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Saturday, December 18, 2004

A difficult decision made

Originally published Dec. 18, 2004, in the Tracy Press.

I’m officially under the gun to lose weight. I have obesity-related infertility, and if my husband and I hope to conceive the old fashioned way, I need to drop at least 100 pounds. And my doctor suggests I do it sooner rather than later. That’s no easy undertaking.After all, only 5 percent of Americans who diet are successful at maintaining weight loss. I’ve never been among that 5 percent — not even for a minute.

I’ve given up on the commercial weight-loss circuit. It’s not that I don’t believe Weight Watchers, Jenny Craig and similar programs are beneficial. I’ve spent seven years as a WW member, but I’ve never had any long-term success with those types of programs.

I’ve worked with three dieticians in the past two years. They succeeded in helping me improve my food choices and figure out meal planning. One has even helped me make a healthier transition to a pseudo-vegetarian lifestyle (I now abstain from red meat and poultry).But we never succeeded in the realm of weight loss.

I have worked with a couple of therapists on my issues with emotional/binge eating and had great success. It’s been at least six months since I’ve binged, and I no longer use food to quell uncomfortable emotions. But I still haven’t lost much more than five or 10 pounds from changing those behaviors.

That’s where gastric-bypass surgery comes in. It’s a drastic solution, but I have a drastic problem.I thought about it for four months before talking with my primary physician. I had discussions with my husband — who was against it for some time — my mom — who remains opposed — and a handful of close friends and relatives — all of whom are cautiously supportive.

I’ve had to discuss my decision with loved ones because they have a right to know, my employer because I will need a significant amount of time off and my health-care providers because their opinions determine whether my insurance company will cover the procedure.

I spent four months poring over research and patient accounts of the different types of surgery available. I devoted at least two months investigating my insurer’s policy on weight-loss surgery.

It’s a good thing I did that, too. Though there are a handful of different styles of weight-loss surgery performed in the United States, my health-maintenance organization only covers one — the Roux-en-Y gastric bypass, which I’ll discuss further in next week’s column.Gathering information on the procedure was daunting.

Actually, that’s a lie. Gathering information was easy; gathering information that can be understood by the average person was a different story.

When I first discussed gastric bypass with my doctor, he sent me home with a 60-page booklet published by my insurer that made my college biology textbook seem engaging. It took me a week of hard concentrating to plow through it, and I’m typically a fast reader.

I found my most useful information on the Internet.

Sure, not everything on the Web is credible, but there is a plethora of sites created by weight-loss surgery patients. One thing I’ve discovered is that WLS patients are part of a warm, welcoming community. For the most part, they have worked very hard to be successful and they want to help others do the same. There are also numerous Internet message boards that freely disseminate information and advice. Message boards are great because they are interactive; you can post questions and have them answered quickly. Finding out everything I could about surgical weight loss was important to me.

I’m almost embarrassed to admit it now, but I’ve been a vocal opponent of weight-loss surgery for a long time.Like many people, I thought surgery was a lazy way out. I knew it would be hard for me to explain to my loved ones why my tune suddenly changed. And it was important to me that I could justify it to myself.

Research helped me change my mind rather quickly. The first thing I discovered is that gastric bypass is far from a passive method of weight loss. Most bypass patients report spending more time planning their meals and exercising than ever before.

What I think makes surgical weight loss so much more effective than other methods is the rapid weight loss. Surgery patients are able to drop weight fast enough that exercise becomes easier on their bodies — which motivates and enables them to stick with it.That quick weight loss also serves as an emotionally motivating factor. It’s easier to feel successful when you can see your body changing before your own eyes.

I only finally decided that surgery was the option for me about a month ago. I spent about eight months weighing my options (no pun intended) and telling myself that I should try traditional methods one last time.

I’ve come to accept that traditional methods haven’t worked for me, and it’s time to try something else. It’s not going to be easy, but I’m willing to go through this in the hopes of one day becoming a mother — and a healthy one at that.

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