Last week, I was asked to be a talking head on HuffPost Live, during their interview of Lisa Lampanelli – who is ace. She’s known for her amazing (if a tad…uhhh…blue) put-downs – the only one I could find that wasn’t too filthy to put here was “Donald Trump has disappointed more women than Sex and the City 2” – but I have to say, I find her absolutely hilarious. So it was pretty exciting to be interviewed on the same show where she talked about the 80lbs she’s lost over the last five months.
So, Lisa’s method of weight loss was pretty different to my own. She had gastric sleeve surgery, after having tried other methods of losing weight to no avail, and she looks great. Plus, she’s happy with her decision, and I have no argument with that – it was the right decision for her.
But it got me really thinking about the weight loss surgery question. It’s something I personally can’t really get behind, despite knowing a few people who’ve had successful ops and who’ve lost a lot of weight as a result. But for me… I don’t know. I can’t understand it.
In individual cases, it makes more sense to me – when I’ve spoken to people who’ve had it, for instance, or seen individual success stories, the reasons the surgery was necessary for these people becomes a little more clear. But I have an issue with the pervasiveness of the weight loss surgery ideal as a cultural thing – because it’s selling a lot of people a dream. It seems to me that weight loss surgery perpetuates the idea that once you get past a certain weight, there’s no way back.
My worry, then, is that there are a lot of people out there that are overweight, that have issues with overeating, food addiction, and emotional attachments to foods, who can’t get the surgery – be that because of the enormous waiting lists here in the UK, or issues with insurance and healthcare in the US – who will, as a result, give up on themselves, and spiral into eating more because there is, apparently, ‘no hope.’ Even as a last resort, it’s selling the idea that if you’ve failed at diets in the past, and you can’t get weight loss surgery… You’re “screwed.” You’re “too fat to ever change.”
I’d certainly begun to think that was the case when I first started out.
To qualify for weight loss surgery here in the UK, you have to have a BMI above 40 and be unable to lose the weight through lifestyle changes. When I joined the gym, my BMI was 49.8. I couldn’t walk, so exercise was painful and exhausting, and cooking healthy meals when it was hard to stand up was really difficult – so I was definitely ticking the necessary boxes. But in all honesty, I’m not even sure they’d have let me go forward for the surgery with my BMI that high, because, as the NHS website points out, “the risk of dying shortly after bariatric surgery is around 1 in 200. However, this risk can be as high as 1 in 40 if you have other risk factors such as high blood pressure or a BMI of 50 or above.”
It would’ve been easy to ask for the surgery, get on a waiting list, and continue to eat. But in all honesty, the only thing that stopped me doing that was the fact that I’d had three rounds of surgery on my knees – and the pain of having metalwork put through your shins isn’t something you forget all that easily. So as much as I’d love to say I didn’t ask for surgery because I knew I had the resources within myself, yadda yadda yadda… No. I didn’t ask for the surgery because I was scared it would hurt. That’s it.
But even a couple of weeks after starting out at the gym, trying to walk a little bit and eat a little better, I found my outlook changing.
I don’t think you realise the resources you do have inside yourself until you start to tap into them. Once I’d started, the number on the scales started to drop, and my muscles seemed to be getting stronger by the day. I’ll never forget the first time I got out of bed and didn’t need my crutches to stand up. Bearing in mind I thought that I’d be on crutches forever, that was mind-blowing – but it wasn’t just my physical strength that had improved. Emotionally, I’d managed to find and reinforce the strength I had to not be trapped in that situation forever.
The thing is, dramatic weight loss changes you, inside and out. I wrote in a post on fit psychology a little while ago that:
“Seeing yourself differently because you know you’ve put in months and years of hard work to get there has a very different impact on you than waking up after surgery or extreme, sudden weight loss having been changed by something or someone externally.
Personally, I can completely understand how it’s easy to regain the weight if you suddenly drop 100lbs in a short space of time, because in your head, you’re still the same person. You haven’t learned how to live in a different body, or how to maintain it – and you’re not psychologically prepared for the change in yourself and your identity.”
Source: The Psychology of Getting Fit
There are a lot of reasons people choose to have weight loss surgery – emotional eating, food addiction, inability to exercise or make lifestyle changes – but I, personally, feel like I’d like to get myself some sort of van and a megaphone and pay a visit everyone who’s ever thought that surgery is the only answer. It’s not.
It’s really, really not.
I’m aware that I sound like some sort of irritating TV-evangelist crossed with a super-annoying saleswoman. I get it. It’s preachy, and it’s annoying. But while surgery is the answer for some people – and even then, it still needs to be combined with dramatic lifestyle changes to make it actually work – you can change your life just as dramatically without it. It’ll take a little longer, but you’ll be stronger, happier, and you’ll get to eat meals that weigh more than four ounces for the rest of your life.
I’m not in any way criticising people who do decide to have the surgery, because it depends entirely on personal circumstances, and only you can know what’s the best decision for you. I don’t want to go around pouring scorn on anyone else’s choices, because it’s all about the individual. But it should always be a last resort, because it is completely possible to lose weight in a healthy way, if you just believe in yourself enough.
As Lisa pointed out on the show, “the solution is simple, but it’s not easy” – and I completely agree. It isn’t easy, at first. It takes time. But once you’ve gotten over that learning curve, and you’ve started to take the first steps to realising how strong you actually are, you’ll never look back – so take a moment to give yourself credit for how strong you are, and focus on how strong you could be. You’ll thank yourself later.