Many people see weight loss surgeries as sort of cheating, a way of getting the benefits without the work. In most cases, however, this is a shallow and uninformed perspective. For most people, weight loss surgeries are reserved for last-chance options for people whose health is in immediate peril due to their weight problems, or for those who have no other alternatives for real loss. Furthermore, weight loss surgeries are often complicated operations that require long-term follow up, or life-long changes. This article will discuss common weight loss surgeries, and explore the sacrifice required to make them pay off.
Disclaimer: Liposuction is not a Weight Loss Surgery
When many people think of weight loss surgeries they jump to liposuction, largely because it is weight loss surgery most familiar to us through the media. This surgery, which involves sucking fat out of a person through what is essentially a vacuum, is the preferred method of entertainers, as well as other wealthy people, though it is almost always a cosmetic surgery, and should not be considered to be representative of weight loss surgeries, nor should those who opt for this procedure be seen as representative of people who receive weight loss surgeries.
Vocab You Need to Understand Weight Loss Surgery
Most weight loss surgeries are “laparoscopic” surgeries, a name which describes the procedure, rather than the area being worked on. The laparoscope is a small camera-like device that is inserted to one incision to guide the surgeon who works through another incision, using very fine implements. The result is two very small incisions, rather than one large one. This technique, also called “minimally invasive surgery,” has a faster recovery time, a lower risk of infection or other medical mistakes, and has the additional benefit of leaving much less noticeable scars than older methods. In addition to weight loss surgeries, this method is also used for appendectomies and other small surgeries, as well as for diagnosing cancer and other ailments.
Another important term to understand when discussing weight loss surgeries is the term “bariatric,” which refers to the area being operated on, namely the stomach and lower digestive system organs. Most weight loss surgeries are bariatric, but not all bariatric surgeries are laparoscopic surgeries, but that may be getting ahead of ourselves.
One last term before we get going is “gastric” which refers to just the stomach. Usually surgeries of this type are named in the pattern “Gastric *verb*” where the verb is what the procedure is doing to the stomach. Some examples will be explored below, although the pattern fits for other forms of surgery as well.
Gastric Banding, an Adjustable and Temporary Solution
One of the more tame weight loss surgeries is “gastric banding” which involves the fitting of a small ring around the upper portion of the stomach, causing food to collect in the top portion before passing into the bottom portion.
We feel like we are satisfied while eating when stretch receptors in the stomach wall alert the brain that the stomach is literally “full” and gastric banding tricks the stomach into telling the brain that it is full when the small top portion fills rather than the whole stomach. This prevents over-eating, even in people whose stomachs may have stretched due to regularly over-eating over long periods of time.
The size of the ring is usually controlled through a tube fed through the abdomen end ending in a port through which a fluid – usually saline, a kind of saltwater – can be added or removed to tighten or loosen the band allowing more or less food into the stomach at a time. These adjustments are made by healthcare providers, and do not require additional surgery, although the band may eventually be removed, which will require an additional surgery.
The hardware involved in gastric banding may make it difficult or uncomfortable to do certain exercises, although the healthcare team will certainly have suggestions on activities to further weight loss, as well as how to transition into a healthy lifestyle after the operation.
In addition to being reversible, this is one of the less severe weight loss surgeries because it does not change the way that the body digests food, or its ability to digest food, only the amount of food that it digests at a time.
Gastric Bypass: Complex, but Reversible
One of the most complicated bariatric surgeries is the gastric bypass, which involves changing the route that food takes through the body so that food does not enter most of the stomach. This drastically reduces the amount of food that a person can eat at one time, and it affects the sorts of foods that can be eaten because the food spends much less time in the digestive tract.
Due to the complexity of this surgery and the dietary limitations resulting from it, most people who undergo this procedure must have a very close relationship with their healthcare providers, in most cases for the rest of their lives.
Despite the complexity of this procedure, a gastric bypass can be undone, though this too is a complex procedure, and a great deal can go wrong. Because many people who undergo gastric bypass reversal begin to eventually gain weight again, it is common for part of the stomach to be deliberately removed during gastric bypass removal surgery.
Gastrectomy: A Drastic and Permanent Solution
A gastrectomy is the complete removal of the stomach and is for obvious reasons exceedingly rare, being employed primarily in the event of advanced stomach cancer. The removal of the upper portion of the stomach, called a “sleeve gastrectomy” is far more common to control weight loss.
The stomach is shaped rather like a large bean with an opening on either end. The sleeve gastrectomy is the removal of the upper portion of the stomach to make the organ more of a straight tube. A lower portion of the stomach can also be removed in what is known simply as a “partial gastrectomy.” Both procedures drastically reduce the size of the stomach, which in turn reduces the volume of food required to make one feel full. While these operations have a high success rate when it comes to weight loss, they are all irreversible, and so are a surgery of last resort.
While weight loss surgeries do help people with extreme weight problems to lose that weight far quicker than they could via other methods, they still require dedication and hard work on the part of the patient, often for the rest of their lives. Consideration of these operations should not be taken likely.