Worldwide, a growing number of people are turning to surgical interventions to get rid of excess weight. When routine diet efforts fail and the weight isn't budging, weight-loss surgery can start to look like a viable solution. But is surgery really an effective solution when someone is battling a weight problem?
The broad term "weight loss surgery" includes a variety of surgical procedures, most of which revolve around the same principle: reducing stomach size so the person can't eat as much and feels full sooner. Some of the ways this can be achieved include:
There's no question surgery can be an effective tool for jump-starting someone's weight loss journey. The physical inability to consume large amounts of food due to reduced stomach size pretty much guarantees that someone will lose a large amount of weight rapidly. In some ways, this has the potential to be a good thing.
This rapid weight loss can have a huge impact on a person's physical capabilities and their confidence, leading to positive lifestyle changes and the adoption of healthier habits. With the new-found confidence that comes from feeling more comfortable with their size and better about their appearance, someone may find it easier to get out and be more socially active. Significant weight loss can also relieve longstanding chronic pain issues, making it easier to be physically active and engage in some type of exercise.
The key, however, is making those lifestyle changes and adopting healthier habits—and following through on both. There's no point having surgery only to return back to the behaviour that led to the weight gain in the first place. This is at the heart of why weight-loss surgery on its own isn't necessarily the ideal solution for healthy and effective weight management. While surgical procedures lead to dramatic and rapid results, they don't address the many issues that so often underpin or contribute to weight management issues.
Surgery doesn't equip someone with the knowledge to make healthy food choices:
Without the proper knowledge of how to eat healthfully, someone can undergo surgery and then resume poor eating habits afterwards. For optimal health and effective long term weight management, someone needs to learn about nutrition so they know how to make the type of food choices that will support their health and well-being in the long term.
Surgery doesn't deal with the emotional aspects of overeating:
Many people are emotional eaters; they eat to cope with stress, depression, anxiety, etc. This type of eating often involves "comfort" foods, e.g.: high-calorie, low-nutrient foods like cakes, cookies, pastries, highly refined foods, and junk food. Beyond surgery, these individuals need to learn alternative ways to manage their emotions rather than turning to food.
Surgery doesn't address someone's overall relationship with food:
Food provides the nutrients that enable growth and survival, but it's much more than that. Each person has their own unique relationship with food, shaped by their culture, family upbringing, personal views, social influences, etc. Overweight and obesity is often a sign that something in that relationship has gone awry and needs to be addressed.
Surgery doesn't change someone's habits or establish new convictions:
Giving up old habits and cultivating new habits takes time and focus. And for the changes to be lasting, they need to be built on a solid foundation of strong convictions. Those convictions are what enable someone to see the value in what they're doing, so they're motivated to stick with it in the long term.
According to surgeons who perform the various weight-loss surgeries, a percentage of the people who undergo weight-loss surgery wind up eventually gaining back some of the weight. Rates vary depending on the type of surgery; in some cases, the majority of patients who undergo a given procedure will regain weight afterwards. Some people even gain back all the weight they lost! This shows that even a drastic measure like surgery (which comes with its own serious health risks) is no guarantee of long-term success when it comes to losing weight and improving your health.
Rather than being viewed as a final solution, surgery needs to be viewed as a starting place, with the clear recognition that effective weight management requires a change in how one thinks about food, and a commitment to long term dietary and lifestyle changes.
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