The world of bariatric surgery is full of myths. Every time myths are repeated, they gain strength and credibility (deserved or not), so it’s important to look at them closely before accepting them as true. I'll post this material in chunks, one myth at a time.
TIME TO THROW OUT SOME OLD MYTHSIt’s time to throw out some old myths about the adjustable gastric band, but before we start flinging those myths around, let’s all agree on what a myth is.
The traditional definition is that a myth is an ancient story of unverifiable, supposedly historical events. A myth expresses the world view of a people or explains a practice, belief, or natural phenomenon. For example, the Greek god Zeus had powers over lightning and storms, and could make a storm to show his anger.
If you think myths are dry stuff found only in schoolbooks, think again. They surround just about every aspect of our lives, and travel much faster now, in the age of technology, than they did in the dusty old days of ancient Greece and Rome. They’re a way for us to make sense of a chaotic world, both past, present and future. They affect thoughts, beliefs, emotions and assumptions in our everyday lives, coming alive in our minds as we, and the people around us, seem to act them out.
Some myths are helpful because they give us a shared sense of security and express our fundamental values and beliefs, but some myths are just plain wrong and can be harmful to us and to others. A good example is the myth that having weight loss surgery is taking the easy way out. Every time I hear that one repeated, I want to laugh and scream at the same time. If you’re a post-op, you know why. Weight loss is hard no matter how you do it (surgery, diet pills, prayer, magic cleanses, and so on). On the other hand, WLS is supposed to be easy, compared to the dozens or hundreds of weight loss attempts in our past. Why on earth would I put myself through a major surgery if it wasn’t going to help me lose weight and keep it off?
Now that we’ve shared a little laugh (or scream) over a WLS myth we can all agree upon, let’s test out some band myths whose validity may not be as clear. This kind of examination can be uncomfortable, but believing in a falsehood is almost guaranteed to make your WLS journey bumpier than it needs to be. Let’s start with the myths that are easiest to digest and end with the ones that can be tougher for a bandster to swallow.
MYTH #1 – THE BAND IS THE LEAST INVASIVE WLS PROCEDUREI believed this one at first, mainly because I knew little about the other WLS procedures back in 2007. It’s still a widely-circulated myth, one that even my surgeon’s well-intentioned dietitian endorses. So, what’s the truth according to Jean? Face it: any surgery done on an anesthetized patient, during which a surgeon cuts into the belly in several places, does some dissection (more cutting) and suturing (stitching) of the internal anatomy, and implants a medical device (the dreaded “foreign object”), is invasive. It is true that band placement generally involves less internal dissection and suturing than other weight loss surgeries, but neither is it on the same level medically as having your teeth cleaned. So while the invasiveness of a surgery is worth considering, you do yourself a disservice if you let that override other considerations. A bariatric surgery might last 45-60 minutes, with recovery lasting a week or so, but its effect on your health and lifestyle last a lifetime. Or I sure hope it does.
Some people associate invasiveness with irreversibility. Although the band is meant to stay put once clamped to your stomach, it can indeed be removed if medically necessary. Gastric bypass (RNY) surgery can also be reversed, while the sleeve (VSG) cannot and only the “switch” (malabsorptive feature) of the duodenal switch (DS) can be reversed. Removal or reversal is not as easy as operating on a “virgin belly” (as my surgeon so colorfully puts it), so it’s important to weigh the benefits against the risks of reversal or revision surgery.