high calorie snacks, milk shakes etc.) you can still gain weight. Because fast food gets digested faster in your stomach, you can potentially not feel full on a normal serving of food. If you try to eat too much too fast, undigested food will come back up and you’ll vomit. Not a pleasant feeling but still a good deterrent to a bad habit. Like any surgery, patients can also develop “adhesions” inside. These are fibrous tissue that begin to grow around the band and can impede it’s function. Finally, adjusting the bad to the right amount can be tricky and must be done by a medical practitioner. If the band is too tight, you won’t be able to eat anything (and sometimes not even drink water), and if the band is too loose, you won’t feel full and you’ll gain back the weight.
Whether or not weight loss surgery is a viable option is dependent completely on the individual. In my personal and professional opinion it should always be discussed first with your family doctor (or other medical specialists) and should be used as a last resort, preferably if you are physically unable to exercise and be active. For someone who is considering weight loss surgery, it’s very important to look at all the different options and procedures that are available now. More importantly it’s also important to have proper and thorough follow up care to avoid any kind of post surgical complications. But always remember, there’s never a quick fix even with surgery. Proper and permanent weight loss should always be about “lifestyle” and not a “knifestyle”.