The Good Kind of Loss
Anticipated and surprising changes after bariatric surgery
Jay felt lousy. “My feet hurt. My back hurt. My knees hurt,” he said. “I had sleep apnea, high blood pressure, and gout. I was borderline diabetic, had zero willpower, and no sex life.” At 46 years old and 353 pounds, Jay looked back on years of yo-yo weight loss. “I’d diet and exercise and lose some weight, then I’d gain it right back,” he said. “I lost 30 pounds once playing flag football and riding an exercise bike. Then the season ended, the kids broke my bike, and I got a job where I was sitting all day. I put back that 30 plus 40 more. My metabolism was shot and nothing seemed to make a difference.”
Jay’s cousin had undergone successful weight loss surgery and volunteered to help him through the process, if he was serious about losing the weight. That was seven months ago. Since then, Jay has lost 130 pounds, now weighing in at 223, and is hard at work on building some muscle.
“My blood pressure is back to normal and my sleep apnea is gone,” he said. “My cholesterol is down. I have more energy. My feet, knees, and back don’t hurt. And I’m happy to report my sex drive has returned too.”
There’s no doubt that bariatric surgery can change someone’s life for the better, the way it has for Jay. And those changes often go far beyond a slimmer physique. Bariatric surgery and the resulting weight loss can also result in:
- Improved cardiovascular health
- Relief from depression
- Long-term remission for type 2 diabetes
- Elimination of obstructive sleep apnea
- Relief from joint pain
- Improved fertility
- Enhanced relationships and lifestyle
- Improved longevity
- Alleviation of metabolic syndrome, pregnancy complications, gallbladder disease, and more
According to one Arizona State University study presented at the 107th Annual Meeting of the American Sociological Association, people who have bariatric surgery to treat obesity report an overall improvement in quality of life issues after surgery, ranging from their relationships to their medical conditions to their self-esteem.
The research was conducted online through a support group for bariatric patients. Participants were asked about their physical health, self-esteem, social life, work life, family life, mobility, and satisfaction with surgery results.
When asked why they chose to undergo the surgery, some of the reasons were: to decrease the risk of health problems and improve overall health, to improve appearance, to boost self-esteem, to be more physically active (i.e. play on the floor with their kids), and to overcome society’s stigma of being overweight. Many of them were happy to report improvements in all those areas.
The participants averaged a weight loss of 95 pounds and reported improvements in diabetes, heart disease, cholesterol levels, and sleep apnea. They cited increased mobility and better relationships after surgery, as well as a decrease in depression and increase in overall wellbeing and self-worth.
Doris A. Palmer coauthored the paper. She credited improvements in self-esteem to “overcoming the stigma of being overweight, as reflected by negative reactions of others, which can lead to greater satisfaction among relationships with family and friends, and in social life in general.”
By the Numbers
According to the American Society for Metabolic and Bariatric Surgery, almost 200,000 people underwent bariatric surgery in 2016 in the United States, up from about 158,000 procedures just five years earlier.
As for Jay, he reports a definite boost in his self-image. “Now that I’m wearing clothes I haven’t been able to wear in 20 years, I feel more confident in social situations,” he said. “At this point I can eat what I want to, but my ‘want-to’ has changed. My food desires and tastes are different, I’m not craving sugar and junk food like I used to, and I actually enjoy food more. I feel great and look forward to waking up now, eager to see what each day will bring.”
According to the American Society of Metabolic and Bariatric Surgery, more than 90 percent of individuals previously affected by severe obesity are successful in maintaining 50 percent or more of their excess weight loss following bariatric surgery. Among those affected by super severe obesity, more than 80 percent are able to maintain more than 50 percent excess body weight loss.
According to The National Institutes of Health, those affected by severe obesity who’ve undergone bariatric surgery have a greater than 90 percent reduction in death associated with diabetes and a greater than 50 percent reduction in death from heart disease.
Gastric bypass patients generally see dramatic weight loss quickly and many continue to lose weight for 18-24 months after the surgery.
Bariatric surgery is not a cosmetic or aesthetic procedure, like a facelift or tummy tuck. It is a life-saving, quality-of-life-approving surgery. Like any surgery, it comes with risks. But when accompanied by appropriate education, support, and a commitment to lifestyle changes and healthy eating, it is a jump-start that can change life for the better, in ways many may not anticipate.
By Mimi Greenwood Knight