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Bariatric Surgery: 10 Common Myths

If you’re considering bariatric (weight-loss) surgery, then you probably have many questions and face a fair bit of conflicting advice. Google delivers a gazillion search results, your sister’s colleague’s cousin wants to tell you about the side effects of her bariatric surgery and your best friend saw something on TV that said it was a waste of time anyway.

To help you separate fact from fiction, we’ve listed the most common myths about bariatric surgery.

1. It’ll leave a big scar

That may have been true in the past but most bariatric surgery is now done by laparoscopy. That means it’s key-hole surgery, which may result in faster recovery time and leaves smaller scars.

2. Health insurance won’t cover it

Your health insurance is there to help with the costs of the medical care you need. Obesity is now recognised as a disease and it is appropriate to seek treatment for it. If your doctor recommends weight-loss surgery, then talk to your health fund – many of them do cover weight-loss surgery.

If yours doesn’t, or if you don’t have health insurance, then you may need to take out a policy that covers bariatric surgery and serve the usual 12-month waiting period. During that time, we’ll work with you on weight-loss strategies in preparation for your op.

Alternatively, if you wish to self-finance, you may also be able to access your superannuation in order to fund your surgery.  You may choose to apply for funding to cover the entire cost of the procedure or part of the cost.

We will be happy to provide you with information on accessing your super funds, alternatively you can learn more at www.apra.gov.au.

3. You can’t have kids afterwards

You certainly can try for kids afterwards but we recommend waiting for approximately a year. Let’s remember that obesity affects your fertility, making it harder to conceive – that’s true for men as well as women. People who’ve had bariatric surgery and got their weight back to a healthy level often find that their fertility improves. And this time, a swelling belly is cause for celebration!

4. You’ll gain all the weight back

Not according to a Swedish study of over 2,000 obese people who had bariatric surgery. Compared to a similar group of obese people who did not have surgery, those people who did were much more successful in controlling their weight over the next 20 years. The surgery group also lived longer and had lower rates of diabetes, heart attack, stroke and cancer.

5. You’ll end up unable to absorb vitamins and minerals

There is some truth to this one. Bariatric surgery will reduce the amount of food you eat and, depending on the procedure, may mean that the food bypasses certain areas of your body that are good at absorbing nutrients. That’s why we test your vitamin and mineral levels after surgery and recommend supplements when necessary.

It’s important to remember that many obese people are already missing some important vitamins and minerals due to a poor diet. So, some nutritional deficiencies after surgery are just the continuation of a pre-existing problem. Identifying this and taking appropriate supplements may mean you’re in better health than before.

6. Choosing surgery shows a lack of self-discipline

Does it? The tendency to stay thin or gain weight is strongly influenced by our genetics, according to a recent study at the University of Cambridge. It is definitely harder for some people to maintain a healthy weight than it is for others. Most of our patients have tried different diets and exercise regimes and are still struggling to keep the weight off. It can be a lonely and difficult journey, made worse by society’s judgemental attitudes.

Weight-loss surgery gives you a head start. You’ll definitely need to pay attention to your diet and activity levels before and after surgery but you’ve got a fighting chance now.

7. Surgery is risky

It’s true that all surgery carries risks but bariatric surgery is usually only linked to minor complications now. Some people compare it to minor procedures like having a gallbladder removed.

Let’s also remember that obesity is very, very risky, putting you at increased risk of diabetes, cancer and heart disease.

8. It’s a pointless cosmetic procedure

It isn’t. It’s medically indicated surgery for people struggling with the disease of obesity. And it can significantly improve medical outcomes. In the Swedish Obesity Study, 72% of patients with type 2 diabetes were no longer diabetic two years after their surgery. One review of the evidence concluded that bariatric surgery ‘results in a profound decrease in risk for coronary heart disease and overall mortality’.

Yes, it’ll probably improve your appearance too. But there are far more significant benefits.

9. You’ll be living on liquids forever

No, you won’t – it’s only at the beginning. In the first days after surgery we give you clear fluids to keep you hydrated without irritating your stomach. Then you progress to other forms such as thin soup and unsweetened juice.  Then we start introducing pureed foods. Several weeks later you can begin to reintroduce soft foods to your diet such as soft boiled eggs and ground meat. After approximately eight weeks we start looking at reintroducing solid food into your diet.

You may notice some differences though. Some people find that they can no longer tolerate carbonated drinks, spicy foods or caffeine.

It’s important to note that the rate in which food is reintroduced will be different for each person and will be determined by your surgeon and dietitian.

10. You can’t drink alcohol ever again

We recommend that you avoid alcohol completely for the first six months after bariatric surgery but you can drink after that if you’re careful.

You may become intoxicated much more quickly after bariatric surgery and you’re also more prone to low blood sugar (alcohol makes this worse). Alcohol is full of empty calories which may undermine your weight-loss efforts. In addition, you may be at risk for transferring addictive behaviour from food to drink.   

If, after six months, you want to drink again, try to keep it occasional and make sure you eat while you’re drinking to slow down its absorption. Never drive if you’ve had alcohol. If you’re beginning to turn to alcohol to manage difficult feelings in the same way you used to turn to food, then talk to your doctor.

It’s good to do your research and ask questions before deciding whether to have bariatric surgery. If you’d like to gain control of your weight, then please make an appointment so we can discuss whether surgery is a good option for you and answer any questions you have about it.

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