Is Weight Loss Surgery for You?

If you're significantly overweight and can't seem to shed those extra pounds on your own, you may be tempted to try bariatric, or weight loss, surgery. But before you head for the operating room, it's important to understand that such surgical procedures come with real risks, according to Joshua Leichtberg, MD, of Medicus International, Inc.

Leichtberg, who has more than 20 years of experience in nutrition and the health issues that accompany obesity, stresses that for most people, it's always best to try an aggressive diet and exercise plan before you consider anything more drastic. Only after many failed attempts to lose the weight on your own—and keep it off—is it appropriate to consider surgical options.

The Benefits of Diet and Exercise

"While there are health benefits to losing weight through surgical intervention, the benefits of losing weight naturally are much greater, including both physical and emotional rewards," Leichtberg explains. So before you explore bariatric surgery, you should work with your doctor to develop an effective diet and weight loss plan. You should also undergo a complete physical, including blood work, to rule out any health problems such as hypothyroidism, a dysfunction of the thyroid gland which can cause obesity and many other health issues.  

Who Is a Good Candidate for Bariatric Surgery?

If you're a suitable candidate for bariatric surgery, you'll meet the following criteria:

  • You'll have documented proof that you've tried multiple attempts at diet and exercise, but even when you do lose weight, you can't seem to maintain it on your own.

  • Your doctor will feel secure that you can physically and psychologically tolerate surgery, and that you're prepared for the consequences and post-procedure requirements of that surgery. 

  • Your health is already negatively affected by your weight (for example, you've developed type 2 diabetes or cardiovascular impairment), and the risks of not losing weight are higher than any potential risks you might encounter from the surgery.

Types of Weight Loss Surgery

For those who meet all of these requirements, Leichtberg says that there are different bariatric surgical options, and "I always recommend the least invasive procedure that will do the job." Ideally, a purely restrictive surgery, which involves making the stomach smaller, will be the best choice. If that fails, then a more aggressive surgery that involves removing part of the digestive tract to prevent digestion and absorption may be considered. 

The Best Approach

The main thing to remember is that surgery for weight loss isn't something to enter into lightly. "Bariatric surgery is a risky and life-changing event, to be contemplated only in the most extreme cases," Leichtberg says. "Any doctor you approach about it should certainly do everything in his/her power to find another way. If the doctor does not do this, you should be very concerned, because that is the only correct approach."

Joshua Leichtberg, MD, reviewed this article.