This blog post was originally published in the Huffington Post on May 12, 2016. It was my most popular post of the year with over 4,000 Shares and Likes. With the new year approaching, I wanted to do a “rewind” and share this again for those of you who didn’t get to see it the first time around.
The other day something happened that made me stop and think. Why had I automatically replied “no” when someone asked if I had weight-loss surgery? Without thinking a second, that was my reaction. But the truth is that I did have the surgery. I didn’t realize how uncomfortable I was admitting that. Only my close friends, family and, of course, the people who read my blog and Facebook pages knew.
Yes, you read that right. I’ve been sharing my story in a blog and with the Bariatric Community on Facebook. That is why I was so shocked that my first response was to answer “no” so quickly. It was like I felt ashamed to let people where I live know that I had weight-loss surgery. The more I thought about it, the more I realized that was indeed the case.
I’m not alone either. There is a secret society of weight-loss achievers who are afraid to let anyone know that they have had surgery. Of course, there are some people who will shout it from the rooftops, which is great. But, there are an awful lot of us who would rather keep it a private matter.
Why not keep it private? We don’t go around sharing all our medical conditions with everyone around us. So, it makes sense that not everyone would want to share this as well. But, I wanted to dig further to see why I felt ashamed for getting the help I needed. What I found was a bit disturbing and also answered my question.
The University of New South Wales in Australia conducted a study. They found, “Participants rated an individual who lost weight through surgery as significantly more lazy and sloppy, less competent and sociable, less attractive, and having less healthy eating habits.” They went on to conclude that participants viewed weight-loss surgery patients as less responsible for their weight loss.
Another study by Robert A. Carles published in the Springer’s Obesity Surgery journal found that employers were less likely to hire someone who lost weight with surgery instead of diet and exercise. The reason, the study found, is weight-loss surgery was often regarded as a “quick fix” and obese people were regarded as “lazy and undisciplined.”
Those studies were not the only things I found. There are pages of bariatric patients being ridiculed for their decisions to have surgery. Here is a quote from one article in particular in the Miami New Times: “Someone who decides that having a surgeon cut them open and rearrange or modify their insides is easier than eating less and exercising more? It’s just lazy. And if you’re too lazy to cut calories and exercise, you don’t deserve to be skinny.” The writer then goes on to say, “Before I get a ton of comments about how some people are so obese they don’t have a choice — chill, please. You’re the type of person who enables drug addicts and criminals. . . . if the fattest man on Earth can say no to food and yes to exercise, so can all of the self-indulgent, overweight, spineless jellyfish who take the easy way out.”
People definitely have some strong views about weight-loss surgery being an easy way out or that weight loss doesn’t really count if surgery was involved. I had to stop reading because I was getting physically sick from seeing what ill-informed know-it-alls were spewing across the web.
In 2013, the AMA voted to declare obesity a disease. Obesity is so much more than diet and exercise. People who have not been obese have no idea what we have been going through for most of our lives. How sad that some people can be so judgmental. Obese people are judged for being overweight, and then they are judged for the way they lose their weight. Some people, obviously, just can’t be pleased. But, why are they so hateful?
What the general population doesn’t understand is that weight-loss surgery is a tool to help obese people lose weight. Without changing our diet and habits, the surgery doesn’t work. So to say it’s the easy way out is simplistic and misguided. Besides the physical surgery, there is a mental change that has to occur. Old habits need to be replaced with new healthy habits. And, emotional issues need to be addressed. Yes, the process even includes changing what we eat and how we move our bodies. This good old “gold” standard of diet and exercise is included. However, it is only one piece of the puzzle.
If everyone knew that weight-loss surgery is not a magic pill, maybe they wouldn’t be so quick to judge those who need the surgery. It would be like telling a construction worker that using a power saw is cheating because they are not sawing wood by hand. Or, that using a washing machine to clean their clothes doesn’t count because they should be using a washboard instead. Or, if you drive an automatic transmission, you are lazy because everyone knows that driving a stick-shift transmission is the only way a car should be driven. How absurd would that be?
Like using any “tool,” the results of weight loss surgery vary. Some people use the tool better than others. But, from my experience, it not only changed my life, it saved my life. My father always told me that with the proper tool you can do anything. Now I know it’s true.
Will you help me to educate people? Weight-loss surgery isn’t the easy way out. The stigma is real and people who absolutely require the surgery need all the help they can get to become healthy, productive people again.
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