Uncomfortable Answers

In the weeks leading up to and following our surgeries, Lor and I have become the friends and family ambassadors representing the nation of bariatric surgery. Sometimes the questions are asked in front of everyone at public gatherings, sometimes whispered as soon as no one is around, but the requests for more information keep on coming. The procedure itself is somewhat mysterious, and people are filled with curiosity.

For the most part, this is excellent – clearing up misconceptions about the procedure and the lifestyle changes that accompany it is probably the best way Lor and I can “pay it forward” for an experience that has had such a positive life-altering affect on us. We have friends and family members who are either considering or going through bariatric surgery and being able to help them along is awesome. Heck, I even write a blog about it, to get the information out there. We want this info to be spread far and wide.

But…there are a few questions that come up (and frequently get repeated) that demonstrate the misunderstandings surrounding bariatric surgery. And the answers admittedly don’t feel real good when we know that someone is hoping that our answer will be exactly the opposite of what the truth is. It always makes me sad that someone who is considering bariatric surgery asks me a question that I know will immediately turn them away from looking into it any further. But, in for a penny, in for a pound – here are a few of those uncomfortable answers:

“Aren’t you hungry all the time?”: No…and yes. Let me explain. If I allow myself to dwell on thinking about food, I will crave it. It is as simple as that. Smells are an especially strong trigger for me – I can’t smell pizza without wanting to eat one. Like, a whole pizza, I mean. But if I walk away, and think about something else, within 5 minutes or so I am no longer hungry. The hunger is not being generated by my digestive system at all (which is remarkably quiet if I don’t expose myself to pizza), but by my mind. It is pretty weird, admittedly.

“If I have the surgery, when can I get back to eating normally?”: By FAR the most common question we get asked. And the short answer is: Never. The surgery does not create a black hole in your abdomen that allows you to eat whatever the heck you want without consequences. The Lap-band, Sleeve, and Pouch all perform varying degrees of the same effect: negative reinforcement. There is less available space in your stomach, so you eat less. I personally find the sleeve superior (for me) because it also removes the majority of your ghrelin-producing stomach from your body completely. No hunger hormones mean no constant craving for food. (Something that plagued me for years before the surgery – I was literally hungry 100% of the time.)

“So, when can I start drinking Cokes/drinking alcohol/eating Krispy Kreme again?”: Whatever the trigger food, we all want to know when we can start hitting it again. For some, it is soft drinks, for others ice cream. I, for example, will probably crave beer for the rest of my life. And the probable answer is “Never.” Cokes and beer can’t be had due to the side effect of carbonation expanding the area in the pouch, creating more room for food. But those Krispy Kremes and McDonald’s french fries? They should be avoided as well, because it is so easy to vault off the rails and eat way too many of them at one sitting. They pass through the digestive track so quickly that you will never get full – leaving you eventually with an empty box of donuts and a feeling that you have just done a really bad thing.

“Really? I have to quit drinking?” Alcohol is no longer taking a pleasant 20-30 minutes to work its way into your system. It is no galloping through the stomach straight to your liver and then to your brain. One or two drinks is all it will take to get you very, very inebriated. And here is the real danger – we became obese because of addictive elements in our personality. It is so very easy to switch addictions from food to alcohol. The numbers of alcoholic bariatric patients are extremely high for this very reason.

“Will I have to exercise, like, every day?” Yup, afraid so. There are many stories of failed bariatric surgeries out there, each with their own sad tale about why the patient fell off the wagon and ate themselves back to obesity. Those stories all have one common element – these people stopped moving, and started eating. Exercise is critically important to the success of bariatric surgery – it not only keeps your metabolism up, but it also reminds you on a daily basis that you are doing this for a reason. As soon as you stop exercising, you will start regaining. It is as simple as that.

“Man, it sounds like your life sucks. Why would anyone have this surgery?” The saddest question of all – the questioner has given up on the idea of surgery now that they have been convinced that it is not going to be easy.

And, they are right – it isn’t easy. But giving up the foods I loved was not something I could do on my own. It required external intervention to push me over that hump. And now, I may never have a Guinness or a chocolate cream pie again.

Instead, I can touch my toes. I can sit down without waiting for a chair to break. I can (almost) keep up with Lor and Vixen on our daily walks. I have spent more time socializing in the past 6 months than I did in the previous 6 years – once food ceased being the #1 priority in my life, room for a whole lot of other priorities was created.

Now, my life no longer sucks due to obesity. And that is why I had bariatric surgery.

Heck, I Might Even Get To Drink Real Coffee Again,

– Hawkwind

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