Apr 03

Weight-Loss Surgery: Experts Advise About the Realities

Yesterday’s post was about the new book Stranger Here by Jen Larsen, whose fantasies about the effects of having weight-loss surgery weren’t exactly fulfilled.

One of the main reasons preconceived fantasies about weight-loss surgery may not come true is a lack of insight about the real needs an individual is trying to get met. In a recent article in The Guardian, Dr. David Kerrigan, the director of an obesity clinic in the UK, stresses the importance of addressing one’s underlying issues prior to choosing the surgery.

Fifty percent of 100 female patients studied by his clinic a few years ago were found to have had a history of physical or sexual abuse. A similar finding, as well as additional related ones, are cited by Dr. Carolyn Ross, an eating disorders specialist in the U.S. From her post in Psychology Today:

In Kaiser Permanente’s Adverse Childhood Experiences study, people with morbid obesity had a high incidence of severe trauma, such as abuse, neglect, domestic violence, or living with an adult who abuses substances, is mentally ill or in jail. Taking away the food doesn’t address the addictive behavior or the emotional pain that these behaviors are covering up, leaving patients at high risk for cross-addictions.

Although the above-cited risk is a common phenomenon with all types of addictions, there seems to be something about food addiction that many in our society don’t clearly see. Is this because of our collective fat phobia, both internalized and otherwise? People just see weight loss in and of itself as so desirable that they ignore the rest of the picture?

But let’s say someone does get help for the issues coexisting with his/her overuse of food and then opts for bariatric surgery, otherwise known as weight-loss surgery. Patients also need to know in advance, states Dr. Ross, not only the risks of surgery but also the lifestyle changes needed post-surgery—as in, the rest of their lives. She lists the following important considerations:

1. Following a strict eating plan for life.

2. Addressing how you will deal with your home environment. What type of emotional support will you have? How will you stay on a strict diet when others in your home are not?

3. Can you commit to taking supplements for life?

4. Can you commit to exercising regularly for life?

5. Do you fully understand the possible risks that surgery poses, including bleeding, infection, bowel obstruction, ulcers, gallstones and death?

How is dealing with all of the above possible? Expert nutritional guidance, counseling, and/or specialized support groups for post-surgery patients are all widely recommended.

Apr 02

“Stranger Here”: Jen Larsen’s Weight-Loss Surgery Story

For those who’ve struggled to lose significant amounts of weight, surgery has increasingly become an option. In the new autobiographical book Stranger Here: How Weight-Loss Surgery Transformed My Body and Messed with My Head, Jen Larsen describes her own process since undergoing expensive bariatric surgery in 2006 and dropping 180 pounds. People calls it “(h)onest, brave and sparklingly funny.”

One of the main points, as stated in the book description: Weight loss, no matter how you achieve it, is not a cure-all for life’s problems. About Larsen: “…(G)etting skinny was not the magical cure she thought it would be—and suddenly, she wasn’t sure who she was anymore.”

Fittingly, fantasy is the theme of Larsen’s Stranger Here trailer. As found on Simon & Schuster’s Twitter, it’s been called “…beautiful, ethereal, wonderfully animated, and all-too-true.”

A Stranger Here excerpt available on The Huffington Post details a type of workplace incident that felt quite familiar to me despite the many years I’ve now been self-employed. It has to do with the all-too-common occurrence of treats being available in the kitchen at work (left-over Easter candy, anyone?).

So, what happens when a post-surgery cake-craving Larsen meets up with a yogurt-preferring coworker in the kitchen? In a nutshell, Larsen’s conclusion: “I was ashamed for wanting cake, and she was horrified by the idea of wanting cake. I was a fat girl, and she was a skinny woman, and we were both crazy.”

Kirkus Reviews offers their book summary:

…Larsen’s honesty and insight make for a searing account of precisely what it feels like to be fat and to have complicated relationships with food, family and friends. We understand exactly why one would look to surgery as a solution to not only excess weight, but also fear, loneliness and unhappiness. Larsen eventually lost the weight, and she also moved on from her dead–end job and her bad relationship. But though her life is measurably better, she still reels from the shock that self–acceptance did not come automatically: ‘You lose weight without having to develop self–awareness, self–control, a sense of self. In fact, you go ahead and you lose your sense of self.’

Larsen has admitted she still struggles with food issues, having difficulty being “mindful” about her eating. She wishes, though, that society would promote more positive messages about food choices and health while decreasing the current focus on our “obesity epidemic”—and making people feel bad about being fat:

Let’s turn the conversation away from shaming fat kids. Let’s talk about that mindfulness thing. Let’s talk about good food that isn’t processed crap, about not feeling shame for eating, and about exercising to feel good about our bodies and to be as active, strong and bear-wrestlingly fit as we want to be.