Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Mixed messages

I was in a car accident in August of 2000, a backseat passenger in a car that rear-ended one car, then was rear-ended by another one. Before the accident I was fairly fit and healthy - after the accident I gained a good deal of weight. The pre-accident, post-accident change may have been more subtle, but the way I perceive it, I went from fit and healthy to overweight, and it felt like it happened overnight.

About a year of being overweight, feeling unhealthy not looking after myself properly, and, I won't lie, being unhappy with my appearance, I decided to do something about it. I didn't notice how much the weight crept on until I saw photos of myself and was shocked at my appearance. Certainly there are different views about whether "fat" and "unhealthy" go together, but I felt both (yeah, social constructs about "fat" may have played a role there).

I'd always eaten relatively healthy, but I upped it a notch, and started paying more attention to what I ate. I started exercising more- whether it was just walks along the waterfront, running, or using a nordic track I bought cheaply off someone who had used it for the last 10 years as a convenient clothes rack. All little steps to try to get myself moving, feeling better, and back to a healthier weight for my frame.

In time I lost about 60 lbs. It was gradual, and slow (though there are periods that I lost the weight quickly, and frustrating periods where my weight was stagnant) and I felt better, more in shape and more like myself. I maintained that weight loss for about a year, and in the last year I've gained a bit back (hence Dave kicking my butt on a run this morning).

I'd be lying if I told you I don't have a host of body issues that could stretch to the moon in 8 point font, single spaced, but I don't feel as badly about myself as I did at my worst. Being told that I'm beautiful and gorgeous by my husband several times a day doesn't hurt, but I don't fully believe it myself. So, with that little backgrounder on me I thought I'd share an article I read in the paper this morning gave me serious cause for concern. It's worth a read.

I understand that people who are truly, morbidly obese and who are putting their health at risk because of their obesity can benefit from gastric bypass surgery. It's certainly not without its risks, but I have no doubt it can make a big difference for the right candidate. I also know it's not a shortcut, and it does require some serious work to lose weight with gastric bypass surgery. It is also a permanent condition and drastically changes how people can eat, it requires they take vitamins to ensure their bodies are nourished, and it has the possibility of severe side effects, up to, and including death.

Another form of the surgery is an adjustable gastric band surgery, where the effect is similar to a bypass (ie small stomach, can't consume too many calories) but it's achieved through a band that reduces the size of the stomach instead of stapling a new smaller stomach together.

The article that gave me serious cause for concern is talking about a 17 year old girl (because, while I thought I was an adult at 17, I really wasn't) who is only slightly overweight getting a laproscopic band.

Now, to be fair there are fewer incisions, and it's less drastic, but it's still life altering surgery, which with it comes serious potential for things to go wrong.

What bothers me is not only that she's only slightly overweight, but that it seems as though it's a first resort solution when the other work just seems too hard.

I may be reading into it too much, but the article details how she's tried dieting but just gains the weight back, and that it's not a chemical problem for her (ie she's not resistant to losing weight with her body fighting her all the way). All this leads me to conclude "it's just that it's so darn hard, and who really wants to get all sweaty anyway, so I'll have surgery." The article quotes her as saying she's unwilling to face life as an adult overweight, but rather than hitting the gym consistently and eating healthy in consultation with professionals, this kid, with a parent's endorsement no less, has gone under the knife because she's a few extra pounds overweight. The surgery itself cost her (and more accurately, likely, her parents) $16,000. Money which could fund her education, given her a solid start in life.

And a parent is standing by saying "oh it'll be great for her." When did the easy way out become so acceptable? When did "a few pounds overweight" become such a problem that people would deal with by endangering their lives with surgery? This to me is an abdication of parental responsibility. Rather than saying "hey we can do this together" she says "hey why don't we get matching bands on our stomachs and the weight will just fall off itself." You read that right, mom apparently also has a few extra pounds and elected to have the same surgery herself.

I'll be the first to admit losing weight isn't a piece of cake (For the record I actually found the lack of cake quite disconcerting in the whole weight loss process) but it's do-able and maintaining a healthy body is a skill people should have at all sizes and ages. Not to sound like some overly enthusiastic gym teacher, think of the self-esteem this girl could build improving her strength, doing well at sports, achieving goals from hard work and learning some self discipline. Instead, she has a device that causes her body to tell her she's full before she actually is and will lose weight by sheer lack of calorie consumption. I wonder if the popular girls will like her even when her hair is falling out because she hasn't been able to get enough vitamins absorbed from the food she eats.

What are we as a society teaching this girl? What makes it okay to tell her that rather than getting her heart in shape, looking after her body, and learning proper nutrition and exercise, she should really just take the easy way out and get a little band in her stomach. Is she really better dead on an operating table than fat? Why does "fat" carry such a strong social stigma people would rather risk death than be considered it? Why has she grown up to think that losing weight will allow her to get along with the popular girls and all the boys will like her? How can a few extra pounds be so awful that surgery is a risk she'll take? At seventeen can she even really be charged to make such a decision?

Anyone else troubled by this? I hope it's not just me.


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Jenny said...

It's not just you. I feel exactly the same way. At that age she hasn't even learned if she has the ability to get the weight off in a healthier way.

Awful, awful, awful.

ElaineMI said...

My dad had gastric bypass surgery 21 yrs ago, when it was still in it's infantcy. While he doesn't weigh as much as he did when he got the surgery, he is still significally overweight. I considered it for awhile. Frustrated at my own efforts to lose this weight. I had even made the appointment with the doctor, after filling out all the forms and the questionaire. Then I read that the deaths that occur over this surgery is much higher then being reported. So I deep sixed that idea.

I'm back at Weight Watchers, trying hard to lose the weight. My biggest hindrance? I blew out my knee while walking (and losing weight). Had surgery on it back in May/06 and it's still not right. Still gives me a lot of pain. So, right now, just struggling to lose enough weight that maybe when I try walking again, it won't be painful.

At 17, this girl hasn't 'tried' to lose the weight. She's dallied with it and then decided it was too difficult and she wanted a quick and easy solution so she wouldn't be held accountable for her lack of weight loss in the conventional matter. I, personally, think she and her parents are nutz

Heather said...

oooh my first spam comment!

Jenny: Phew! Glad I'm not alone on my soapbox. :)

elainemi: You're right about it not being easy. Hope your knee is better.

Mrs. Chicky said...

I agree, that is troubling. Gastric bypass, stomach stapling, nose jobs, breast implants... all before the age of 18 is crazy! The body has a lot more maturing to do at that age. I can't believe there are doctors who are willing to perform those surgeries on kids so young.

TB said...

I also agree with you fully on this matter. Like Eleinemi, my stepmother had this surgery in its infancy and suffered severe side effects, while she did lose some weight, she is still overweight and in addition has not been in good health since the surgery.

I have never been morbidly obese so I'm sure I don't fully understand the lure of surgery over a healthy lifestyle, but it seems like we need to advocate healthy eating and exercise BEFORE resorting to surgery, especially in young, otherwise healthy individuals. Especially because surgery is not the magic bullet that people are led to believe and those who choose it are still going to have to maintain major lifestyle changes. If they are not willing to do that, they have no business going under the surgeon's knife.

Great post.

roro said...

Great post! Yeah, I can't get behind anyone that young having a procedure like that.

There was a time when I thought the gastric bypass or similar surgery would be a great relief because I wouldn't have to think about food all the time. But then one of Katr's friends had the surgery and came up for a visit and ALL SHE COULD TALK ABOUT WAS FOOD. How much she could have, how many calories, how many pills she had to take. It was like listening to someone with a severe eating disorder. She went on about how great the surgery was but, almost a year later, still couldn't walk a block without needing to sit down.

Both Katr and I are large and in charge and I know we'd both thought about surgery - after her friend left, we decided that maybe we could cut out pizza and go to the gym more.

sunshine scribe said...

Wow. Thanks for sharing this. And, no, its not you. That is really very troubling. She is too young for that surgery. End of story.

DebbieDoesLife said...

I get so sick and tired of the whole weight issue. I can't put anything in my mouth without feeling guilty about it. I think our whole society has gone crazy over this stuff.

There was a girl in my son's class that at age 15 had a nose job. I heard her mother had already had one. I thought that was shocking. The girl was ALREADY a cheerleader so it wasn't like she was all ugly or anything.

wordgirl said...

I feel the same way you do. Slightly overweight is really a matter of self-discipline and I hate to see someone (also young)resort to life-threatening surgery to fix what Weight Watchers could do so easily.

Now a 300 lb person? Different matter.

Heather said...

Mrs. Chicky: I think the almighty dollar has a great deal to do with whether a patient can be helped in this case.

TB: I had a friend who had gastric bypass surgery and she had some pretty severe complications - she's lost a great deal of weight (at least last time I saw her) but it shocked me as to how drastic the surgery is.

roro: Exactly - I had a friend who had the surgery too and the side effects were shocking to me. Hope Katr is doing a good job scouting out the new pizza locales in Vancouver!

sunshine scribe: I'd add "and any parent who endorses it is bonkers"

DebbieDoesLife: I get tired of it too - and agree our society has gone crazy about it, but all too often I eschew any guilt I have. Life's too short to worry about the little things. I probably should care more.

wordgirl: I still think I'd prefer the 300 lb person start walking and give their body what it needs.