Whether you’re a seasoned weight loss surgery veteran or you are just beginning to consider having bariatric surgery, you’ve probably seen or heard some of the stats concerning the “obesity epidemic” in America. With the media beating that drum on a regular basis, the only way you could avoid them is if you lived in a deep cave, far, far away from any media outlet.
So, odds are good that you’ve already heard that the percentage of Americans who have a BMI above 30 has tripled since 1960 and the percentage of Americans with a BMI above 40 has increased six fold in that time span. By that measure, 34 percent of all Americans are considered obese and 6 percent qualify as extremely or “morbidly” obese.
You don’t need a medical expert or some television talking head to tell you that this is a very unhealthy situation. Experience has taught you that carrying too much weight seriously impacts almost every system in your body and your world. Excess fat weighs heavy on your heart, your arteries, affects your joint health, your back, your relationships and your mind. Any one who tries to tell you “size doesn’t matter,” has never lived in a big body.
Before we touch on the heavy emotional toll overweight people have to pay every day, let’s take a moment to review the physical risks brought on by a plenitude of pounds.
We begin this scary ride with a visit to the cardiovascular system because this essential network of arteries, veins and capillaries really takes a beating when you are overweight. About 70 percent of the diagnosed cases of heart disease and stroke are linked to obesity. As an added “benefit,” people with a BMI above 30 are ten times more likely to have hardening of the arteries than thinner individuals.
As your body expands, it creates more cells and tissues that need blood and oxygen. Guess what that means? Your heart and circulatory system have to ramp up production to feed these distant places and that doubles the risk of old-fashioned hypertension, also known as high blood pressure. If your blood pressure is elevated for an extended period of time, it not only damages your heart but can also wreak havoc on your brain and kidneys.
As if the raised potential for coronary heart disease, strokes and high blood pressure weren’t enough of a mental and physical burden, we now turn our attention to one of the sneakiest villains to haunt the lives of overweight men and women – diabetes.
Nearly 90 percent of type 2 diabetics are overweight. Type 2 diabetes comes on so slow that some people may not have symptoms for many years. Just because you’re not feeling the impact immediately, doesn’t mean diabetes isn’t causing you harm. With diabetes, your risk of having a heart attack is about the same as someone who has already had a heart attack. To make things just a bit more frightening, diabetics are twice as likely to die following a heart attack as non-diabetics.
Over time, uncontrolled diabetes causes a host of problems including difficulties with vision, kidney damage, severe infections (particularly in the feet), and permanent nerve damage. Even if you are feeling well, if you are carrying a lot of extra pounds it is essential that you be checked for diabetes.
Unlike type 2 diabetes, osteoarthritis makes its presence known in no uncertain terms.
Typical signs of osteoarthritis include pain, stiffness and crunching in the joints. Almost all of us deal with this problem to a certain extent as we get older; it is just part of the wear and tear that comes with living. Being very overweight, though, sets off a downward spiral that can become crippling.
It goes something like this; your extra weight puts a lot of strain on your joints, particularly your knees. This strain causes pain that is often extreme. This, of course, makes it difficult to move thus causing you to walk and exercise even less than you were before the pain arrived. This lack of exercise makes your muscles less fit and causes other parts of the joint to become stiffer and start sending off their own pain signals.
Before you know it, you’ve got a whole symphony of pain playing in your joints and no desire to move at all which leads to more weight and increased pain. You soon learn that even the most effective pain pills only provide temporary, moderate relief. This is the point that some resign themselves to a life of constant agony and sink into deep depression. As those of you who have shed many of the pounds and much of the pain know, it doesn’t have to be that way.
You can win the battle and you can dance again.
Some of you probably read that last sentence and thought that it was too optimistic for your situation. You might be convinced that you’ll never win, much less dance. Your gloom is not uncommon.
In addition to the somber medical threats we’ve already touched upon, various seriously overweight or obese individuals also have to deal with sleep apnea, acid reflux complications, gallbladder disease, gout and an increased risk of several forms of cancer. It is no small wonder that it is a lot easier to find a truly jolly fat character in a book or a movie than it is in real life.
That’s not to say that some heavy men and women don’t try to live up to the role. Living in a body obsessed culture, people with extra pounds develop many coping mechanisms just to make it from day to day and humor is certainly one of them. Although they do exist, the jolly fat person is a stereotype; as is the lazy fat person, the gluttonous fat person, the sloppy fat person and a host of other portrayals. Though society tries to paint every obese person in the same colors with the same brush, each one is different; each has their own strengths, weaknesses, likes, dislikes and ways to deal with a world that is more likely to see the size of their bodies without appreciating them as people of value.
After losing a significant amount of weight, it is not uncommon to hear these thinner people reporting that the world finally began treating them as the unique individuals they actually are. While the new, more optimistic and determined attitude that comes from working towards and achieving a goal often receives credit for this change, many weight loss veterans insist otherwise. From their point of view, their personality and attitude basically remained the same and the world’s perspective changed. Either way, they were often startled by the difference between being treated as a body which takes up too much space and as a vital, potentially interesting human being.
Considering the number of challenges an obese human has to face, it is not surprising that depression is often a part of the package. When researchers at the Leiden University Medical Center examined data from 15 studies of obesity and depression they discovered that the relationship flows both ways. Obesity increased the risk of depression by 55 percent. On the other hand, depression increased the chances of normal weight individuals developing obesity by 58 percent.
Popular media concepts of a slim body image certainly play a part in this depression, particularly for women. A 2010 study by researchers at the Maricopa Integrated Health System at Phoenix, Arizona indicated that obese women are 39 times more likely to suffer from depression than women who carry fewer pounds. In contrast, the same study found that obese men were only 2.54 times more likely to be depressed than other men.
Regardless of gender, depression not only diminishes your dreams, it can destroy those vital sparks of ambition that make weight loss possible. Unable to see the point in taking the first step, the hope of achieving an ideal weight is extinguished causing the depression to deepen until the soul feels like it is stuck in a solitary cave with no possible way out.
If you have taken the time to visit this site and have read virtually this entire article, you have probably already made the choice to live a healthier, happier life. If you have already taken the first steps toward losing weight through a diet plan or have talked to your doctor about weight loss surgery, we salute you for beginning the journey. To those of you who are fighting the good fight every day to maintain your ideal weight after successful dieting and/or bariatric surgery, we send our warmest congratulations and best wishes for your continued progress. We hope you are enjoying walking, running, moving and playing with your friends, spouse, children or grandchildren. We are glad that you have earned your life back again.
In discussing her new lifestyle, a Bariatric Choice customer once told us how she manages to stay on track in a world full of temptations. “Sure, there are lots of foods I crave,” she said, “but nothing tastes better than life.”
Nobody can make the choice for you. Whether you are considering a weight loss plan or weight loss surgery, the choice is yours. Although it is not a good long range plan, doing nothing and living with obesity is also a choice. We wish you the best with all your choices and we hope you choose to live your life to the fullest.