Surgery is Best for Obesity?

by Leisa on December 14, 2012

Last weekend there was an article published in the Herald Sun, titled “Obesity Conference Told Surgery Better Than Exercise for Obese“, which detailed information and proposals discussed at the National Obesity Conference. The article talked about the suggestion by Professor John Dixon, that severe obesity be classed as a chronic medical condition, requiring drugs and surgery to be treated effectively. He goes on to promote bariatric or lap-band surgery as the best treatment for this “disease” and urges the government to provide this surgery as a service in more public hospitals.

I find this approach to obesity very alarming, as I wrote about here, in regards to the proposal of free lap-band surgery for obese teens in Australia. However I do agree with Professor Dixon on a couple of points. One is that we shouldn’t blame severe obesity on “sloth and gluttony”, and two, that we should view it as a “medical condition”. I agree with both of those points, however we differ in our understanding of what constitutes this as a “medical condition”, as I will explain in more detail below. In Professor Dixon’s view, obesity is an illness in and of itself – a weight regulation system that has become out of control. And of course, needs surgery or strong drugs to correct, as those in the medical professional will always defer to as their treatments of choice.

I see obesity in a very different way, and view it as a complex disorder, involving many factors on both the physical and the emotional levels. To call it a “disease” is dismissing the connected influences that have led to a person becoming obese. By calling it a disease or a singular medical condition, gives away any accountability on the part of the patient for creating this condition in their body. In today’s society a “disease” is understood as something that you have no control over – it is something you catch, or something that strikes you down randomly because it is “in your genes” or through just plain bad luck. So to term obesity as a disease, changes the way people view it, and we will end up with an attitude of reduced responsibility or accountability for an individual’s state of obesity, a mind-set we definitely don’t need to promote.

Where I believe we need to view obesity as a “medical condition” is in the way that there are likely underlying causes for the obesity that do need treatment – although naturopathic, not medical treatment, is the answer. For example, many people suffering with obesity may have an underlying and undiagnosed thyroid condition, they may have adrenal fatigue, they may have insulin resistance, they might have some type of environmental toxicity or poisoning, they may have any number of disorders affecting their metabolism. So there are going to be one or more imbalances that need treating – but the obesity itself is a symptom of these imbalances – not a disease in its own right.

Even if the obesity is purely due to someone overeating the wrong types of food, that is not something that needs drugs and surgery to treat. For change to be long-term and effective, the causes for the overeating need to be discovered and addressed. Whether there are emotional traumas from the past which lead to comfort eating, patterns of eating nutrient deficient food leading to continual hunger, addictions to processed foods or some other childhood pattern playing out – this is where work on the emotional level needs to be done, in conjunction with treating the physical imbalances. This is where the healing journey begins, and it is the process of self-discovery and insights, that lead to healing.

Not only are “drugs and surgery” not the answer, neither is “diet and exercise”. This myth is perpetuated in the media at every turn, but the simplistic advise to “eat less and exercise more” is doing a huge disservice to the thousands of obese people who have genuine metabolic issues. Metabolic issues that make losing weight very, very difficult. Advising these people to restrict their food intake and increase their exercise, could in fact, be very dangerous advice.

As with any true healing, the answer doesn’t lie in any one magic bullet. It is a multi-faceted journey of discovery, that encompasses not only the quality of food being eaten (organic whole foods), but also includes water, sunshine, exercise, healing emotional wounds and traumas, detoxification, meditation, realtionships, social and support networks, career, finances, success, love, laughter, fun and play. It is a review of all the different aspects of life, and gaining expert advice on healing areas of imbalance (physical and emotional) that will lead to a complete healing and a resolution of the symptom called “obesity”.

What do you think? Is obesity a disease that needs drugs and surgery to treat it successfully? Or do you believe in a more holistic approach? Is a restrictive diet and exercise really the answer, or do you think there is more to it than that? What is your experience or understanding of obesity?

Leisa

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4 commentsAdd comment

Susan Living January 3, 2013 at 2:05 am

Hi Leisa,

Thank you for this great article and thought-provoking questions!

My experience and understanding of obesity is rather limited – I have no idea what it’s like to be the “fattest person in the room”… My husband does though and he’s often spoken about feeling invisible or being labelled instantly as “lazy” because of the way he looks.

I watched him struggle long and hard over the years with his weight and for him, without a doubt the underlying issue is emotional – his need for comfort and security and safety. He’s also seen that being overly restrictive in his habits and food intake tends to lead to a rebound effect and overindulgence.

Currently, he’s seeking balance in his movement and food intake with a focus on self-love and nurturing without food – certainly, this is the slower path (compared to restrictive lap-band surgery) but one that will give him invaluable self-knowledge and intimacy with his own body.

:)

Leisa January 13, 2013 at 10:48 pm

Oh Susan, I so feel for your husband and what he has been through and is still experiencing. It is a difficult struggle and without the right answers, it can be a long and difficult struggle. Good on him for being able to recognise some of the factors that come into play with his health issues, and how wonderful that he has a loving, supportive wife who is there with him through his challenges and learnings.

I wish you both the best of health and for those insights and discoveries to keep on coming, so that life can become an adventure!
With love,
Leisa
xxxxx

Kerry January 16, 2013 at 3:13 am

Leisa, you have some more enlightened and progressive ideas than most and I appreciate reading more than the usual shame, blame and guilt inducing propaganda that dominates our media space. I do not see obesity as a disease, a thing, an issue or a problem. The only problem is the way people who do not conform to a narrow ideal are treated and perceived as Susan attested to above. Body size is neither an indication of health or the lack thereof. This is the biggest misnomer we need to overcome. Bodies come in different shapes and sizes and always have. For sure dis-order is created when things in our world aren’t balanced, these can be through personal choice as in the food we eat, the quantity, the type, the activity we do or don’t engage in. Our thinking, our sleep and how much we get and so on. Similarly there are things outside of our control such as genetics, our ability or lack of, our environment, our socio-economic status, the family we were born into, the country we we live in, our age, our disabilities etc. For each of us these things impact on us and our health. Healthy is also not a single point, it is rather a continuum and each of us has more or less health somewhere along that continuum. There is also no mandate that we each achieve the same point, although with the way it is discussed one would believe there is. We need to recognise that all of us can improve our health or reduce it through taking actions. We need to recognise that the pursuit of health and the accessibility to that needs to be encouraged for all, regardless of body size. As we remove the stigma around body size, learn to accept the difference and diversity that exists this is far more likely to happen and we will see more health but not necessarily only ‘normal’ bodies but for sure lots more healthier ones. Again healthier not necessarily thinner.

Leisa January 19, 2013 at 1:33 am

Dear Kerry,
Thank you so much for sharing your insights and your understandings here on the blog. I totally agree with what you say – there are so many diverse factors involved in creating health, and everyone has a unique situation and set of circumstances that has contributed to where they are at right now. It’s not a cut and dried, one-size-fits all issue when someone is suffering with weight gain, and it is very individual with many, many factors involved. To dismiss people as being lazy gluttons is a massive disservice to the person and shows such little compassion for the journey they are on. I aim to do my part to change that view – health is a great goal to have and to strive for – but health doesn’t come in one shape and form – a heathy body doesn’t carry too much excess weight – but we just don’t see in the media a range of healthy shapes and sizes. It isn’t about being thin, it’s about living the most quality life possible and incorporated into that is health. Thank you for writing, you obviously have a great understanding of the subject and a lot of compassion and insight. Thank you for reading and being a part of the blog.
Much love,
Leis xxxxx

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