I already write with some regularity about weight loss surgery but some issues have arisen this week that prompt me to write yet again! For people with 100 lbs or more to lose, it’s a reality of life now that their doctor will talk to them about weight loss surgery and/or they will consider it on their own. I want to state specifically in one blog post exactly why I am a strong supporter and advocate for weight loss surgery.
1. It works. I write for people who deal with significant obesity for all or most of their lives. It can be a life of serious frustration in which fighting with your weight begins to become the predominant concern of your daily life. WLS is frequently referred to as a “last resort” but I think of it as the ultimate act of taking control. Critics like to report inaccurate statistics and to make ridiculous claims but the facts are that weight loss surgery offers the best long-term results of any weight management strategy. A long-term study published by the National Institutes of Health found that after 15 years, a study group had maintained 47% of excess weight lost. According to the American Society for Metabolic and Bariatric Surgery, WLS is currently the most studied surgical procedure in America with the risk of death at about 0.1% (yes that’s zero POINT one) and a 4% chance of complications. The risk of death from obesity-related conditions dramatically DROPS for people who have surgery. We’re talking up to an 89% reduction in mortality due to other diseases and conditions including diabetes, heart disease, and cancer. EIGHTY NINE PERCENT!! The improvement in quality of life is HUGE. This alone is reason enough for me to get on the soapbox, grab the megaphone, and be the loudest supporter. Quit believing propaganda and get the facts.
2. The stigma is extreme. This week I saw a news story about a drug that can save a person from death in the event of an overdose of an opioid such as heroin, oxycontin, or even vicodin. There is now a device that works as easily as an EPI pen and can be administered by anyone in an emergency. There’s also a nasal spray version. The governor of Maine has opposed a bill that would have allowed access to the devices for caregivers and family members. Republican Gov. Paul LePage believes the drug encourages addiction and gives drug abusers an excuse to continue using. Essentially he’s saying if a person is perceived as having brought something on themselves, then they should be forced to suffer the consequences. He might as well say people who overdose don’t deserve to be saved from possible death. This kind of attitude is also at the essence of weight loss surgery criticism and stigma.
I primarily write about fat shaming but the reality is that shame projected against people who have weight loss surgery is even worse. The message of the “easy way out” accusation is that fat people deserve a difficult struggle. They should be forced to pay a penalty for the crime of being fat. Should it be “easy” for them to experience relief from metabolic syndrome and physical limitations not to mention being the target of social bias? NO according to the “easy way out” and “it’s cheating” viewpoints. It’s a view that says fat people deserve to suffer and struggle so they’ll learn a lesson to correct the perceived character flaws that got them fat.
3. The propaganda is ridiculous. I have difficulty remaining silent when people insist on believing something that’s patently ridiculous and the perception that weight loss surgery is even remotely “easy” or effortless is so beyond ignorant, it’s crazy. The irony here is if anyone believes fat people deserve punishment, they should learn the realities of weight loss surgery. First, the obvious—IT’S MAJOR SURGERY. It’s several hours under general anesthesia and getting your insides permanently cut up. It’s a few days in the hospital with an IV in your arm and all manner of sensors stuck all over you. You’re catheterized and get to be attached by tubing to a bag of your own pee. And then there’s the MORPHINE PUMP. Yes, it’s all just so easy, morphine’s involved!
Get home from the hospital and start enjoying the easy, effortless weight loss! Spend several months finding out through trial and error what your chopped up insides will tolerate. Swallow the wrong stuff and you’ll get to experience bouts of
horribly severe pleasantly easy nausea, dizzyness, and the shakes! Good times! Weight loss surgery imposes immediate and specific changes and there’s no getting around them. It can be an ordeal that causes some WLSers to go through a period of remorse and regret. So much for effortless and easy. Making the decision for surgery takes serious strength and commitment.
4. It’s a personal healthcare decision. I’m particularly stunned by the people who would argue in favor of choice for reproductive health, end of life, or alternative medicine. But they’ll criticize weight loss surgery. They seem the least likely to buy into the cultural bias that attractiveness has high value and must be earned and deserved. But they do! Weight loss surgery is a personal healthcare decision and we all deserve privacy and respect for the choices we make.
My writing in weight advocacy and my work in adult literacy have both greatly confirmed for me the belief I’ve always had that if people need help, they deserve that help. They don’t deserve judgment why they need the help. Shame does not teach. Shame does not guide or support. Shame does not enrich. We learn life lessons and we can bring change into our lives in many ways. The idea should be to relieve suffering and shame not to impose more.