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Obesity Surgery is Not the Cure

To those who have suffered with the disease of obesity, bariatric/weight loss surgery, may be the answer to a healthier life. After multiple failed attempts at weight loss through dieting, diet drugs and a variety of other weight loss modalities, weight loss surgery now appears to be the answer to long-term successful weight reduction.

Conventional therapies such as diets and anti-obesity drugs are most likely to fail because obesity is a recognized disease- a progressive and life-threatening disease- not unlike cancer. For this disease that is life-long, bariatric surgery as now reported in worldwide studies is most effective in producing massive weight loss for morbidly obese individuals. Even though surgery is known to be extremely effective it is still not a ‘cure’ for the disease of obesity. The disease can only be suppressed but not eliminated.

Perhaps having bariatric surgery could be described as a pursuit of happiness for those who have suffered with the disease of obesity for most of their lives. Quality of life has diminished for so many of these individuals.  What they see in this powerful treatment for the disease is the potential of an improved lifestyle and a longer life. Surgery may provide quantity of life and may improve life’s quality but weight loss alone will not provide happiness. Happiness has to be pursued. Frequently we observe this weight loss process as becoming a pursuit for thinness as opposed to a quest for better health. Surgery does not automatically make someone handsome or beautiful or an avid exercise enthusiast. It does not instantly make someone eat nutritionally, become religious about vitamin and mineral intake and it does not make all of life’s problems, past and present disappear.

Surgery for weight loss is simply a tool to aid in gaining control of one’s eating habits, reducing weight while ultimately improving one’s health and quality of life.  However, the key word is ‘tool’.  Once the ‘honeymoon period’ is over the work begins.  For long-term success it will be important for each individual to uncover the life issues that have sent them to food in the first place and to develop long term coping skills to manage these very difficult issues.  Some eating as well as life behaviors will need to be moderated or eliminated altogether and still further decisions will have to be made about where the new thinner lifestyle will lead.

To insure continued maximal life-long weight loss success, the bariatric patient must realize that their surgery is not a ‘cure’ for the disease of obesity but rather a ‘tool’ that can assist in keeping the disease ‘suppressed’.  Surgery in the beginning will create weight loss for each individual no matter what they do.  Taking this period of time for granted, even though the educational process instructs otherwise, may lead to serious consequences.  Surgery may become the nemesis, the root of all that is evil. Poor physical as well as emotional health, as well as weight regain may be ahead for those who are not adhering to their surgeon’s follow-up protocol or who do not attend regular support group meetings, exercise regularly or eat nutritionally.

It is not likely that a cure for the disease of obesity will happen in our lifetime.  Presently weight loss surgery is the most promising modality available.  It will be up to those who choose this modality to become educated, to know how their surgery works and how they can work with their surgery no matter what type of obesity surgery they choose.  Without a doubt the choice to have obesity surgery will be life-changing and life-challenging but it will never be the cure.


Jacquelyn K. Smiertka, R.N.CBN

Beyond Change-Living a Healthy Life After Obesity Surgery

Program Director, Specializing in patient support and monitoring.


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