Are you on the fence about weight loss surgery? There are good reasons to think long and hard about it -- as well as reasons to do it.
That’s because, as the pounds melt away, people feel the difference immediately -- and that helps them embrace a new mind-set, says Anita Courcoulas, MD, MPH, chief of minimally invasive bariatric surgery at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine.
"They learn what it feels like to feel better and have improved health," she tells WebMD. "The surgery gives them a tool to reinforce the positive lifestyle changes. That's where support groups are really important, too, in reinforcing their commitment."
Want to know more? These profiles should give you a sharper picture of life after successful weight loss surgery.
Joy (Jray946) on WebMD's Message Board:
Joy had gastric bypass surgery a little over a year ago -- and reached her goal by the ninth month out.
"I am so glad I had the surgery. In fact, every time someone tells me how great I look it makes me feel like a million bucks," she says. "I would recommend it to others. In fact I have and some of them are well on their way to reaching their goals."
To maintain her weight and health, Joy exercises almost every day. "I feel so much better for the change," she says. "My health has improved so much my doctors are amazed. I am able to do things that a year ago I could never have managed, such as playing basketball with my grandchildren."
Joy's dress size has dipped from 26/28 to a size 8. "My husband is so proud of me ... says he has a new wife!"
Joy's key challenge: Joy has a lot of loose skin, which she didn't expect. Because of serious reactions to anesthesia, surgery to remove it may be too risky. Daily exercise is keeping the weight off, but so far it hasn't helped tighten her skin much. She keeps a positive attitude: "I tell everyone that I have become a sexy senior citizen with my new look, and they agree."
Mignon P., Memphis, Tenn.:
Four years ago, 27-year-old Mignon weighed 275. After gastric banding surgery, she is now 160 -- well past her original goal of 175. "My mom says ‘Don't you lose any more weight,’" she says. "That's something I've never heard!"
Overweight since childhood, Mignon tried everything -- Jenny Craig, Weight Watchers, fad diets. The decision to have weight loss surgery was difficult, but once she had made up her mind, the rest was easy.
Mignon's key challenge: She doesn't like getting adjustments in her band. It requires a needle stick in the abdomen -- and "the stick is nothing compared to the sight of that needle," she says. "I just close my eyes. I know it's going to fix my health in a positive direction."
The surgery has made a big difference in controlling her appetite. "Once you eat the right amount, you're full," Mignon says. She also exercises three nights a week -- running, walking, aerobics classes -- plus does 5K walks and runs on weekends.
Mignon feels like a different person, she says. "My self-esteem has increased tremendously. I'm treated differently. People are friendlier. I get more respect. Sad to say, but people stereotype you when you're overweight."
Her new-found self-confidence prompted a career change, too. Mignon went back to school, got an MBA, and has been promoted into management. She's even teaching classes at a local college.
"Once you've made the decision to have surgery, you have to make the lifestyle changes necessary for it to be a success," she advises. "If you control food portions and exercise, you'll do fine."
TaJuan M., of Memphis, Tenn.:
TaJuan had gastric bypass surgery nine months ago, and calls it "my second birthday." TaJuan was carrying 220 pounds on her 5-foot-tall frame when she went into surgery -- and is now at 145 pounds, just 10 pounds shy of her goal. She could lose more, she says, "but I'm not going to Hollywood. I'm in the South, and we like 'em curvy."
"I love three meals a day, but my portions have dramatically changed," says TaJuan. "What I eat has changed. My taste buds have changed. I still have cravings. Oooh, I want that cheesecake. But now I know to eat things I should eat first -- and when I have to satisfy that craving, eat a bite for the taste because I'm full. The surgery helps you, you really are full."
TaJuan's key challenge: Her job involves a lot of travel, and sticking to a healthy diet can be difficult. "I can't easily mix up high-protein smoothies in my hotel room," she says. Her solution? She did some research, and found a liquid protein drink made for people with medical conditions -- then got her doctor's OK. "I wanted to make sure I was getting the nutrition I needed," she says.
Though she’s not into sports, "I do like walking," TaJuan says, "especially walking around my neighborhood. I get in about a half-hour every day. I'm walking four flights of stairs every day. I'm in better shape to do it."
People keep telling her how great she looks, she says. "They're asking my husband, 'Are you going to be able to handle this new wife you've got?'" Her reply: "I'm sticking with the man who stuck with me through thick and thin."
Peggy K., of Pittsburgh:
It's been 18 months since Peggy had gastric banding surgery -- and she's dropped from 200 to 150. Losing those 50 pounds has boosted her health in many ways. She had been diagnosed with type 2 diabetes and high cholesterol. Now, "I have a lot more energy,” Peggy says. “I look better, wear smaller sizes. My cholesterol is normal. I'm not diabetic."
Because of the weight loss surgery, it's a lot easier to stop eating when she's full, she says. "I knew I needed that physical barrier, because I don't like to deprive myself. When I'm enjoying something, I want to keep eating it. The band is a saving grace."
When she eats out with friends, Peggy says, she simply can't eat an entire entrée. "I take half of it home for the next day -- or I just order an appetizer for dinner."
Peggy's key challenge: She eats too many snack foods, too may sweets, and drinks too many chai lattes, Peggy admits. They go down easily, but don't make her feel full -- and add too many calories to her diet. "I give in to temptation," she says. "It's a struggle."
Working out with a personal trainer three times a week "really helps to maintain the weight loss," Peggy says. "If I wasn't exercising I would have regained the weight." She says it’s helped firm up loose skin, too. "My skin's kind of bounced back, probably from the exercise."
What if she regains all the weight? "I would never let that happen," says Peggy. "If the weight started creeping up, I would cut out the snacks. I know I could lose another 20 pounds if I tried."
Beverly P., Pittsburgh:
Since her gastric bypass surgery five years ago, Beverly has dropped from 334 to 138 -- nearly 200 pounds. "I spent my whole life being obese," she says. "I went back and forth trying different diets. It was a constant battle."
Beverly's key challenge: "I was miserable the first couple of months after surgery," she says. "I had to adapt to eating the small portions. My body was getting used to being rerouted. I felt lousy, tired. I was really getting used to how my body was working. But looking back, it all resolved itself. It was not a big deal -- especially considering how good I feel now."
Today, she says, "I feel perfectly healthy. I don't miss the food. If there's something I'm craving, if I have a little bit of it, I'm fine. That's the truth. I don't think you should deprive yourself of anything, but portion size is a huge factor."
Exercise was "such a chore" before weight loss surgery. "Now I purposefully do things on a daily basis I didn't do before," Beverly says. "I walk instead of taking the shuttle to where I work."
She's taken her weight loss seriously and made the commitment, says Beverly. "The surgery is definitely not the whole saving grace. There still is a lot of work afterwards. I have to pay attention to what I eat, otherwise I will gain weight."
Good food is still part of her life, she adds. "People have the misconception that you can never eat good things again if you have this surgery. You can eat them -- and might enjoy them more because you're not inhaling them."
And that may be one of the keys to successful weight loss surgery: Enjoying the changes that come after -- and being an integral part of them.