Weight-loss surgery patients have to commit to new lifestyle
Michael S. Wirtz / Philadelphia Inquirer
Debbi Cook prepares a meal with her granddaughter, Emma, at her Norristown, Pa., home. Cook had bariatric surgery in 2012 and has lost 190 pounds so far.
One of Cook's typical meals consists of 3 ounces of pork, 1/2 cup of green beans, sweet peppers and potatoes, and three strawberries
She was 5-foot-8 and 349 pounds, and she'd already had diabetes for 37 years. She just couldn't face one more shot.
"I really honestly would have rather died," the Norristown, Pa., woman said.
Cook, 57, chose to have gastric bypass surgery at Mercy Suburban Hospital in East Norriton, Pa., 11 months ago.
The most complex of the three common weight-loss procedures, it also has the best record of alleviating or even reversing diabetes.
Cook knew, though, that she'd have to drastically change her behavior. Worried that she'd blow it later if she couldn't eat right, she began the restrictive postsurgery diet before her doctor reduced the size of her stomach and bypassed part of her intestine.
One by one, she had a last meal with her favorite foods -- fish and chips, Coca-Cola, ice cream, mac and cheese, homemade carrot cake, Yorkshire pudding, a Bloomin' Onion -- as if they were dying, beloved relatives.
"This was the funeral for that food," she said.
She lost 40 pounds before surgery and 150 more afterward. She's still losing.
New Jersey Gov. Christie's decision to have the laparoscopic adjustable gastric band or lap band has focused attention on weight-loss procedures.
But experts and surgery veterans said patients still must change their ways.
"A lot of times people don't focus on this, and it's probably the most important part," said David Tichansky, director of minimally invasive and bariatric surgery at Thomas Jefferson University Hospital.
The really successful patients also exercise intensely.
About 20 percent lose less than expected or regain weight, said David Sarwer, a University of Pennsylvania psychologist who counsels weight-loss surgery patients.
People return to the "eating behaviors that got them in trouble in the first place," he said.
In the lap-band procedure, a band filled with saline is wrapped around the upper part of the stomach.
This forms a small pouch and restricts entry of food into the rest of the stomach, but doesn't change digestion. Patients can "cheat" by eating soft, high-calorie foods.
It is becoming less popular, while sleeve gastrectomy is in ascendancy; surgeons staple the stomach vertically, reducing its size by 85 percent.
In gastric bypass, the size of the stomach is greatly reduced, and it's attached to the middle of the small intestine. This limits calorie absorption.
The duodenal switch, which is done less often, combines gastrectomy with a longer bypass.
All the procedures make patients feel full quickly. All but the lap band also reduce the release of hormones that signal hunger.
On average, patients lose the most with the bypasses and the least with the lap band. The band is reputed to have the most weight regain, but Sarwer said studies had been equivocal. It also produces the slowest weight loss.
Patients can undermine any of the operations by eating too much of the wrong foods.
Michelle Porter, a registered dietitian who works with weight-loss surgery patients at Jefferson, said patients' diets are similar regardless of the procedure. They are to eat three small meals a day.
By small, she means that each meal totals about 4 ounces or ½ cup. Three ounces of that should be lean protein. Many use protein supplements. They don't drink fluids with meals and aren't supposed to drink alcohol.
Jaime Ponce, president of the American Society for Metabolic and Bariatric Surgery, gives patients the rule of 20s: Chew each bite 20 times. Put the fork down for 20 seconds. Stop eating in 20 minutes.
Patients eat about 1,000 calories a day at one year after surgery, and a few hundred more daily after that.
The new way of eating changes patients' relationship with food, and with friends and family.
"It does kind of take their world and flip it upside down," Porter said.
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