SPECIAL FEATURE: When is Bariatric Surgery the Right Option for You?
BY CARMEN E. ZAFAR
Any person who is overweight is struggling, but in a different way. He or she is looking to reach a healthy, ideal weight according to a physician’s advice. When your regular doctor informs you that you have diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure or some form of organ failure due to being overweight, you must take action and make a change, a lifestyle change.
More than a third (35.7 percent) of adults in the United Sates are obese, and approximately 17 percent of children and adolescents between the ages of 2 and 19 also are obese, according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention. New Yorkers are no exception with a reported 23.9-percent obesity rate as of less than two years ago. Locally, about 28.2 percent of the population in Onondaga County is battling obesity, according to the CDC. Obesity is considered a weight of 20 percent more than the normal weight for a person’s height.
When ‘Diets’ and Exercise Don’t Work
One local bariatric surgeon believes that besides genetics our modern society has guided many people to obesity. “The way we live in this modern society…genetics haven’t changed but our environment has changed a lot more,” said Dr. Bill Graber, a bariatric surgeon affiliated with St. Joseph’s Hospital in Syracuse. “We get obese from our environment. We drive a lot, work inside buildings, there’s so much food around that we tend to eat when we’re not hungry.” Think about how many work functions or family functions you attend that are dominated by eating, and eating unhealthy foods, no less. Graber says the types of foods we eat are key to the lifestyle we want. Eating “real food” is something Graber and his associates firmly believe in. What’s a real food? “Anything without a label, something that grows on a tree or can be picked from the ground and has a root,” according to Graber.
Graber calls these powerful tools the key to satisfying an appetite but not overeating. While he suggests looking carefully at the labels and the processed foods we take in, this doesn’t mean you cannot have a meal at your favorite restaurant every now and then. Being conscious of what we eat is what saves us from putting on extra, unnecessary weight. “We see many patients that don’t follow a regimen at all. They have tried tons of diets and sometimes exercise just doesn’t work.” He says diets don’t work for some people because they have a hard time following it because of a work schedule or cannot afford to stay on the food plan. In addition, many bariatric surgery candidates that he sees don’t exercise enough, again, because of their work schedules or family commitments. Every person is different. Some people can mange to follow a diet or fit in exercise no matter how busy he or she is, however, Graber says it comes down to the psychological strength of the person. “Everyone tries something, memberships or taking walks…just cannot get enough exercise in on a modern day,” Graber says. Typically, a patient of his will get on a 1,000-calorie diet but still be hungry and eat more, and also they won’t have enough time to exercise. “Now you’re eating more calories than you’re burning. A food and exercise diary makes things real…you see it. You’re more cognizant.”
Making the Lifestyle Change
Approaching her one-year anniversary of undergoing bariatric surgery on May 19, 2012, Judy Flynn, 52, of Syracuse, says this was her chance. “I decided I needed to change my life,” Flynn said, who was 51 years old on the day of her surgery. She stood 5-feet 2-inches and weighed 240 pounds on May 19, 2011. Since then she has lost 105 pounds and has reached the healthy, ideal weight for her height.
“I feel great,” she says. “And I have so much energy.” Flynn, a registered nurse at St. Joseph’s Hospital, said she kept seeing post-op patients on her rounds who just underwent bariatric surgery and she would always talk to them about their experience. As a member of the medical community, Flynn knew she was unhealthy. Fifteen years ago, she was diagnosed with diabetes and experiencing kidney problems. She knew this was brought on by her unhealthy weight. “At work I would always see people dealing with horrible things (such as amputation) because of their diabetes. I didn’t want to be there in 10 years.” Now, she has “felt great for a year” and says this was an important change in her life. “Getting under control is wonderful.”
Bariatric surgery was not her first choice. Accoring to Flynn, she tried it all. “I have lost significant amounts of weight in my adult life,” Flynn said. The first time was when she was in her mid-30s and decided to follow the Weight Watchers regimen and lost 70 pounds. Within a year she gained the weight back and a few more pounds on top of that. At age 45, she got on the L.A. Weight Loss plan and lost 80 pounds. What happened after this big loss? The first occurrence was repeated and she gained all 80 pounds back and a few more. “I just didn’t know how to maintain it moving forward.”
During the last two years, she decided to put herself first. “If you’re even considering the surgery, go to a support group,” she advises. “You can just listen. There are real people that have gone through it, and family members of people who have gone through it as well.” Flynn went to a consultation at Dr. Graber’s office in February of 2011, and she said that and her support group were two of the best resources she had on this important life decision.
Besides preparing for her surgery, she found out why she ate the way she did. She has struggled with her weight her whole life. “I found out that this part of the country is not great in the winter, it seems to depress me and I eat comfort food,” she said. “There’s some genetics with being overweight in my family, but this was more of an eating issue. I would eat when I was happy but then became unhappy that I gained more weight. It was a vicious cycle.”
Flynn says that although she may look different now, it’s the way she feels that is most important. “The reason why we do it is for health reasons,” Flynn said. “We need to get healthier. You look better, but this is not a cosmetic procedure, it’s a medical procedure.” Even after surgery, there is work to be done. Like Flynn, staying conscious of what you eat and how often or how vigorously you exercise is vital. Now that Flynn has rid her body of ailments like swollen joints brought on by supporting too much weight, she is a runner, and proud of it.
Even a year out of surgery, with strong signs of success, there is still work to be done. Dr. Graber suggests continuing the diary for both exercise and food, but also, a post surgery client must have a strong everyday support system. Whether this is family, friends or a support group, this system must work to follow a positive example as well. “The family needs to get involved,” Graber said. “Eating potato chips in front of someone who shouldn’t be eating them, is not helping them. Everyone needs to be on the same page.”
More information on Dr. Graber’s practice and bariatric support groups can be found at www.drgrabermd.com. Graber says if surgery doesn’t work, then the patient should go back and work with him and nutritionists to figure out the next step.