Helping the MD's...

I’m writing this article as an invitation for each of you to help educate physicians about the issues that you face related to weight loss surgery and what you believe is needed to enhance your care, either before or after weight loss surgery.

The American Society for Metabolic and Bariatric Surgery (ASMBS) emails each new edition of “connect,” their official news magazine to its members upon publication. In it, they provide a synopsis of recent articles of interest related to WLS. One noted article this week is titled, “What Matters: What’s the magic behind successful bariatric patients?” and is written by Dr. Jon O. Ebbert, an internist at Mayo Clinic.

In the article, Dr. Ebbert states, “I was left wondering how I can best help my patients using this information.” Let’s help him help his patients!

I’ll share the short article, give my editorial (what I didn’t share with Dr. Ebbert) and then write the response I did share with him. Finally, I’ll provide the link where you, too, can share feedback directly about the article, or send it to me and I will be happy to forward it!

The article:

 “MARCH 3, 2016

A fair number of my patients have had or are undergoing bariatric surgery. Disconcertingly, a not insignificant number of them are regaining the weight after surgery. Weight regain will occur in 20% of patients undergoing bariatric surgery after initial weight loss.

When this occurs, not only do we have a patient with an altered gut putting them at risk for nutritional deficiencies if we are not fastidious in our follow-up, but they are discouraged and overweight again.

Add this to the concern that bariatric surgery has been associated with an increase in suicides (2.33-3.63 per 1000 patient-years), and we may have some cause for alarm.

So, what predicts success – and can we facilitate it?

Several factors have been shown to predict successful weight loss after bariatric surgery. An “active coping style” (that is, planning vs. denial) and adherence to follow-up after bariatric surgery have both been shown to be associated with a higher percentage of excess weight loss. Interestingly, psychological burden and motivation have not been associated with weight loss.

In a recent article, Lori Liebl, Ph.D., and her colleagues conducted a qualitative study of the experiences of adults who successfully maintained weight loss after bariatric surgery (J Clin Nurs. 2016 Feb 23. doi: 10.1111/jocn.13129). Success was defined as 50% or more of the excessive weight loss 24 months after bariatric surgery.

The voice of the successful bariatric patient is an interesting and important one. Several themes were identified: 1) taking life back (“I did it for myself”); 2) a new lease on life (“There are things I can do now that I am not exhausted”); 3) the importance of social support; 4) avoiding the negative (terminating unhealthy relationships in which “food is love”); 5) the void (food addiction and sense of loss); 6) fighting food demons; 7) finding the happy weight; and 8) a ripple effect (that is, if you don’t eat it, the rest of family doesn’t, either).

I was left wondering how I can best help my patients using this information.

First, I think the themes can mature our empathy for the struggles that these patients face, and perhaps help us combat bias. Second, I think this knowledge can inform early discussions around what sorts of things need to be lined up for after the procedure, such as social support.

Finally, I think the themes can be universalized and help us counsel patients who may be struggling with weight, but who are otherwise not candidates for bariatric surgery.”

My Editorial

I’m grateful that an internist is addressing the topic of WLS. I love that he is thinking about ways to use the information gleaned from the research he notes related to the behaviors of those who have “successful weight maintenance” following weight loss surgery.

Pardon my sarcasm, but, WOW! Getting information about the behaviors that led to weight loss from patients who have 50% or more of excessive weight loss 24 months after bariatric surgery? Does that really tell us anything? I’d venture to say that the majority of professionals in the field would note the surgery itself as being primarily responsible for the “success” of the weight loss at 24 months out. I’m NOT saying that many patients fail to put forth a great deal of effort at that point, because I know many do work very hard during those first 24 months. But come on… let’s talk to successful weight maintainers at 5 years after surgery to get a better indication of what they are doing to manage a healthy weight.

I’d also be curious to know at what point in time after surgery the statistic was obtained noting “Weight regain will occur in 20% of patients undergoing bariatric surgery after initial weight loss.” How much weight regain? After how much time? If you look closely at research in many fields, you can find numbers that vary widely on a particular topic.

Dr. Ebbert states, “Psychological burden and motivation have not been associated with weight loss.” I wasn’t at all sure what this meant. Questioning my comprehension skills, I asked some other people how they interpreted that statement, and they couldn’t tell, either. If the implication is that psychological issues have no impact on weight loss or lack thereof, I have to disagree. But then, I have no research to back up my hypothesis. I do have 11 years working in this field and the anecdotal evidence of hundreds of patients that says otherwise. I’d say depression interferes with the desire/ability to follow through with certain behaviors that require significant energy. I’d say that intense shame interferes with the perceived efficacy to follow through for the long haul with behaviors necessary to sustain weight loss – well past two years of having WLS. I don’t know… I believe poor self-esteem, a history of “failing” with “diets,” unresolved grief, loss, and abuse issues sometimes affect a person’s perceived ability to succeed. I also believe treating these psychological issues in conjunction with treating one’s physiology and teaching important skills such as healthy coping mechanisms, positive self-talk, and efficacy-enhancing skills is a recipe for better outcomes.

My Response to Dr. Ebbert (in an attempt to be brief):

“Dr. Ebbert -

With all due respect, the medical field is, in my opinion, missing several very large pieces of the puzzle with the surgical weight loss population in terms of treating them. I am a licensed clinical psychologist. I work in a surgical weight loss clinic and have spoken with literally thousands of patients who have had weight loss surgery. Obesity is a complicated disease that is more than just physiological. I treat the underlying and associated psychological co-morbidities, which the medical community largely ignores, except under the broad category of "Behavior Modification." I assure you that there is a lot more than changing behaviors that needs to be addressed with this population. A vast majority of this population suffers with deep shame and low self-esteem, both rendering them inefficient at maintaining motivation to follow through on a long-term basis with "behavior modification." I am working tirelessly to try to address the elephants in the OR, but surgeons don't really want to listen to myself - or the patients - who are clamoring for additional mental health care (MORE than behavior modification) following WLS when their "issues" interfere with healthy behaviors - just like before surgery. More suicides?  Maybe because in a sense, we take away the patients’ coping skill (food) and throw them to the wolves. I've created a video series that I require all of my patients to watch before surgery to help them understand the deeper issues they may face and to urge them to seek counseling. I could use help in the medical community. You in?”

I do believe, and I thank Dr. Ebbert for noting, “this knowledge can inform early discussions around what sorts of things need to be lined up for after the procedure.” Let’s all pitch in and share with Dr. Ebbert and other interested physicians what you need to be successful, on and off the scale, for years and years following WLS. Please share your comments at:

Or, post your comments here or contact me via my web page:

Let’s pitch in and help!

Connie Stapleton, Ph.D.