“Many people would prefer that no one knows about their surgery, if you would like to give an alternative procedure, we recommend gallbladder surgery – the recovery time is similar, and incisions are similar as well” Quite a few people nodded along. I looked around, “whats so shameful or secretive about having weight loss surgery?” I thought to myself.
Sadly, this isn’t the first time I’ve heard of people being ashamed of their weight loss surgery – regardless of the procedure. When I found out I was having surgery, I openly shared my upcoming procedure with anyone who inquired as well as all my coworkers. Who was I fooling? I’m not going to disappear for two weeks and then come back weighing less with ongoing weight loss and spin a web of lies about how I became a gym rat and ate lettuce each day. Sure I could get the false pats on the back and the “wow, you’re such an inspiration, I wish I was as committed as you” accolades. But why?
Before I decided on weight loss surgery, I remembered that I used to be the same way as so many others. I wanted the accolades too. I wanted to be a famous blogger who told others “if I can do it – so can you”, someone who inspired others to give it their all and do it on their own. I, like so many others, thought weight loss surgery was cheating. I would skip over stories of those who lost their weight due to surgery whenever a testimony or weight loss announcement would slide down my social media timeline. I was looking for motivation and what I could emulate to get their success – not a get slim quick gimmick that would involve surgery. Instead, I would lose myself in stories of those who lost their weight using short-term fad diets – as if a temporary diet was more of a legitimate weight loss path than an actual medical procedure with proven weight loss outcomes and increased success if followed as recommended. I never realized it happened so often, people aren’t afraid of saying they’re eating cabbage soup or going to weight watchers, but when it comes to saying – I had weight loss surgery – they shy away from that statement for a variety of reasons. In reality, its nothing to be ashamed of – so why do they hesitate in telling the truth?
The first idea that comes to mind is shame – they may feel ashamed that this is their last resort. Surgery is such an extreme solution, but all other treatment options have failed. You don’t wake up one day, decide to have weight loss surgery, and end up on the operating table the next week. The process takes months, for some, nearly a year. Medical testing, nutritionists, weeks of modified diets leading up to and after surgery, psychotherapy, group therapy, countless doctor appointments, and a complete altering of your life relationships with food and those you love. Surgery is a lifelong commitment that takes time, money, and emotional investment and requires more dedication than many realize. The goal is a lifelong change not a quick way to lose 20 pounds before a wedding. It takes a hell of a lot of work to commit to surgery and to adjust to the lifelong changes afterward, so there is absolutely no need to feel shame in your path. Surgery isn’t a guaranteed path to weight loss, there are those that have the surgery and remain in their same addicted state and continue to eat what they like – just throughout the day rather than multiple binges. Like buying a treadmill – sure surgery can be helpful if you use it – but if you just use that treadmill as an expensive coat rack – or use your surgery to continue to make crappy food choices – you will harvest what you plant and in this case, it would be nothing. So, think of your surgery as a tool, not a gimmick to lose weight. You have no right to feel ashamed of choosing this path, of using this tool available to you. You put in the work, you made this decision for you, now you wear that choice proudly. This is a choice for you, your body, and your future. You’re not taking the easy way, you’re finally taking control. Own it and wear it proudly.
Another reason people seem to dodge the truth is from the inundation of unsolicited advice and opinions that crop up from strangers and loved ones when it comes to getting surgery. Like announcing you’re pregnant, the overwhelming amount of “advice” you get from others is enough to make you wish you would have kept your mouth shut. In my case, some of the people who would cry about my weight and beg me to get healthy were the same ones that cast the most doubt on my journey. These people love you and want you to lose weight but not in such an extreme manner. “Just work out and eat right” they would say as if those options never crossed my mind in the 25 years of my weight loss journey. Or “why don’t you try Weight Watchers again or just eat in moderation.” To get something you’ve never had, you’ve got to do something you’ve never done – I’m sure that’s a quote from someone famous – and it holds true here. You’ve tried it all. Sure, some people make a last-ditch effort and it works, others – fall into the same cycle they’ve always experienced – ending up back at square one and often heavier than before they started. I had to explain this quite a few times to a loved one – of course, I would prefer to not have surgery. I would love to make a last-ditch effort to see if another way would yield results….but I want to live, and I desperately needed help. If I was anorexic – I would be in the hospital with feeding tubes – you wouldn’t trust me to conquer this on my own. You would encourage me to take as much help as I could to survive – because in the end, my very life is on the line. I would rather take extreme measures and live rather than to put my loved ones through the pain again of watching someone they love pass away through preventable illness. I explained that I needed them to trust me and my medical team to do what is right. To trust me while I take the steps to help me enjoy the rest of my life and to finally make long-lasting changes to help shift the odds in my favor to lose my weight for good. No, we didn’t agree, but at least I was able to stand up for myself and my decision. In the end, they knew nothing they could say would prevent me from moving forward. I could not and cannot change someone’s mind on what they think is best for me. But what I can do is see the situation from their perspective – that the last thing they want to do is lose me and as terrifying as surgery can be for the person being operated on – it can be equally terrifying for those who would be left behind if the worst happened. Just keep in mind, you must decide what is right for you. Whether you have the surgery or not, one thing is certain – another year will pass, and your body will continue to change – whether it improves or continues to deteriorate from your obesity is up to you. For me, I couldn’t waste another year of “trying”.
In addition to the unsolicited advice and opinions from loved ones, you also have the advice from others that may or may not be with your best intentions in mind. These individuals can be secret saboteurs that will pop up later in your journey to attempt to sabotage your efforts (I’ll write more on this later) or make snide comments about how you should just put in the work like everyone else to lose weight. These people are undercover (though sometimes overt) assholes and who often struggle with their own self-esteem or weight issues. Or they may be completely foreign to the struggle of weight loss of the magnitude we face. They may have lost 20 pounds through Atkins and now think that you should do the same because – “if they can do it so can you”. They may think that they mean well, but, they’re…well…just plain mean. Their comments can be rude, off-putting, degrading, and shadier than a street lined with a tree canopy. You can never tell their true intentions, but more than likely, they’re looking to take little jabs at you that reflect their own jealousy or unhappiness. Remember – this is for you, not them. Their opinions and comments need have no bearing on your life or decisions – whether it be weight loss surgery or deciding what shoes to wear. This is your life and your choices. Brush their comments off and move on. You can gain weight or lose weight – but their crappy attitude will remain the same regardless because their issues are with themselves – not you.
So, whether it be the disguised feeling of inadequacy that you couldn’t lose weight on your own or the unsolicited advice or shade from others regarding your surgery – none of these should prevent you sharing your story and your testimony with others. You’ve come a long way, you’ve put up with a lot of shit. You’ve struggled, you’ve cried, you’ve tried it all. Now you’re deciding to take charge of your life and take advantage of all the help available to create a healthier vessel for yourself that will guide you on the rest of your journey through life. That is absolutely nothing to be ashamed of, instead, wear it with pride. You’re getting surgery – and most importantly – you’re doing this for you.