Yesterday, I attended a conference on Bariatrics and Nutrition, put on by the Bariatric Department of my local university medical center. Bariatrics is the science of obesity. Spell check is questioning my use of this word, so let me go appease it. My quick search into its derivation informs me that its root bar is the same as in the word barometer–the measure of the weight of air. The word was created in 1965 and first used in 1977. It rhymes with allopatric, geriatric, pediatric, podiatric and psychiatric, in case you wish to use it in a song or poem.
We mainly use the word regarding bariatric surgery or the surgical approach to weight reduction. I have worked with a few people who have had this surgery. There are increasingly newer and easier procedures and more centers doing them–and thereby more people having them–so I chose to attend the conference to better inform myself.
I walked into the dimly lit hotel conference room, with bad feng shui, grabbed the last seat at a table with a few other women, put my stuff down and made my way over to the breakfast spread in the adjoining room. From left to right there was coffee, tea, small glasses of orange and cranberry juice, a big tray of danish, another of white bagels with little individual cream cheese servings, a platter of fruit and an icy bin filled with Sierra Mist, Pepsi, Diet Pepsi, and Brisk iced tea.
The morning session was well presented by highly credentialed physicians, a pharmacist, and a psychologist. I did learn some things that were of professional interest to me, but I was finding myself with another one of my nutritional dilemmas. An endocrinologist spoke about how these procedures and their concomitant weight loss results are greatly reducing blood pressure, cholesterol, sleep apnea, and even the high blood sugar levels of diabetes–and are thereby also reducing the cost burden to our health care system of these conditions. However, I was still unsettled by such invasive methods with major implications for nourishment and still uncertain as to how these experts felt about their own program.
After a few hours, I was drained from the bad room energy and hungry. I stuffed my dilemma and headed out to the more naturally lit lunch area. I was pleased to find myself satisfied by a meal that met my own personal nutritional needs and headed back feeling much better and fortified for the afternoon session. It was a good thing too. Three surgeons, whose mothers or kindergarten teachers must have taught them very good craft skills, were soon to reveal to me the gorier aspects of the art of bariatrics.
Currently, there are three major types of either restrictive or malabsorptive bariatric surgeries that are performed in this country–gastric bypass, gastric banding, and sleeve gastrectomy. Sleeve gastrectomy is the newest of the three. While I imagined something more benign, a young boy wonder doctor described the procedure by way of both schematic and actual slides of our insides. He explained that the procedure entails using a stapling device that creates a thin vertical sleeve of stomach while the other two-thirds of the stomach on the other side of the staples–is lopped off. Oh.
The next surgeon, who at least looked like he was born before the first use of the word bariatric, also described various procedures. He was very careful to explain that all of these come with some significant complications. Despite his obvious experience and calm demeanor, transparent in his message was that the safest surgery is no surgery.
As I was digesting this, the woman I had been sitting next to all day raised her hand and asked that if one had already had gastric banding, which has the highest weight loss failure, could they be a candidate for sleeve gastrectomy.
At the next break, at risk of being intrusive, I asked the woman if she’d had the band procedure. She replied that she had, and was frustrated that she only lost 50 pounds. She had the band re-tightened which is done by filling it with more saline solution. Quietly, she admitted that she was responsible for having made some bad choices. I left it at that.
A few minutes later she returned from the break room which had been freshly stocked with a new array of sodas and sweets, with a Pepsi and a brownie. The other women at the table, who I had come to realize were not medical professionals, muttered something to her and she replied, “How can you say no to a brownie?”
The final speaker of the afternoon was a plastic surgeon. This guy was a Michelangelo in GQ clothing. Through a series of slides, I witnessed the graphic photos of about twenty post-bariatric surgery patients clad only in their underpants, before and after the liposuction and body contouring procedures he had sculpted on them. I saw the flaccid flesh of breasts, bellies, arms, thighs, and butts hanging in folds from alien-looking bodies. One woman’s belly flesh reached almost to the floor. Matter-of-factly, he showed how he lifted skin, sucked out fat from one area, stuffed it back into another, and sewed people back up often around their entire circumference. He told of removing up to twenty-five pounds of skin and fat during a single procedure.
As shocked as I was by what he was showing, it was what he explained in closing that was more distressing and deeply telling. He shared that some patients have said to him, that in retrospect, even though they may even feel better, they actually liked their bodies more before the procedure. They may have been fat but they felt they at least had a healthier glow or more natural body. Some, express dissatisfaction with other minute parts of their bodies that they had never thought about before, and many still perceive themselves as fat as they ever were. There is no guarantee that the person will experience a greater sense of well-being and less depression–though many do.
At the end of the day, the Bariatric Program Director and conference facilitator asked the panel of presenters, where did they think we are heading in the next five to ten years. Are we going to be doing way more procedures as the obesity rates continue to increase? Do we fully know what percentage of people who have undergone these procedures truly keep the weight off and the diseases at bay? Do we know the correct prevention measures? The presenters looked a bit deflated in response.
Regarding the prevention question, I left one respectful suggestion on my evaluation form–that the medical community should be particularly mindful of the food it offers at conferences. We talk about healthy eating and yet are unable to establish a new food paradigm in this culture.
Digging for my car keys, I found my dilemma at the bottom of my pocketbook where I had stuffed it. It looked me in the eye and asked, “How can you say no to a brownie?” “It’s tough”, I responded. I headed out into the late afternoon traffic.
How do you say no to a brownie?
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In health, Elyn
My Plate Haiku
Soothes us from the heat–weightless
We float like feathers. by Elyn