Despite its track record as a safe and effective way to lose weight and keep it off for the long term, bariatric surgery remains an underutilized solution.
On average, people will lose a total of 125 to 150 pounds within one year or later after bariatric surgery. Nearly 75% of patients keep their significant weight loss after five years.
Bariatric surgery can also help resolve other health conditions, including type 2 diabetes, acid reflux, sleep apnea and hypertension.
Choosing bariatric surgery is a big decision — and one that requires a lifelong commitment. But those who undergo surgery and dedicate themselves to adopting healthy habits often find that it leads to life-altering positive changes.
Dr. Raymond Georgen, a general surgeon and co-director of the ThedaCare Bariatrics program, acknowledges the courage it takes to choose surgery.
“This is a huge decision for any individual, to look in the mirror and say, ‘I’ve got this disease,’ and to look and that same mirror and say, ‘Not only do I have this disease, but I’m going to do something about it,’” he says.
Debunking Bariatric Surgery Myths
As you’re evaluating bariatric surgery, it’s easy to let misconceptions cloud the decision-making process. Dr. Georgen and the ThedaCare Bariatrics team address some of the most persistent myths surrounding weight loss surgery.
Myth 1: Bariatric Surgery is Dangerous
“While every surgery has risk, weight loss surgery is safer than having a gall bladder removed or having hip surgery,” says Andrea Wolff, Supervisor of ThedaCare Bariatrics.
The risk of dying or suffering a major complication from bariatric surgery has decreased dramatically over the years, Dr. Georgen says. He attributes that both to surgeons’ dedication to the procedures and to technological advances.
Weight loss surgery is an option if you have a body mass index (BMI) of 35 or higher and another significant health risk factor — such as type 2 diabetes or sleep apnea — or if you have a BMI over 40.
ThedaCare offers two types of surgery: Roux-en-Y Gastric Bypass and Gastric Sleeve Resection. Both are performed robotically. This leads to better clinical outcomes, including fewer complications, shorter hospital stays and less pain. The team has performed more than 5,000 bariatric surgeries at ThedaCare Regional Medical Center-Neenah since the program’s inception.
“We have an unbelievably great track record for safety in our program,” Dr. Georgen says. “We wouldn’t be a Center of Excellence in the United States if that weren’t the case.”
Myth 2: Diet and Exercise is the Best Way to Lose Weight
That can be both a myth and a fact, Dr. Georgen says. Some people can lose weight through diet and exercise, but many individuals struggle to maintain long-term weight loss with those methods alone.
“Every individual is wired differently,” Dr. Georgen says. “I don’t see the people who have been successful with a commercial weight loss program or who went to the gym and hit it hard. Those people don’t show up on our radar screen. It’s the folks who can’t do that. In general, those people have the disease of morbid obesity.”
Having a surgical tool to spur weight loss can prove powerful, he says. However, it’s not just the surgery that makes a difference, but rather the whole ThedaCare Bariatrics program and team of support that are there to treat people. The program includes counseling and education around nutrition and exercise.
Myth 3: Bariatric Surgery is an Extreme Option
Many people who are contemplating surgery may think this, and friends and loved ones can reinforce this idea as well, Dr. Georgen says.
“People often think of surgery as an extreme option,” he says. “I would suggest that it’s the most effective option, in combination with the program.”
Myth 4: Bariatric Surgery is the Easy Way Out
This couldn’t be further from the truth, Dr. Georgen says.
“The decision to undergo bariatric surgery, I tell patients, is probably one of the top five decisions they’re ever going to make in their life,” he says.
But making that decision is only the beginning. It’s what comes after surgery that makes a difference. That’s what sets ThedaCare Bariatrics apart.
“Just doing the surgery and letting people go off on their own is not the way to do things, and that’s been proven time and again,” Dr. Georgen says. “Going someplace that’s experienced and has that complete team is of the utmost importance for good results for patients.”