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Gastric Bypass Surgery: When Dieting Just Isn’t Enough

Posted by on Wednesday, May 2nd, 2012

Star Jones Underwent Gastric Bypass Surgery

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I have a very good friend named Susan. Susan has been obese her whole life. When we were growing up, she was always the butt of jokes and the center of negative attention. We’ve been friends since we were about five years old and I’ve watched her struggle with her weight for decades. It’s heartbreaking. Susan is compulsive about food. She was just born that way. On top of her compulsion, she has an excruciatingly slow metabolism. It’s a very dangerous combination.

About six years ago, Susan called me up to ask what I thought about gastric bypass surgery. At the time I didn’t know anything about it. I thought it was something only extremely obese people did—people with no other options. I explained this to Susan and she broke down in tears. She didn’t have any other options, she said. In the previous year, her blood pressure had gone way up, her cholesterol was high, she was pre-diabetic, and she could barely make it up the two flights of stairs to her attic office. Food was a constant source of pain. She had no control. She’d tried everything and nothing worked: diet pills, prescription medication, exercise, strict food rules, even meditation. I hadn’t realized how dire things had gotten. I went with Susan to her first consultation and learned everything I could about gastric bypass surgery.

Illustration of a Roux-en-Y Gastric Bypass Procedure

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What I learned was alarming, to say the least. There were several different surgery options but Susan opted for Roux-en-Y, a procedure in which the surgeon cuts across the top of the stomach, sealing it off to make a small pouch, the size of a walnut. The surgeon then cuts the small intestine and connects it to the tiny pouch. After the surgery, food bypasses the stomach entirely. The pouch can only hold about an ounce of food. The stomach typically holds three pints.

The Surgical Team at Mark's Hospital Performing a Gastric Bypass

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The surgery was successful but afterwards Susan struggled mightily with food. The surgery hadn’t erased her compulsions or her cravings. She made herself sick so often in those first few months, but the weight did start to come off. There are so many risks to this surgery. Susan is at a much higher risk for bowel obstruction, gallstones, hernias, stomach perforation, ulcers, vomiting, and malnutrition. She has to take a long list of vitamin supplements for the rest of her life. But, all risks aside, Susan has been transformed. She is so much happier with herself and with the world. In her case, so far, the surgery has been a success. I hope she stays healthy and happy for the rest of her days.

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