If you’ve been thinking about weight loss surgery, you’ll know that finding good information can be a minefield. You start thinking and talking about bariatric surgery and suddenly everyone is an expert on it. You’re not sure what to believe. Some stories might have some truth to them. Some are completely unfounded, or applicable to that person only. It’s great to get accurate and reliable information. Let’s break down 7 of the most common weight loss surgery myths that need to be debunked. So when it comes to this important decision, you can separate fact from fiction.
Myth 1. Weight loss surgery is about getting a bikini body.
The idea that surgery is a vanity decision is medically and psychologically incorrect. Being slim, or looking better can be a side effect of surgery, and albeit it is a welcome one for many patients. But, in our experience, it is not the biggest reason patients choose to have surgery. Overwhelmingly the decision is around health.
Obesity is one of the leading causes of premature death in Australia. It increases the risk of diabetes mellitus, high blood pressure, heart disease, stroke, and at last count 11 cancers. Obesity can also lead to obstructive sleep apnoea (short periods where a person stops breathing while sleeping). People can also experience back and joint problems and depression.
Losing weight, getting smaller, and looking fitter are good goals. Monitoring these outcomes is a great way of keeping on track after surgery. But this is not about how the body looks, but what the body can do after weight loss surgery. Getting off medication, sleeping better, becoming more active, reducing the risk of co-morbid diseases, and just generally having a better chance at life is where the real wins are. If you ask them, most of the time our patients will tell you that at the heart of their decision, was a desire for a better quality of life and to be around longer for those they love.
Myth 2. Surgery is the easy way out
The stigma attached to weight loss surgery as somehow being a quick fix or a lazy option is untrue. This myth proposes that weight loss surgery patients are taking the easy option when it comes to their health and weight. In reality, recommendations for weight loss surgery are only made after a patient has tried in vain to lose weight through diet and exercise alone. This is a requirement we need to comply with as health professionals. In reality, most patients have tried their entire lives to lose weight through diet and exercise alone.
Weight loss surgery in broad terms is about a lifelong commitment to health and well-being. The surgery itself is a tool to kick start a new healthy lifestyle that incorporates diet, exercise, and mindset growth. Some patients find this transition easy. But most, find that change is hard work on not only a physical level but emotional too. For others to downplay this hard work can be soul-crushing, especially when it comes from friends and family. Supporting bariatric patients and recognising their challenges and achievements is something everyone can and should do more of.
Myth 3. Bariatric procedures are dangerous
Bariatric surgery is not dangerous in the hands of an experienced and qualified surgeon. But it does carry risk, as with all surgeries. There’s risk around the surgery itself, including the anesthetic administered. There are also risks of complications following surgery. Each surgery will have its own unique risk profile, and surgeons should explain the benefits and risks of each thoroughly to you.
But the procedures are not considered ‘high risk’ or ‘dangerous’ especially if performed laparoscopically (keyhole surgery). The risk profile is comparable with procedures like laparoscopic removal of the gallbladder, laparoscopic hysterectomy, and hip replacement.
Despite this, complications can occur. To minimise risk, your operation should be performed in a select hospital with an experienced surgeon and team. It is also helpful and safer if your surgeon is nearby in the hours and days after surgery to provide care should any post-surgery complications arise.
Myth 4. What works for one person will work for everyone
It is important to debunk the misconception that a ‘one size fits all’ approach works. Some people due to their medical history and or anatomy are unsuitable for a particular procedure, despite its efficacy rate. Likewise, following surgery your nutritional requirements, exercise regimen, and support needs will be as individual as you are. These needs are a delicate balance that must be managed to ensure your physical and mental health are on track. That’s why the support of your surgeon, general practitioner, dietitian, exercise physio or trainer, and psychologist is so important after surgery. We’re all in this with you for the long term.
After surgery, when it comes to tips and advice from others, it’s important to be open but cautious. While it’s great to investigate the different approaches you come across, ultimately you should discuss the merits with your trusted team before adopting changes yourself. This is especially important when it comes to nutritional supplements, dietary advice, and exercise regimes. What worked for someone else might actually be very wrong for you.
Myth 5. You don’t need to exercise
Some patients experience rapid weight loss in the first 12 months due to the metabolic and anatomical changes which occur following surgery. It is tempting to assume this exempts you from exercise. But nothing could be further from the truth. In fact, this myth about bariatric surgery can be dangerous. Rapid weight loss can lead to muscle mass loss. Counteracting that with regular exercise and including weight-bearing exercise at a level to suit you is essential. It is the case of “use it or lose it.”
Maintaining muscle mass also promotes fat loss, so it really is important. As well, developing habits around exercise will help you to maintain your weight loss as the metabolic effect stabilises after the first 12 months or so following surgery.
Myth 6. If you’ve lost the weight, you don’t need to follow up
If you have had surgery somewhere where follow-up was not given the importance it deserves, you may feel that the surgeon’s job is done once you lose weight. In a way that’s true, if the surgeon’s only role was to perform the surgery. But if your surgeon and allied health team take on the role of ensuring your long-term health and wellness, and ability to maintain your weight loss, then follow-up is a big part of the equation.
Why? Because skinny doesn’t always mean you’re healthy, especially for the bariatric patient. Following up can allow us to prevent or address nutritional deficiencies, reduce complications, as well as help keep you on track to maintain your weight loss for the long term.
Myth 7. You should wait until you’re really obese to have surgery
Have you been thinking about weight loss surgery for a while, but feel you need to be bigger? This is a common myth that is not often discussed. If you’re at the lower end of the qualifying criteria you may feel you need to be bigger to have bariatric surgery. This is absolutely fine if you’re trying again with diet and exercise. But often, we see people go away and put on more weight before coming back to have surgery.
There are various reasons for this thinking, some have to do with personal and psychological reasons which are all perfectly acceptable. Really, when you’re ready you’re ready and when you’re not you’re not. It is always okay. But sometimes it comes from being influenced by the bariatric myths and stigmas we have addressed here.
Anatomically, being at the lower end of the spectrum is helpful. Apart from having less weight to lose, you also have less impact on your joints, so you can get moving faster. As long as you meet the criteria, wholeheartedly understand what you’re up for, and are serious about changing your lifestyle as well, then wanting a healthier life is always justifiable.
Would you like a little more information about weight loss surgery?
You are always welcome to call Dr McLeod’s rooms for a confidential discussion about your health and weight loss.
Disclaimer: This article is of a general nature for educational purposes only, and is not a substitute for medical advice. A 1:1 consultation with a medical professional is always the best approach in order to receive accurate information which is tailored to your individual situation.
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