If you are considering bariatric surgery, you’ve probably heard many of the popular myths. These run the gamut from horror stories to fairy tales. In reality, these procedures are neither as awful nor as fantastic as they’re made out to be. Here are some facts to help set the record straight about weight-loss surgery (WLS).
Myth: All bariatric surgery involves stomach stapling.
- There are many different types of gastrointestinal procedures for weight loss, some of which reduce the functioning size of the stomach and others that bypass parts of the digestive tract, reducing absorption of calories and nutrients. Different types of surgeries offer different results, and some are more suitable for particular people than others.
Myth: People who get weight-loss surgery don’t have willpower.
- Many bariatric surgery patients have struggled for years, pushing themselves to extremes to lose weight and keep it off. They understand that surgery is a final option when everything else has failed. The surgery, recovery and lifestyle changes that accompany WLS require both courage and determination on the part of the patient.
Myth: Bariatric surgery is only for the morbidly obese.
- Obesity is only one of the criteria that qualify patients for surgery. Overweight patients may also be candidates if they have one or more health problems that might be reduced or alleviated by weight loss such as diabetes, sleep apnea, hypertension, arthritis, and high cholesterol.
Myth: Bariatric surgery is extremely dangerous.
- Any type of surgery has associated risks, such as complications or even death. However, a number of recent advances have helped to minimize risks. Surgeries are usually done laparoscopically with mini-incisions that result in faster healing, less pain, and less scarring.
Myth: You will finally be skinny after bariatric surgery.
- Losing just 50% of excess weight and keeping it off is considered a success story. That’s still going to be overweight in the eyes of most people. Plus, your skin isn’t necessarily going to tone up and be free of drooping after weight loss. However, the health benefits in reducing weight-related problems like sleep apnea often occur even in patients who don’t lose all the weight they would like.
Myth: Weight loss from bariatric surgery is permanent.
- Unfortunately, even this one is not true. In fact, some regain is likely. Part of this is simply the body adjusting and learning to store fat even on a very restricted diet. At other times, a patient’s failure to adhere to the post-surgery lifestyle recommendations plays a role.
Myth: You should only have WLS if you are done having kids.
- It isn’t safe to get pregnant in the first year or two after bariatric surgery. You simply won’t be getting enough nutrients to support a growing fetus. After you are done losing weight (if you are taking all your supplements and monitoring your health carefully), getting pregnant should be okay. This is something to discuss with your bariatric surgeon.
Myth: After bariatric surgery, you won’t be able to eat anything that tastes good.
- Patients who undergo gastric bypass may need to avoid very sweet foods because it can cause side effects like dizziness and nausea. Patients who have a duodenal switch typically need to keep fatty foods to a minimum. However, many patients can and do eat their favorite foods after they recover from surgery. They just eat very small portions.
Myth: You can never be far from a bathroom after WLS.
- In the aftermath of surgery, you may find yourself having some “emergency” bathroom visits. However, symptoms like diarrhea and vomiting should subside over time as you get a better handle on how your altered digestive system responds to food.
Myth: Bariatric surgery is reversible.
- Gastric banding is usually reversible. That’s because the stomach and intestines are not cut or stapled with this surgery. Gastric bypass may be reversible, but this is a very involved surgery. It’s more difficult to put everything back where it was, and there is a risk that the revision won’t restore normal function. Sleeve gastrectomy and duodenal switch entail actual removal of part of the stomach without reattaching it lower on the intestine. This type of surgery is not reversible.
Surgery for weight reduction is not a miracle procedure. Weight loss surgery is designed to assist the morbidly obese in developing a healthier lifestyle. A surgical weight loss operation is a useful tool for weight loss, but it is a surgical procedure that requires a substantial lifelong commitment. The surgery alone will not help someone lose weight and keep it off. The patient must change eating and exercise habits. Without changes to the daily pattern of eating and activity, the patient is likely to regain the weight over time.