bariatric surgery

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After Losing 322 Pounds, One Man’s Thoughts On Christie Surgery

Russ Hannagan before and after losing 322 pounds (Courtesy)

Russ Hannagan before and after losing 322 pounds. (Courtesy)

As a man who formerly weighed over 500 pounds, I’ve been thinking a lot about New Jersey Governor Chris Christie’s recent announcement that he had lap band surgery. And I’m not alone: The governor’s surgery has also been a hot topic among many of my weight-loss friends on Facebook and Twitter, and my fellow diet workshop participants in Newton.

As a “New Jersey Boy” myself (born and raised in Carteret, Exit 12 on the Turnpike), and because I still have many friends who live in the Garden State, I like to keep tabs on what’s happening there. At first my friends and I felt Mr. Christie was in a state of denial. I believe he was once quoted as saying he was the healthiest “overweight” man you’d ever meet. Many of us who attend diet workshops know this feeling. You are overweight but still feel it’s not a problem. Like an alcoholic who claims they can stop at any time.

We would love to sit down with him and talk with him about “The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly” of weight loss. I mention this because back in November of 2011 I weighed over 533 pounds. In a little over a year, I have lost 322 pounds. I now weigh 210. My goal weight is 200 pounds, so I am only 10 pounds away from reaching it. But it took a great deal of hard work to get to where I am now.

I know this sounds like every other Cinderella story out there but through the years I have tried every diet in the book. From counting calories, to getting food shipped to me, to attending overeaters classes; you name it and I have tried it. Sure, I would lose the weight for a while and I would be healthy, but then it would all come back with a vengeance and I would be even worse then I was before.

Russ Hannagan celebrates his 50th birthday, a year after his surgery. (Courtesy)

Russ Hannagan celebrates his 50th birthday, a year after his surgery. (Courtesy)

My epiphany came when I met a friend I had not seen in a long time. I literally did not recognize her because she’d lost so much weight. I asked her what she’d done to transform herself. That’s when she told me about bariatric weight-loss surgery.

There are two main types of this surgery (and I’m not counting lap band surgery here). With the bariatric procedure they surgically alter your stomach into a small pouch (Roux-en-Y) or a gastric by pass sleeve. I won’t go into all the details — but suffice it to say I got the pouch.

Each month at Newton Wellesley Hospital, I attend these free diet workshops with other patients who are having or have had the surgery. The nurses, nutritionists, doctors, and fellow patients teach each other how to eat right and exercise properly. We all continue to attend the workshops to stay current on what types of vitamins are available and how stay healthy. The surgery is a tool — not a cure and not a goal. In the right hands and used in the correct way this tool can make your life so much better. I am proof of that. Used incorrectly it can be as useless as any other fad diet out there. Continue reading

Weight-Loss Surgeon: Christie-Style Secrecy Common, Stigma Lingers

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie is surrounded by security and journalists in 2012. (Getty Images via NPR)

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie is surrounded by security and journalists in 2012. (Getty Images via NPR)

 

I’m not sure which is grabbier news: That New Jersey Governor Chris Christie underwent weight-loss surgery in February or that he felt compelled to keep the operation secret until The New York Post was about to publish a story about it.

I asked Dr. Daniel B. Jones, director of the Weight Loss Surgery Center at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center and a Harvard professor of Surgery, for his perspective. He began by emphasizing that all patients are entitled to privacy about their health care, including a governor. He went on:

That said, it is not uncommon for patients, when they have weight loss surgery, to say, ‘I don’t want anyone to know about this.’ We try to get patients over that hump as part of the pre-operative evaluation.

As physicians, we really want patients to identify: Who’s your support group? Who’s your champion? If your spouse doesn’t know what you’re doing, they’ll bring junk food into the house; if family members don’t know, they may think you’re not eating enough. So we really want some core people to know what’s going on. That said, most people do have a core group but don’t want other people to know.

Dr. Daniel B. Jones (BIDMC)

Dr. Daniel B. Jones (BIDMC)

We don’t know the reason but we think there’s still sort of a stigma to having weight-loss surgery. So even though we’re doing 150,000 weight-loss operations a year [in the United States], there’s the idea that if you have a weight-loss operation you’re somehow ‘taking the easy way out.’ You’re kind of ‘cheating.’ You’re just not tough enough to do the diet and exercise required for weight loss. You’re somehow ‘weak,’ right?

We even see this with gastric bypass patients who, six months after surgery, when they’ve lost 100 pounds and they’re healthier and more mobile, they still ask themselves, ‘Should I have done this without an operation?’

So this is sort of normal. In fact, I had a nurse — this was a real clandestine operation. She came in with a separate name, only a bare-minimum number of people got to know who it was. It was done in complete secrecy, but three to four months later, after her lap band was working, the whole hospital knew she’d had it. So what happens is, you reach a point of ‘Everyone can know.’

I quote people a 40-percent chance that the band over their lifetime will need to be repaired, revised or removed.

The other part of it is a concern that you might fail. And the pressure’s kind of high. So once you’re winning, everyone likes to share success. Not everyone knows whether they’re going to achieve it. You have to remember, everyone who’s had a weight loss operation has, by definition, already been on multiple diets — that’s a requirement for any operation in an accredited bariatric program. It’s very common for people to have lost 15 or 50 or 100 pounds, and for one reason or another they’ve gained back even more. It has to do with our physiology. It’s not about willpower.

The body has a set point and whether you like it nor not, your body hovers there. So if you diet in the traditional sense and knock the weight down, your body thinks you’re somehow starving it. And the first chance it gets, it fires off chemicals that not only push you back to where you started, it sets your new set point higher. We call this yo-yo-ing.

Whether it’s the band or the sleeve or the bypass, [weight-loss operations] do things that make it possible for people to get the weight off and keep it off. Continue reading