Debunked: 8 Myths and the Truth about Bariatric Surgery
Bariatric surgery is a life-changing procedure that requires a commitment to significant lifestyle changes. For that reason, it’s important to be fully informed about the surgery before deciding to go forward.
It’s also important not to let misinformation about bariatric surgery affect your decision. The following common myths, and others, are also addressed by the American Society for Metabolic and Bariatric Surgery.
When in doubt, talk to your health care provider. He or she can answer your questions and point you to reliable sources of information.
Myth #1: Bariatric Surgery is Dangerous.
All surgeries come with risks, but the benefits of weight loss surgery have been found to far outweigh the risks because it actually decreases the chance of dying from obesity
A study1 of more than 200,000 patients found the risk of death due to bariatric surgery to be considerably less than most other surgeries including gallbladder removal and knee replacement.
Meanwhile, people who undergo weight loss surgery have been found to reduce their risk of death by 40%, risk of death related to diabetes by more than 90% and their risk of dying from heart disease by more than 50%.2
Myth #2: If You Exercise and Diet, You Won’t Need Surgery.
Long-term weight loss is nearly impossible without surgery for those with severe obesity, according to a National Institutes of Health (NIH) Expert Panel statement. Consider what happens when you go on a diet. Your body produces more of the hormones that increase hunger while simultaneously decreasing calories burned. So you have to eat even less to achieve weight loss. That’s why it’s hard to achieve lasting weight loss with dieting.
Weight loss surgery decreases the amount of food you can eat while simultaneously influencing the production of gut hormones which tell the brain to reduce feelings of hunger, decrease appetite, and make you feel fuller. This biologic process plus lifestyle changes combine to improve success rates for people who have bariatric surgery.
Myth #3: You Can’t be Pregnant After Weight Loss Surgery.
The opposite is actually true. Most women become more fertile after surgery. In fact, birth control pills do not work well when you are overweight and also when your weight is changing. Menstrual periods are often very irregular. Having an IUD or using condoms/spermicide during intercourse is recommended. If you want to get pregnant, most advise waiting 12 to 18 months after surgery.
Myth #4: Insurance Won’t Cover Weight Loss Surgery.
Many insurance companies do cover surgery. Check with your insurance company to determine your exact benefits.
Myth #5: Bariatric Surgery is the Easy Way Out.
Bariatric surgery is by no means easy. It requires significant behavior and lifestyle changes to be successful. That means major changes to diet and exercise. These have to continue long after surgery to maintain weight loss. Bariatric surgery is a tool that helps, but losing and keeping weight off depends on changes you make in your life.
Myth #6: Bariatric Surgery Leaves a Big Scar.
Because bariatric surgery is now done laparoscopically, it leaves minimal scarring. Post-surgery hospital stays are likewise shorter with the laparoscopic procedure.
Myth #7: Bariatric Surgery Increases Risk of Alcoholism.
A small number of people (7-10%)3 will have a problem with alcohol abuse after weight loss surgery, and most had experience with alcohol abuse before surgery. Weight loss surgery patients are advised to take precautions regarding alcohol because sensitivity can be increased and the effects can be felt with fewer drinks and for a longer period of time than before surgery. Conversely, some patients don’t feel the effects of alcohol and think they’re sober even when they are over the legal blood alcohol limit for driving.
Myth #8: Weight Loss Surgery Increases the Risk for Suicide.
While most patients have improved mental health after bariatric surgery, studies have found there may be a small increase in suicide risk post-surgery4.5. It’s important to acknowledge that people affected by severe obesity are more likely to suffer from depression and/or anxiety. They also tend to have lower self-esteem and quality of life compared to those of average weight. People who have weight loss surgery are also like everyone else — they may face unexpected life stressors, or they may have undiagnosed mental health issues.
This is why a psychological evaluation is generally required prior to weight loss surgery and counseling with therapists is often encouraged after surgery. Those who see a psychologist or psychiatrist before surgery should continue after surgery.
If you want to learn more about weight loss surgery or to schedule a consultation, reach out to our CHI Health Weight Management team.
- Broderick RC, Fuchs HF, Harnesberger CR, Chang DC, Sandler BJ, Jacobsen GR, et al. Increasing the value of healthcare: Improving mortality while reducing cost in bariatric surgery. Obesity Surgery. 2015;25(12):2231-8
- Courcoulas AP, Yanovski SZ, Bonds D, Eggerman TL, Horlick M, Staten MA, et al. Long-term outcomes of bariatric surgery: A National Institutes of Health symposium. JAMA Surgery. 2014;149(12):1323-29.
- King WC, Chen J-Y, Mitchell JE, Kalarchian MA, Steffen KJ, Engel SG, et al. Prevalence of alcohol use disorders before and after bariatric surgery. JAMA. 2012;307(23):2516-25.
- Adams TD, Gress RE, Smith SC, Halverson RC, Simper SC, Rosamond WD, et al. Long-term mortality after gastric bypass surgery. New England Journal of Medicine. 2007;357(8):753-61.
- Tindle HA, Omalu B, Courcoulas A, Marcus M, Hammers J, Kuller LH. Risk of suicide after long term follow-up from bariatric surgery. American Journal of Medicine. 2010;123(11):1036-42.
Mary Cate is a dietitian with CHI Health Weight Management. Her love of food and nutrition stems from many years of playing sports and growing up in a family that loves to cook. Her goal is to help people learn that nutrition doesn’t have to be complicated and that it should be an enjoyable part of our lives.