Is Weight-Loss Surgery for You?

As most health experts can attest, the best way to lose weight is to exercise regularly and eat a healthy diet. But that doesn't always work—just ask the 129.6 million Americans, or 64 percent of the population, who are currently overweight or obese.

Understanding the Procedure

Weight-loss surgery, also known as bariatric surgery, can be a solution for obese people who are unable to maintain a healthy weight through diet and exercise. There are generally two types of procedures currently used to promote weight loss, both of which affect the normal digestive process:

  • Restrictive surgery. This procedure removes or closes a section of the stomach to limit the amount of food it can hold, which causes patients to feel fuller.
  • Malabsorptive surgery. This surgery shortens the small intestine or changes its connection to the stomach, limiting the amount of food that can be digested or absorbed.

Assessing the Risks

At the same time, these procedures can pose serious health risks. That's why, according to the Mayo Clinic, bariatric surgery is generally only recommended for patients who are both psychologically and medically ready for the surgery and meet one of the following criteria:

  • The patient has a body mass index (BMI) of 40 or higher—a number that indicates extreme obesity.
  • The patient has a BMI of 35 to 39.9 (obesity) and also has a serious weight-related health problem, such as diabetes or high blood pressure.

According to experts, being medically and psychologically ready for surgery means being willing and able to follow through with recommendations made by a team of health-care experts, which often includes a physician, a dietician, a psychologist, and a surgeon.

Since weight-loss surgery isn't a cure-all, it's important for people who undergo it to make changes in their diet and exercise patterns. Remember, having surgery doesn't mean the weight will just stay off.

Alternatives to Surgery

If weight-loss surgery isn't for you, there are other ways to get healthy, lose weight, and feel good about your body. The Mayo Clinic offers several tips for setting and meeting weight-loss goals:

  • Make sure your goals are realistic, specific, and measurable. For example, I will walk at least 30 minutes a day, five days a week.
  • Use mental images to increase your chance of success. Envision the benefits of exercise in ways that appeal to you.
  • When you have a setback, don't give up entirely; just start fresh the next day. Remember, setbacks are a natural part of making behavioral changes.

For many people, weight-loss surgery is the only answer to weight loss and is extremely successful. Others may benefit from a different approach or from setting more realistic weight-loss goals. Your best bet is to speak with your physician to discuss what's best for you.