September 22, 2023

Weight loss surgery has a domino effect that leads to better quality of life.

Weight loss surgery, such as sleeve gastrectomy or gastric bypass, can be the first step to halting a cycle of obesity and improving quality of life. Making dietary changes and increasing exercise are traditional methods for weight loss. But for some people who are battling obesity, these solutions aren’t always practical. Mobility challenges brought on by weight gain or other medical conditions can make it difficult to exercise. And restrictive diets can be unrealistic and unsustainable.

When diet and movement methods aren’t working or have resulted in a yo-yo effect (a cycle of losing weight, then gaining it back), patients may want to talk to their physicians about surgical weight loss options.

“Many times, folks just need a little help, a little pull out of the hole that obesity and other diseases have placed them into,” said Vanderbilt Center for Surgical Weight Loss medical director Dr. Matthew Spann.  He explained how surgical weight loss can jump-start weight loss and kick lifestyle changes into high gear.

Initial weight loss

Surgical weight loss helps patients feel full faster. With a sleeve gastrectomy, about 85% of the stomach is removed. In a Roux-en-Y gastric bypass, the size of the stomach that gets exposed to food is reduced, and then the first portion of the small intestine is bypassed. In addition, gastric bypass inhibits some calorie absorption. “Patients lose between 20 to 30 pounds in the first month,” Spann said. “That rapid weight loss drastically changes a lot in your body.”

Better ability to move and walk

One of the first things people experience with this rapid weight loss is improved mobility, Spann said. He’s watched patients go from not being able to walk a complete loop on a track pre-surgery, to walking up to a few miles at a time within a month or so post-surgery. Increased mobility in turn makes it easier to lose more weight and has many health benefits.

Spann also marvels at the intangible quality-of-life improvements patients start to experience, like being able to play with their kids or grandkids in ways they couldn’t before. “That’s well beyond any kind of marker we can measure with a blood test,” he said.

A change in hunger hormones

In addition to making someone feel full after just a few bites of food, weight loss surgery also has a profound impact on hunger hormones. Spann said he has to caution his patients who have undergone a bariatric procedure to remember to eat, especially when they get busy. “Essentially that’s what sets weight loss surgery apart from a strict diet program, where you’re having to constantly fight those urges and hunger,” he said.

These changes in hunger and fullness can also help disrupt a person’s previous relationship with food. “Food could have been a coping mechanism for certain messages or certain stressors in life,” Spann said. With an increase in mobility, a decrease in hunger and an alteration in eating habits, changes in lifestyle are much more likely.

Whole body health and support

What happens in the operating room is just one part of the surgical weight loss procedure, Spann emphasized. “What is equally as important is what we do over in the clinic,” he said. “We do everything from preparing folks for surgery, helping them identify the things that are going to be hard, coming up with action plans before we get to surgery, and then supporting that success afterward.”

At the Vanderbilt Center for Surgical Weight Loss, patients work with a dietitian as well as mental health professionals. Their care team also communicates directly with their primary care provider or specialist. “Part of being a comprehensive care center is being able to offer all these services in one place and being able to maximize the value to the patient,” Spann said.

Advanced care for weight loss

The Vanderbilt Surgical Weight Loss program offers advanced care to help you lose weight and improve your overall health. If you’ve been unable to reach a healthy weight with nutritional and lifestyle improvements alone, surgery might be a better and safer option for achieving your weight loss goals. The team will work with you to develop a personalized care plan combining surgery, nutrition, exercise and psychological support.

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