Weight Loss Surgery and Eating Disorders

Many individuals may struggle with being overweight or obese as a result of engaging in eating disorder behaviors, such as binge eating or emotional eating.  Being overweight and obese is not without risk, as these conditions can causes secondary diseases, such as cardiovascular disease, diabetes, or cancer.  A solution that many men and women are turning to for weight loss includes surgery, such as gastric bypass or gastric banding.

All types of weight loss surgery are considered major procedures that present with critical risks and side effects.  While weight loss can be beneficial to any individual struggling with excessive weight and subsequent health consequences, there are considerable complications.  Weight loss surgery becomes even riskier when an eating disorder is involved.  Eating disorders involve complex psychological and physiological symptoms that can become increasingly problematic when attempted to treat with weight loss surgery.

As with all decisions, choosing to have weight loss surgery should be something that is discussed with a full treatment team to consider all the benefits and risks.  If you or your loved one is considering weight loss surgery, review the following information to help you make an educated decision.

Types of Weight Loss Surgeries

There are two major categories of weight loss surgery, which help achieve weight loss in various ways.  Weight loss surgeries can be divided into Restrictive or Malabsorptive Surgeries:

  • Restrictive Surgeries: This type of weight loss surgery focuses on physically limiting the size of the stomach to decrease the amount of food the stomach can hold.  While a normal stomach can contain about 3 pints of food, a stomach altered by restricted weight loss surgery can only hold about 2 to 3 ounces of food.  These types of surgeries include Gastric Banding.
  • Malabsorptive Surgeries: This type of weight loss surgery is designed to alter the way food is absorbed by the body.  This is accomplished by physically removing or bypassing sections of the digestive tract along with restricting the size of stomach. A result of this type of surgery includes decreased absorption of calories.  Gastric bypass is a type of malabsorptive surgery.

Risks of Weight Loss Surgeries

Weight loss surgery presents with serious potential health risks, both short and long term.  Understanding these risks and discussing these with your health professional and treatment team will be a crucial part of your decision to opt for weight loss surgery.

Risks related to the weight loss procedure can include the following:

  • Infection
  • Blood clots
  • Uncontrolled bleeding
  • Opposing reactions to anesthesia
  • Breathing difficulties
  • Leakages in gastrointestinal system
  • On rare occasions, death

Long term complications of weight loss surgery can include the following:

  • Malnutrition
  • Dumping syndrome, resulting in vomiting and diarrhea
  • Bowel obstruction
  • Gallstones
  • Hernias
  • Hypoglycemia (low blood sugar)
  • Ulcers
  • Indigestion
  • On rare occasions, death

Weight loss surgery can have consequences that extend beyond physicality and health, such as psychological and social concerns.  It is critical to understand the various ways these procedures can impact the life of you or your loved one if electing for weight loss surgery.

Long-Term Care

In order to minimize the potential risks connected with weight-loss surgery, it is important to closely follow the short and long-term care guidelines presented by your multidisciplinary team.  Weight-loss surgery is not a short-term fix and requires a lifestyle change and support from health professionals, family, and friends to maintain.  Effective post-operative care could involve regular examines with a medical doctor and dietary counseling with a registered dietitian to ensure optimal nutrition intake.  Other aspects of post-operative care would include support from a psychologist or counselor to heal from issues that may have resulted in emotional eating or a poor relationship with food, and an on-going support group to share thoughts and concerns within a safe environment.

Eating Disorder Concerns with Weight Loss Surgery

Weight loss surgeries are not a solution to an eating disorder, and thinking otherwise can lead to the worsening of disordered eating behaviors.  Men and women who have turned to weight-loss surgery while dealing with an eating disorder can put themselves at greater risk for complications from the procedures.  Eating disorders are the result of multiple issues, including deep rooted psychological, emotional, and/or social factors.  Weight loss does not eliminate the underlying issues that influenced the eating disorder in the first place and must be dealt with effectively and professionally to prevent them from reoccurring.

If you are struggling with an eating disorder and are considering weight loss surgery, it is vital to establish a healthier relationship with foods and your emotions.  Unfortunately, weight loss in itself cannot bring healing from trauma, grief, depression, anxiety, etc.  These emotions must be investigated and understood in order to properly heal from them.  Having the support from a professional counselor or therapist can be beneficial in this process.  Healing from any underlying issues can prevent reoccurring disordered eating, which can ultimately allow for a healthier state of body, mind, and spirit.

Last Reviewed By: Jacquelyn Ekern, MS, LPC on October 29, 2012

Page last updated: October 29, 2012
Published on EatingDisorderHope.com, Online Resource on Eating Disorders