As a man who formerly weighed over 500 pounds, I've been thinking a lot about New Jersey Governor Chris Christie's recent announcement that he had lap band surgery. And I'm not alone: The governor's surgery has also been a hot topic among many of my weight-loss friends on Facebook and Twitter, and my fellow diet workshop participants in Newton.
As a “New Jersey Boy" myself (born and raised in Carteret, Exit 12 on the Turnpike), and because I still have many friends who live in the Garden State, I like to keep tabs on what’s happening there. At first my friends and I felt Mr. Christie was in a state of denial. I believe he was once quoted as saying he was the healthiest “overweight” man you’d ever meet. Many of us who attend diet workshops know this feeling. You are overweight but still feel it’s not a problem. Like an alcoholic who claims they can stop at any time.
We would love to sit down with him and talk with him about “The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly” of weight loss. I mention this because back in November of 2011 I weighed over 533 pounds. In a little over a year, I have lost 322 pounds. I now weigh 210. My goal weight is 200 pounds, so I am only 10 pounds away from reaching it. But it took a great deal of hard work to get to where I am now.
I know this sounds like every other Cinderella story out there but through the years I have tried every diet in the book. From counting calories, to getting food shipped to me, to attending overeaters classes; you name it and I have tried it. Sure, I would lose the weight for a while and I would be healthy, but then it would all come back with a vengeance and I would be even worse then I was before.
My epiphany came when I met a friend I had not seen in a long time. I literally did not recognize her because she’d lost so much weight. I asked her what she’d done to transform herself. That’s when she told me about bariatric weight-loss surgery.
There are two main types of this surgery (and I'm not counting lap band surgery here). With the bariatric procedure they surgically alter your stomach into a small pouch (Roux-en-Y) or a gastric by pass sleeve. I won’t go into all the details — but suffice it to say I got the pouch.
Each month at Newton Wellesley Hospital, I attend these free diet workshops with other patients who are having or have had the surgery. The nurses, nutritionists, doctors, and fellow patients teach each other how to eat right and exercise properly. We all continue to attend the workshops to stay current on what types of vitamins are available and how stay healthy. The surgery is a tool — not a cure and not a goal. In the right hands and used in the correct way this tool can make your life so much better. I am proof of that. Used incorrectly it can be as useless as any other fad diet out there.
This brings me back to the “Good, The Bad, and The Ugly” of bariatric surgery. To me, “The Ugly” is yo-yo dieting or, even worse, denying you have a problem. For years I felt I was a Healthy Fat Guy, just like Gov. Christie. None of those diets worked for me.
“The Bad,” I think, is lap band surgery. Although this is personal opinion, it is backed up by statistics on the failure rate between lap band and the other types of bariatric surgery. I did consider lap band at first because it is not permanent. But that is precisely the problem.
It is a stop-gap method of losing weight and it does not alter your perceptions of food or even how your body processes food in a permanent way. Once the band is removed, the problem returns with a vengeance in many cases. You’re also talking about introducing a foreign object into your body. Not always a good thing. I have seen several cases where folks have had the lap bands removed because it caused them harm. There is a young lady in my diet workshop that had that very situation occur.
Lastly, there is “The Good” (and again this is my personal opinion), which is bariatric weight loss surgery. Again it’s a tool that they teach you to use and if used properly you get results — permanent results. It’s taken me 50 years to figure this out.
Ultimately I wish Gov. Christie success in whatever method he chooses to lose weight and get healthier. I just wish my friends and I could sit down and talk with him. I think we could convince him there is another, better way.
Russ Hannagan an Executive Director for a Public Access TV Station in East Bridgewater Massachusetts. He and his friends belong to a weight loss "buddies" group on Facebook where they share thoughts, ideas and weight loss stories.
This program aired on May 9, 2013. The audio for this program is not available.