a rose by any other name

(This reblog was originally posted on one of my previous blogs/websites. I'm reposting it here because of any of a number of reasons that make it a post I feel is worth still having available for discussion. Minor editing may have been done for clarity, or in some instances maybe there was some additional clarifying my original intent, or removing out of date information. Just letting you know. Unless noted, the publish date here reflects the originally published date.)

Gastric Banding. Gastric Bypass. VSG. RNY. Sleeve. Stomach Stapling. Lap-Band. DS. And more. I think you get the idea. These are all names, or rather names use to identify different types of surgery. Well, different types of a specific surgery – bariatric surgery, also known as weight loss surgery or WLS.

If you’re reading this, I probably don’t have to tell you that there is a lot of misconceptions out there when it comes to WLS. There’s a lot of junk out there about how it’s cheating or it’s the easy way out or whatever. Part of what I do here is talk openly about my own surgery in the hopes of dispelling myths, debunking misconceptions and just play spreading the word as it were.

If WLS were the product of a single company… like say a cereal is to a food company… with the image that it has, what would you do? Of course there’s the obvious “good press” sort of things where you try to educate the consumer about the benefits of your product, but there is only so long you can beat that drum before you need to look at it from a different angle. And lately I’ve been sort of wondering if part of the problem with “weight loss surgery” is the over-riding focus on “weight loss”.

Yes, weight loss is generally what happens as a result of someone having bariatric surgery, but it really tells so little of the whole story. I not only reclaimed my health as a result of this surgery, more and more each day I am reclaiming my life. I simply can not imagine where I would be right now if I had not had this surgery. Yes, it is because of this surgery I was able to lose weight. But it is also because of this surgery that I am no longer on blood pressure medication. See, even though I had lost over 50 pounds, the last time I was on blood pressure meds was shortly after my surgery.

I can’t simply attribute that to weight loss because I was still well over 300 pounds, and I had been on medication for hypertension for over 20 years, from a time before I weighed much less. And look at the results these surgeries have on type-2 diabetes. I hate to use the word cure, but at the very least it seems to put it in to remission. Very often doing so immediately after surgery.

I suppose there are other things, from my sleep apnea to my self confidence and other emotional or mental changes that have happened that can be attributed to my having lost weight. But again, the focus on weight loss just doesn’t tell the whole story.

Some of you may remember the old Kellogg’s cereal Sugar Smacks. Years ago, they changed the name to “Honey Smacks”, dropping the word sugar because of all the negative connotations behind that single word; sugar. When a company has a product with an image problem and they can’t change the public opinion, they can either abandon it or they can re-brand it. Kellogg’s chose the latter.

So I can’t help but wonder, does the emphasis on weight loss as the very words used to name this type of surgery do it a disservice? Does the stigma of obesity carry over to stain the surgery that has shown to have success after success in not just helping people lose weight, but when it comes down to it, helping them just plain get healthier?

“Weight Loss”, like the word “sugar” is simple, it’s known, it needs no introduction as it were. There is no similar word to turn to. There is no “honey”. We can’t just start using the generic clinical term of bariatric, cause we’d have to explain ourselves to people every time we used the word.

This is another one of those posts where I don’t have an answer, I’m simply posing the question. Is the default emphasis on “weight loss” in the terms used to describe this medical treatment for obesity further foster an environment of stigma, bias and misunderstanding? And if it is, what do we do about it? Do we just continue to try and inform and educate the public about the true value of the product behind the name… or is it time to re-brand the product?

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