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Saturday, November 19, 2005

Say nothing at all

Originally published Nov. 19, 2005, in Our Town for the Tracy Press.

Writing this column about my experiences with gastric-bypass surgery has made me an expert of sorts when it comes to the subject of obesity.

Every now and then I get an e-mail or a phone call from a reader wanting advice. Occasionally, the person wants my advice on how to approach someone about having gastric-bypass surgery.

The request takes different forms. Sometimes, it’s a simple, “There’s somebody I want you to meet. I think they could get a lot out of hearing your story.” Other times, it’s a more direct, “There’s someone I know whom I think would benefit from the surgery you had. What should I tell him?”My response is usually, “Nothing.”

Having struggled with my weight most of my life, I know what a personal battle it is. It’s hard enough going out into the world every day with a visible weakness, knowing what people think when they see you.

Having someone approach you with their answer to your problem is insulting at best. Apply it to a different situation and the insensitivity becomes more apparent. You wouldn’t approach a hirsute woman and tell her that laser hair removal would be the perfect solution to her unsightly beard. Nor would you tell Uncle Charles that a little lipo would take care of those love handles in a jiffy. So why would you suggest major surgery to an overweight coworker?

The answer to that is simple.

In our diet-crazed society, obesity is the one shortcoming that isn’t taboo to discuss in public. Under the guise of showing concern, we are free to tell Uncle Charles that his big belly is bad for his heart, and insurance just might cover gastric bypass. We don’t think twice about asking a coworker to join us at our next Weight Watchers meeting. We freely assume that overweight people are unhealthy and unhappy.Though that was true for me, it’s not true for everyone. I see plus-sized individuals at the gym every day who could run circles around most skinny-minnies — and they are proud to boast low blood pressure and cholesterol. And then there are people like David Letterman, who despite his slender physique, had emergency heart surgery just a few years ago.

Gastric bypass seems to me to have become the latest fad in the quest to overcome obesity. I think it’s an important tool, but it’s one that should be reserved only for those who truly want to make the lifestyle changes required. It can be a dangerous procedure that carries a laundry list of possible complications. It’s not a decision to be taken lightly or one that should be thrust upon someone else. It’s very personal, and I think those who are most successful after surgery are the ones who came to the decision on their own — without prodding from well-meaning friends or relatives.

Having said that, I would be remiss not to mention the other side of the coin.

Local life coach Monika Villasenor, who had gastric bypass about five years ago, believes that it’s OK to address destructive behavior in those close to us, provided it’s being done for the right reasons.

“Giving unwanted feedback to someone usually is not well-received,” she said to me during a recent chat.

Besides, Monika adds, it’s lot easier to dissect somebody else’s life than it is to face one’s own reality.S

he says it’s important to be clear before you approach someone that your intent comes from love and true concern as opposed to being a distraction from the pain that may exist in your own life.

“Is it serving you or serving them? There is a very fine line,” she said.

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