Sameera Khan is a registered dietitian and physician’s assistant working with the bariatric team consisting of Dr. Gadaleta, Dr. Gellman, and Charmaine Gentles, a nurse practitioner. In September at Northwell Health’s North Shore University Hospital, Khan leaned over her laptop to prepare her presentation ahead of the bariatric surgery support group meeting. Her energy was electric as she talked quickly about the people who’ll arrive shortly. “I love what I do,” she beamed.
Khan started a Facebook group for the practice’s patients, a safe space to talk about their experiences post-surgery without the clinical stuff. The 445 members share recipes. They discuss the flavors of protein shakes to try or avoid. They vent their frustrations. They cheerlead for each other whenever someone posts about their weight loss. They talk about the “rules” of bariatric surgery including no carbonated drinks, no straws, no smoking.
When people began to arrive, Khan greeted each of them warmly by name.
“Look at you!” she said to one woman as she admired her outfit. “Did you go shopping?”
“No,” the woman replied. “This is something I couldn’t fit in before.”
“Good for you!” Khan exclaimed.
“It does feel good,” the woman said.
The attendees greeted each other with hugs, kisses and comments like “Look at this skinny girl!” Some attendees were just a few weeks out from surgery while others were 10 years post-op.
Eighteen people took every seat at the conference room table. That night, Khan wanted to talk to them about “speed bumps” they encountered after surgery. More than one person talked about “grazing,” or snacking just to snack. Others were disappointed by how slowly the weight was coming off, while their siblings ate junk food and lost weight seemingly without effort.
“This is an absolute lifestyle change,” Khan said. “Sometimes the entire family has to adapt the surgery patient’s new lifestyle.”
Surgery wasn’t magic, she said, and support of loved ones and friends was a big factor in success.
To those who don’t know much about it, bariatric surgery is often deemed “the easy way out,” but the path to surgery is anything but. Most people seeking surgery have to endure a battery of medical exams and a psychological evaluation. They must demonstrate that they can lose weight on their own. Heavier people might have to lose a substantial amount of weight just to be physically strong enough to endure the surgery itself, a seeming contradiction since the inability to lose weight on their own is often why they seek bariatric surgery in the first place.
Even after surgery, patients will have to alter the way they eat for the rest of their lives. Temporary hair loss post-surgery is common, often due to hypothyroidism or low levels of protein and iron. Familiar foods may suddenly smell or taste bad, including water. Acid reflux and bad breath are also fairly common due to dehydration, ketosis, or food remaining too long in the new, small pouch made from the stomach.
“Easy way out? That’s the most ridiculous thing in the world,” says Dr. Gellman.