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7 Bariatric Surgery Myths Busted

Not the ‘Easy Way Out’

For people with obesity who are unable to lose weight with diet and exercise, bariatric surgery, including gastric bypass surgery, can be an effective solution. Bariatric surgery, or weight loss surgery, involves changing your digestive system by limiting how much you can eat or how much food your body can absorb.

Northwestern Medicine Bariatric Surgeon Eric S. Hungness, MD, busts seven common myths about bariatric surgery.

Myth No. 1: Bariatric surgery is the "easy way out."

"I disagree that bariatric surgery is the easy way out," says Dr. Hungness. "The easy way out is for patients to keep doing what they were doing to try to lose weight with no success and expect a different outcome."

Success with weight loss surgery requires a lot of work before and after surgery. Once you have committed to bariatric surgery, you will spend about six months learning about healthy living, attending pre-operative classes and undergoing consultation before you surgery. After the procedure, you must stick to a healthy diet and lifestyle, including exercise.

An accredited program can help you ditch your old habits and establish new ones.

Myth No. 2: Bariatric surgery is dangerous.

Any surgery carries some risk, including side effects of anesthesia and infection. Beyond those, some people who have bariatric surgery may experience nutritional deficiency caused by malabsorption. This is a condition in which your body is not able to absorb the nutrients it needs from food. However, this complication is rare, and taking dietary supplements can help prevent it.

Myth No. 3: It's better to lose weight with diet and exercise.

Many people can lose weight with diet and exercise, but they are not able to maintain a healthy weight long term. Keeping weight off for more than five years can drastically improve other health issues made worse by obesity.

Bariatric surgery helps you not only lose weight, but keep it off. In cases of severe obesity, bariatric (weight loss) surgery, not diet and exercise, can help achie long-term weight control.

Myth No. 4: Bariatric surgery is for everyone.

Typically, physical, psychological and lifestyle evaluations will be done to determine if you are a good candidate for bariatric surgery before a program will accept you as a patient.
"Bariatric surgery is for people who have had an 'a-ha' moment where they have realized they can't lose weight on their own and need help," says Dr. Hungness.

It is for people who have obesity that is resulting in worsening health issues, such as:

  • Pre-diabetes or Type 2 diabetes
  • Hypertension (high blood pressure)
  • Sleep apnea
  • Nonalcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) or nonalcoholic steatohepatitis (NASH)
  • Cardiovascular disease, which can lead to heart attack and stroke

People with obesity are at an increased risk for many cancers as well.
People who seek bariatric surgery may also:

  • Realize they cannot do the activities they once enjoyed
  • Want to be more active
  • Have tried many diet and exercise programs through which they have lost weight and gained it back, bouncing from a lower body mass index (BMI) to a higher one.
  • Have a BMI in the 40 to 50 range.

Myth No. 5: I will see results right away.

You will not wake up from surgery with weight loss. You will start to see results about three to six months after bariatric surgery.

"I like to emphasize the word 'healthy' when talking about results," says Dr. Hungness. "You're transitioning from a less healthy person to a more healthy you, which means you will see improvement in medical issues you were experiencing, such as not having to use a CPAP machine to sleep. These are the most important parts of weight loss surgery, and improving your body image is more of a secondary emphasis."

Myth No. 6: I will never be able to eat normal food again.

"There's a learning curve with diet after bariatric surgery," says Dr. Hungness. "We don't want to stress the system out too much, so we gradually increase diet until you're back to eating normal foods."

Right after bariatric surgery, your diet will be limited to liquids and soft or pureed food as you recover. Eventually, you will be able to eat a variety of normal foods, but your diet will not look like what it did before surgery. Bariatric surgery emphasizes portion control. Many people find success with smaller, more frequent meals focusing on protein. That does not mean that you cannot incorporate the foods you love in moderation as part of a balanced diet.

Bariatric surgery is a great tool for people to stay on track with a diet through a negative feedback loop: When you are full, you have to stop eating because you will be physically uncomfortable if you overeat. It also helps rewire your body's metabolism overtime.

Myth No. 7: Bariatric surgery will fix all of my other health problems.

Bariatric surgery is not going to cure everything that ails you. It is about moving from an unhealthy or at-risk health state to an improved health state, which means an improved quality of life. Many people have healthy body weight and still have conditions like high blood pressure. However, because obesity makes medical problems worse, bariatric surgery can help people better manage diseases and may eliminate them over time.

Remember, bariatric surgery is not an easy way out or an overnight solution. It is a long-term commitment to healthy living, jump-started by a surgical procedure.