Over the past decade, a slew of celebrities including singer Carnie Wilson, talk-show personality Star Jones, and NBC weatherman Al Roker have elected to undergo gastric bypass surgery to help manage their weight. The procedure, which involves stapling off a section of the stomach to create a pouch that is then connected directly to the small intestine so you feel full after consuming a small amount of food and absorb fewer calories, is performed on more than 100,000 people in the United States each year. Are you a good candidate? Ask yourself the following questions:

  • Are you morbidly obese? Gastric bypass surgery is not a cosmetic procedure; it's a serious operation for people with severe weight problems. If your body mass index (BMI), a ratio determined by dividing your weight in kilograms with the square of your height in meters, defines you as overweight (25 to 29.9) or obese (30 to 39.9), then generally you would not make a good candidate for the surgery. It is often reserved for people who are morbidly obese, which is indicated by a BMI at or above 40. Since morbid obesity, which affects one in 50 Americans, can lead to life-threatening illnesses such as diabetes and cardiovascular disease, sometimes an invasive procedure such as a gastric bypass is a necessary preventative step.
  • Have you exhausted all other options? Surgery should never be thought of as an alternative to diet and exercise. You should only contemplate gastric bypass surgery if a few years of dutifully following a regimen of healthy eating and physical activity fails to bring about appreciable results.
  • Have you acquainted yourself with the risks? If you haven't, here are a few: One in 200 to 300 gastric bypass procedures results in death. If you smoke and are planning to have the operation, you stand a greater chance of developing potentially lethal blood clots. A leak could emerge among the staples, a hernia could develop around the incision, or food could move too quickly through your small intestine. You also increase the potential of vitamin deficiencies, excessive insulin production, and gallstones.
  • Are you committed to living healthier? About 5 to 20 percent of people who undergo gastric bypass surgery are unable to successfully lose a significant amount of weight, like Notre Dame coach Charlie Weis. According to a recent report published in the Archives of Surgery, some of these failures result from diabetes. Others do not properly prepare themselves for life after gastric bypass surgery, which can mark a radical departure from their former ways and entails chewing food thoroughly, eating smaller portions, and exercising daily.

If you have answered yes to these questions, your next step is to consult your primary-care physician. He or she can determine whether you are a good candidate for gastric bypass surgery or another weight-loss operation, such as adjustable gastric banding or biliopancreatic diversion, and then refer you to a surgeon specializing in the procedure. What's most important is that you fully educate yourself, really think through your decision, and seek the guidance of accredited professionals.