Girl Talk: I Considered Weight Loss Surgery

It was my worst fear. I recovered from anorexia/bulimia and became morbidly obese. I lost and regained weight in a furious and uncontrollable cycle. I didn’t think I had it in me to try again. 

But I couldn’t ignore how my health was deteriorating. My right knee constantly hurt and buckled, making walking difficult. I had osteoarthritis. While my knee couldn’t be fixed, I could slow down the deterioration and stave off knee surgery.

Enter my thoughts of weight loss surgery. Even if I could lose the weight on my own, it would take well over a year. I read that gastric bypass surgery (“GBS”) patients lost most of their excess weight within 6 months. That’s a no brainer, I decided.

My health insurer gave me good news. With my body mass index (BMI) and other health problems, I was in bad enough shape that they’d most likely approve GBS. Before getting approval, I needed to undergo six months of medical supervision (with a non-surgeon) documenting my weight loss attempts.

I met with a bariatric surgeon (“Dr. B”). Absently turning around a plastic model of a stomach in his hand, he suggested I have GBS and that I lose as much weight as possible during my medical supervision.

Losing weight to get weight loss surgery seemed counter-intuitive to me. I worried my insurer wouldn’t approve GBS if I lost too much weight au natural. But Dr. B told me approval would be more likely because I’d look motivated and likely to be successful long term.

Dr. B told me about GBS’ worst side effect: “dumping syndrome.” Dumping syndrome is when food passes too quickly from your new surgically-engineered stomach pouch into the small intestine. You get sick if you eat too much, too quickly, or certain foods (like carbs or foods high in fat). You become nauseous, get diarrhea and vomit, among other unpleasant things.

I asked myself if I wanted to live that way. I’d stopped purging a long time ago. But I was regularly eating too much and unhealthily. I was “cured” enough to realize vomiting and popping laxatives like candy was a bad idea. But dumping syndrome wasn’t something I’d be doing wrong. Wasn’t it a medically-sanctioned purging of sorts? I felt strangely reassured that I couldn’t binge or I’d pay the price. The imposed discipline would save me from myself.

Deciding I wanted surgery, I contacted a doctor (“Dr. G”) who ran a hospital-run weight loss group for my pre-GBS medical supervision. He became distant, saying his program was for people who wanted to lose weight sans surgery. It felt like I was on a date with a man with his finger poised in the air to ask the waiter for the check. I spoke quickly, trying to sell myself. Maybe I could join the group and decide if I wanted surgery later. Unmoved, Dr. G asked me questions about my previous weight loss attempts. He told me with my checkered past, I should “make life easier on myself” and have GBS.

Rejected from a weight loss group. I was a lost cause. I found an endocrinologist (“Dr. Endo”) for my pre-GBS medical supervision.

“So what have you been doing to lose weight?” Dr. Endo looked down her nose at me.

I admitted I wasn’t doing anything. Her look of disgust made me shrink in my chair. “You’ve got to starting dieting. And exercising. You’ll never lose weight and keep it off otherwise.” She pointed to a flyer on the wall for the weight loss group I’d been rejected from. “That program is good.”

What kind of medical supervision was this? I’d expected guidance. Encouragement. Clearly Dr. Endo thought I was beyond hope and she was just going through the motions. I guessed I’d have to bide my time and go through the motions too.

But that look on Dr. Endo’s face haunted me. The more I obsessed, the angrier I became. I was sick of being treated like some weight loss misfit. I decided I wasn’t going to let her look down on me again.

When I returned to Dr. Endo, I’d lost eight pounds. Hell yeah, I thought to myself as I hopped off the scale, mentally snapping my fingers.

“You lost weight,” she said. “Great. Keep it up.” My trip in the elevator up to her office lasted longer than our conversation.

My third visit went down the same as the second. I’d lost seven pounds. My fourth visit? Six more pounds and Dr. Endo took my blood pressure meds down a notch. I scheduled a fifth appointment, and then canceled it. I didn’t need her or surgery. I’d do it myself.

A little over a year later, I lost about a hundred pounds without having my stomach overhauled. My decision was a personal one. For me, GBS would have been the wrong choice. Learning to do it myself made me feel empowered.

Mulling over GBS, I’d found my mind returning to a place I didn’t want to visit again. I didn’t want to spend the rest of my life needing to throw up or spend the night in the bathroom if I didn’t watch what I ate. Been there, purged myself of that.