“My energy is back. I have more mobility,” she says. “Without the surgery, I’m sure I’d be taking insulin [for type 2 diabetes] by now. The weight loss surgery has given me a new lease on life!”
These kinds of success stories reflect advances in both weight loss surgery and attitudes about obesity, according to Dr. Bessler.
“Twenty years ago, we were still blaming patients for being overweight, not talking about obesity in medical school, or treating it as a disease,” he explains. “My dad was morbidly obese and I saw how it affected his health and quality of life. I knew I could have an impact.”
As founder of the Comprehensive Obesity and Metabolism Management and Treatment (COMMiT) program, Dr. Bessler combines mindful eating classes and participation in 12-step programs like Overeaters Anonymous with weight loss options such as a removable gastric balloon, nonsurgical stomach reduction, and minimally invasive surgery.
Dr. Bessler says the multipronged approach is the best way to address adult obesity.
“There are so many causes of obesity, like social, environmental, genetic,” he explains. “You need doctors, nurse practitioners, nurses, and social workers to help patients learn different habits to live their lives differently. Without education, we can’t expect people to change.”
Research shows the odds are good that patients who undergo weight loss surgery achieve long-term success. A 2016 study published in JAMA: the Journal of the American Medical Association, followed patients for 10 years after weight loss surgery and found that they had lost 21 percent more of their baseline weight than the nonsurgical group. Only 3.4 percent of the weight loss surgery patients had returned to their baseline weight. In contrast, 55.5 percent of the nonsurgical group had gained back the weight they had lost.
To increase the odds of success, patients undergo rigorous pre-surgery preparation that includes education on the importance of exercise for boosting metabolism; choosing nutritious, filling foods over processed foods; and sipping water instead of sugary beverages. Embracing new habits is essential because, without lifestyle changes, patients are more likely to gain the weight back after surgery, according to Dr. Bessler.
While bariatric surgery is not the right option for everyone, Dr. Bessler says it has the potential to be life-changing.
“Obesity is a chronic disease that is directly related to serious health problems,” he says. “Surgery is a safe and effective treatment and you can get years of your life back by availing yourself of that treatment.”