Losing weight is a challenging and often slow process. While many doctors recommend only losing 1-2 pounds per week, the reality is that even that can be difficult to achieve. Generally, dropping a single pound requires individuals to burn 3500 calories through diet and exercise. However, weight loss is rarely as simple as tracking the number of calories consumed versus the number burned.
Why Diet and Exercise Aren’t Always Enough
Dietary changes are a significant component of any weight loss regimen; however, the body doesn’t treat all calories the same. It doesn’t absorb every calorie you eat, and the absorption rate can vary widely. For example, 100-calorie high-fiber foods are technically equivalent to 100-calorie low-fiber foods. They contain the same amount of energy, but the body digests them differently. It can’t absorb fiber like it does other nutrients, which helps promote feelings of satiety and fullness. As a result, people who eat high-fiber foods tend to feel less hungry and eat less.
Meal size and frequency can also influence how the body utilizes calories. The body only needs a certain number of calories to fuel itself at any given time—not just a total daily number. Consequently, an individual who consumes two 1000-calorie meals per day is likely to struggle to lose weight compared to an individual consuming five 400-calorie meals. The total calories consumed may be the same, but the body typically stores food calories that exceed its current needs as fat.
Obesity and Biological Factors Affecting Weight Loss
Maintaining enthusiasm is a common struggle among dieters, as many fail to see measurable results despite weeks of healthy eating and exercise. A quick scan of diet and exercise communities online reveals a typical complaint—losing weight is hard, bordering on impossible for some. When people see others lose weight or inches while they stagnate, it’s hard to see the point in continuing their health and fitness journey.
At this point, many begin to wonder, “Is bariatric surgery right for me?”. It’s a legitimate question, as excess weight affects hormones and how the body uses and stores calories. Despite consistent efforts, individuals with obesity may experience slow to no results due to the following:
- Metabolic problems. Many people complain about their metabolism slowing with age, but there is more to it than that for people who struggle to lose weight. Most overweight people no longer have the feedback mechanism that tells them they are full. As a result, they experience constant hunger, which goes beyond simple willpower.
- Insulin resistance. The pancreas produces insulin, which helps decrease blood sugar and fat after meals. It then directs those excess calories to muscle cells to use as fuel. However, those calories redirect to fat cells when muscles become insulin resistant. The result is a vicious cycle of constantly feeling hungry and needing to eat to refuel only to have more calories stored as fat.
- Metabolic syndrome and prediabetes. As individuals accumulate more fat, their liver and pancreas grow fatter as well. This interferes with the body’s ability to produce insulin, which causes average blood sugar levels to rise. Scientists believe that once an individual exceeds their personal fat threshold, health problems like prediabetes can worsen to full diabetes. Individuals may begin to experience heart and liver health issues as well.
Weight Loss and Bariatric Surgery
When individuals weigh 100 pounds or more over their ideal weight (BMI of 40), losing weight becomes vital to improving their long-term health. The same is true for individuals with a BMI of 35+ and a serious health problem related to their obesity, such as Type 2 diabetes or severe sleep apnea. However, these same individuals will have a disproportionately harder time losing weight than people slightly over their ideal weight would. Because of this, these individuals are good candidates for bariatric surgery.
Is Bariatric Surgery Right for Me? How Does it Work?
Bariatric surgery can help individuals lose weight by reducing their stomach size, limiting calorie absorption, or combining the two. A smaller stomach diminishes how much food you can eat in one sitting and helps you feel full much faster. Some procedures, like gastric bypass, also reduce calorie absorption by bypassing parts of the small intestines. Eliminating the feeling of constant hunger combined with better eating habits and exercise helps many individuals experience dramatic weight loss in the first six to 12 months following the surgery.
Key factors that determine successful weight loss following bariatric surgery include:
- Increasing activity following bariatric surgery to maintain results. For people who led sedentary lives prior to the surgery, this often means starting with walking for five minutes a day until they can comfortably walk for half an hour.
- Eating high-quality foods. Sugary foods quickly run through the digestive system post-surgery, leading to nausea or diarrhea. Instead, once individuals resume eating regular foods following the surgery, they will need to eat high-protein meals. They will also need to limit snacking to two or three times per day, or they risk undoing the effects of the surgery.
- Avoiding caloric, sugary beverages. Many people fail to realize how many calories they consume through their drink choices. Even if individuals stick to the appropriate number of ounces they consume following bariatric surgery, high-calorie drinks can derail weight loss, as excess sugar can contribute to ongoing insulin resistance challenges.
The answer to the question “Is bariatric surgery right for me?” is complex and specific to your health. Consulting with a knowledgeable surgeon can help you determine if weight loss surgery is a good fit for you, particularly if you’re struggling to lose weight and health issues are starting to give you significant concerns. Contact Dr. Waldrep to learn how bariatric surgery can improve your health and quality of life.