Lap band: fat and farm fresh

It's quite alarming when one day you look at yourself in the mirror and don't recognize the person staring back at you.  It's also terrifying to watch your body morph into a mass of undulating blubber that squishes out the sides of the pants you can no longer fit. That's fat my friends, and it ain't pretty.  When you reach a body mass index (BMI) of 38 it's probably time to re-think that donut with the crème filling you're shoving into your mouth or the supersized double cheeseburger combo that you wolfed down after hitting the drive-thru on the way home from the bar.

Americans are fat.  We eat too much, exercise too little and make excuses in between.  Been there, done that.  In fact I was doing just that when my weight ballooned by 100 pounds during a 4-year period (seriously, 100 pounds) from shoving too much garbage into my pie hole.

Being 5'10" and somewhat athletic, I was pretty lean most of my life.  I can't say I was entirely healthy but I could at least run up the stairs to my apartment without needing oxygen. Once I was at my heaviest and my wits end I began to research weight loss solutions, including the Lap Band.

The Lap Band is an adjustable device used to restrict the amount of food you can consume at any given meal.  It is surgically placed around the upper portion of the stomach (stoma), where smaller portions of food travel and digest more slowly, creating a longer lasting feeling of fullness.

The "Band" is one of several surgical weight loss solutions currently being advertised and offered at weight loss centers and hospitals around the country.  It is a reversible and safer alternative than Roux-en-Y (Gastric Bypass) and the Vertical Sleeve where 85% of your stomach is cut away leaving a banana shaped tube, which also functions by limiting food intake.

Why in heaven would anyone opt to have 85% of his or her stomach removed or have a device implanted in order to excise weight?  Call it a quick fix or even desperation; the bottom line is people are going under the knife to cut the fat.

The problem is some people don't prepare themselves for life after gastric banding or even other types of bypass surgeries.  Not only do you have to immediately change how and what you eat, there are problems that can arise including band slippage, stuck food, nausea, vomiting, dumping (the worst) malabsorption and in many cases regaining most of the weight in a few years time.

"People going into these surgeries don't anticipate some of the complications.  A lot of these procedures don't allow you to absorb good nutrients in food.  In many cases you might lose weight but people end up being unhealthy," says Lucy Edson, Program Director of Whole Health Weight Management, a medical weight loss center in Santa Monica that emphasizes better eating habits and lifestyle changes as preferable methods to lose and keep weight off.

"They [bypass procedures] are effective for people to lose the weight initially. I've seen quite a few people who've had these procedures, that after five to six years begin to regain their weight," Edson continues.

Not everyone experiences complications, in fact the Lap Band has a fairly good success rate, however with any bypass procedure it is important to know what to expect while adapting to a complete overhaul of your eating habits for the rest of your life.

Achieving a healthy weight without surgery is possible.  Janet Ryan, an actress living in Los Angeles, found an approach to beat the bulge that was healthy and long lasting. "I lost 65 pounds with Weight Watchers and was at my ideal weight.  I never felt better.  Diet and exercise is the key.  It's really about good habits."

Weight loss surgery has become big business.  More and more doctors are recommending and performing bypass procedures and now that the FDA has lowered the BMI limit for banding, more people will be eligible for a procedure that was initially intended for only the morbidly obese.

Managing and maintaining a healthy lifestyle is difficult for most people.  For the extremely obese with co-morbidities like diabetes and high blood pressure, a bypass procedure may be the only option left to save their lives.  For others however, surgery is oftentimes a less effective way out of the mess created by poor food choices and just plain old sloth.

It's the little changes in an individual's behavior that can make the difference between that extra pound of flesh and those skinny jeans.  "Taking [wellness] classes did motivate me to try living a healthier lifestyle," says Janea Spaulding, a student at El Camino College. "I stopped buying certain types of foods and replacing them with other things like apples and bananas instead of donuts."

If you choose the Lap Band or any other type of bypass procedure it is important to do your homework, be informed and above all, be healthy.  The stranger in the mirror is waiting to get to know you again.