Deciding to have gastric bypass surgery was one of the hardest choices I’ve ever faced. Hearing stories of other weight-loss patients over the past several years, I’ve learned that we all have one thing in common: the sure and certain knowledge that this is our last chance to redirect our lives onto a path that restores us to health and wellness.
I’ve seen both successes and, sadly, failures, as people were not able to adapt to the lifestyles required for this drastic option to be successful for them. Along the way, I’ve learned amazing things about the resilience of the human body, not to mention the human spirit and will to survive.
I had my gastric bypass surgery 6 years ago, a procedure called a Roux en Y bypass, which at the time was the most widely performed procedure for surgical weight loss. Over the next 3 years, I lost 240 pounds. While the transformation has been truly remarkable and I don’t regret a single minute of my journey, there are aspects of this process that get very little attention. I feel that people should be made aware of these realities before they undertake the process of gastric bypass surgery.
Something has to be done with all that leftover skin. I’ve had nearly 40 pounds of excess skin and fatty deposits removed—a 4-year process that included two breast reconstructions, a belt lipectomy (to remove 22 pounds of excess skin around my torso), a thigh and buttocks lift, brachioplasty (upper arm skin), and finally, this past fall, the last procedure to fine tune my abdominal wall and get that musculature back in supportive working order. This was not just to make me “prettier”—the removal of all that skin was necessary to enable me to have a normal gait when walking, and eliminate the constant risk of infection due to chafing and the moisture that can be trapped in all that loose hanging skin.
Losing the weight does not undo the damage long-term obesity does to your body. It can help resolve metabolic issues such as diabetes, but the damage to your muscular and skeletal systems, as well as organs like your bladder, heart and reproductive gear, is often permanent. Also, most doctors fail to appropriately emphasize the health concerns that many bypass patients will deal with for the rest of their lives. In my case, a total blockage of my small intestine nearly killed me 2 years after my bypass. When I asked the surgeon who saved my life why I had developed the blockage, his reply was, “We don’t really know why, but we see this type of thing in bypass patients a lot more than the general population.” We deal with gastric issues and nutrition issues for the rest of our lives. Again, the tradeoff (for me at least) was well worth it, but I would like to have been better informed before I had the surgery.
It can affect your relationships. In my case, my husband and I both elected to have gastric bypass when we had a small son who nearly lost his life in a parking lot because he ran in front of a car and we were both too heavy to run after him. That was our turning point, and we were lucky enough to go through the process together. But for many people, the emotional and psychological changes that go along with massive weight loss (as well as changes in your energy and libido levels) can leave couples feeling “unbalanced.”
The problems that caused you to be an over-eater in the first place don’t just disappear. There’s typically a “honeymoon” period for most gastric bypass patients that lasts about 2-3 years, and then little by little your new stomach starts to get more comfortable with increased food intake again. If you haven’t really resolved why you couldn’t stop eating, this is when you can really get into trouble. In my case, a childhood sexual assault that I never disclosed to anyone was responsible for my need to surround myself with a protective layer of fat, thereby making myself feel safe. Now, with the help of a skilled therapist, I am coming to grips with what caused me to eat...and eat and eat.
There is no magic solution to permanent weight loss. Gastric bypass is a tool that can kick-start your efforts at getting your life under your own control, instead of being at the mercy of your appetite, but it is only a tool. Having the emotional and medical support you need after the pounds come off is the key to real long-term success.