The Truth About Weight Loss Surgery

TRUTHIn the past couple of weeks, I have heard from the friends or family of three different people — all with very similar stories:

They were a member of Size Acceptance community who had made the decision to have weight loss surgery. They didn’t care about being “skinny,” they just wanted to cure their Type 2 Diabetes, or fit on a roller coaster, or shop for clothes in stores instead of online, or get married. Their doctors told them that surgery would help all of that, so they had surgery.

And now, all three of these people have died from complications from the surgery. Now, instead of riding a roller coaster with their mother, a woman’s kids will grow up without her. Instead of shopping for clothes at the mall with her friends, they had to shop for black dresses for her funeral. And instead of having to manage Type 2 Diabetes (something that thin people also do), a woman left her life unfinished and her husband a widower.

And their family and friends contacted me to ask that I tell the truth about weight-loss surgery, so that their deaths won’t be in vain.

People are allowed to do whatever they want with their bodies, regardless of the reason or risk.  That doesn’t change the truth about weight loss surgery: some people are happy with the outcome, some people have horrific lifelong side-effects, some people regain their weight but keep their horrific lifelong side effects, and some people die. And there’s no way to know which group you are going to be in until you are in it.

You can read my full piece about this here.

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12 thoughts on “The Truth About Weight Loss Surgery

  1. I’m sorry you had to write this – sorry you have to write EVERYTHING on this blog. Sorry though I am, I greatly appreciate you!

  2. My condolences to all of the families on their losses.

    Several years ago, I worked at a hospital that considered itself the center of excellence for bariatric surgery. Due to a variety of complications that were, essentially, ignored by the surgeon, a patient died in hospital. This was deemed “an opportunity for improvement” under peer review; I was present the day that that decision was made. I had to see the Employee Assistance counselor for several sessions because I was so traumatized by the group’s determination. The hospital’s chief of Quality found it inappropriate as well … but that didn’t bring the patient back.

    Since that day, I have taken the same tack as you — I support anyone’s right to do whatever they want to their bodies, but I will speak the truth about the dangers of the surgery.

  3. I have met or heard about three people who have had some form of weight loss surgery, although one just had the removable band. One had lost weight at the time I met her, one has not lost the weight she was promised, and one I only knew about because she was my friend’s cousin and died.

    Another friend of mine had to have part of her bowel removed for an actual reason, and while she did lose weight, she constantly struggles to get enough protein and certain other minerals, she can’t eat wheat any more because it makes her ill, and dairy is kind of a toss up.

    Knowing these things, I’d be very scared to have weight loss surgery.

  4. I have a family member who is an MD, who is also a very progressive person, is personal friends with the Obama family, volunteers her time for Doctors without Borders instead of going on vacations and is often a key note speaker at many progressive themed conferences and gatherings.

    She constantly recommends weight loss surgery to her patients. When she married our daughter it was almost like she couldn’t wait for me and my wife to have the surgery “to improve our health.” We had to make it very clear early on that we weren’t interested.

    My point in all of this is that if super progressive people who should otherwise know better are all on board with this surgery. What chance do we have? Drug companies want it, insurance companies want it, society hates us being fat so the pressure us to have.

    I also have to mention my daughters wife again because she fought for me with both medicaid and my insurance company to approve more expensive drug cocktail to treat my Alzheimer’s related dementia and I’ve seen lots of improvements in the past week so while I talked her down, I have to say that she is a good person which is maybe why this WLS surgery is so troubling because good people seem to think its a good answer.

  5. I’m agnostic on the topic of the surgery itself, but assuming you want it, be aware that there are huge differences in mortality and complication rates, based on how many surgeries a center does, and other factors. Sure, the people are nice, sure the doctor is on time…but do your research on the actual outcomes.

  6. I wish there were lots more comprehensive studies on complications and mortality. Apparently many who die after wls are listed as dying from the acute event (i.e., perforated ulcer) without mention of the surgery that caused the event to happen.

    Wls is dangerous major surgery that frequently results in terrible complications. It would be fair if people–all people–who get the surgery really were informed.

  7. I tried looking up the results of weight loss surgery, and adverse effects, but they focused only on infection from the surgery, and said that laparoscopic surgeries had low-risk for infection.

    As for the malnutrition effects, well that was squarely blamed on the patient not conforming to the diet. Gads. I read that diet. I’d be sick every single day – migraines, vomiting… Not good. And that is just my body’s current reaction to that kind of food, with a complete stomach.

    They DID mention that there is a “slight” risk for suicide, but said that is because the patients had a previously undiagnosed mental disorder.

    So, in other words, all these horror stories about people dying after getting weight-loss surgery: It’s their own fault! If they didn’t die from an infection on the operating room table, then it’s their own fault.


    Oh, yes, and “obesity has been proven” (with NO CITATION LISTED) to increase chances of this, that, and the other thing. I’m sorry, but if you’re going to say, in a medical article, that some medical thing has been proven, LIST THE CITATIONS! If you’re going to say “It’s common knowledge,” then you don’t need the citations, but if you’re going to trot out “proven,” then jolly well show the proof!

    Also, “common knowledge” has so often been proven wrong, that it has no place in a professional article.

    It’s maddening, isn’t it?

    1. Was that from the AMSBS? As you’ve found, you can’t trust their numbers, but if you’re curious to know why, here it is: They’re a lobbying group formed by bariatric surgeons to promote their interests, and they’ll almost always come up first when you search for bariatric surgery. I could not for the life of me find out where they were getting their numbers (if someone can tell me, I’d love to know), and the information I finally found from JAMA after some digging paints a much different and more somber picture. I know I just posted that, but here it is again.

      Here’s another on the alleged benefits:

      Unfortunately, it’s JAMA, so the really good stuff is behind the paywall, but at least these provide some interesting counterpoints to the ASMBS’s “Nobody dies from bariatric surgery, ever. And if they did, it would be their fault. And immediately after they’ve lost all the weight they wanted, every disease they ever had disappears and Tom Hiddleston and/or Jennifer Lawrence flies down on a white pegasus to propose to them,” stance.

      1. Awwww. But they both seem so cool. I’d love to hang out with them.

        Is it just me, or have I not witnessed fat-shaming from either of them (when not playing a role, that is)? If they have, I’ve missed it.

  8. In a particular group I am part of, WLS is more common than in the general community, so I know a lot of people who have had this procedure; some of them were NOT actually obese, and some were active substance abusers when they had the surgery. Some have died, some are pretty sick as a result of the surgery, many have regained the weight and some. Despite this, they seem to recommend it to everyone even slightly fat. They have stopped recommending it to me, because I trot out the statistics, and point out the issues that person faces as a result of surgery. And they just come back with “but I am thin, I look great, I am really pleased I had it done” as they rush off to the bathroom to vomit up the spoonful of food they just ate. Most of them hate it that I am physically fit, go to the gym 4 or 5 times a week at least, and eat what I choose to eat.

  9. I wish they’d stop calling it weight loss surgery. The one where they actually cut out a piece of your body is called a gastrectomy when they do it for cancer. It’s treated like a medical issue that you have to deal with for the rest of your life, not a pass to the Happy Land of Skinny People. The one where they put in a removable band should be called something like gastroconstriction, or a mimic gastrectomy. Maybe if doctors had to call it an amputation or a device that mimics the effects of amputation, even when they were running ads for it, fewer people would be fooled.

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