Is Bariatric Surgery for You?

Contributed by Dato' Dr Tikfu Gee

Jasmine’s Story

At 5’2″ and 99kg, Jasmine was desperate to lose weight.  Having been obese for the better part of 10 years, she’d really come to the end of her rope.  Her goal was to get down to 60kg and of course she’d tried every common weight loss solution under the sun… Jasmine had tried the Atkins diet,  and even bought herself a gym membership.

She also tried every other diet she could find, from Mediterranean Vegan and Paleo, but all to no avail.  “I would lose 3-7kg but I could never keep it off.  It took so much effort to lose the 7kg, and then it would come right back so easily” says the 34 year-old mother from Penang.


What Jasmine’s Doctor Told Her

Then one day, Jasmine was at her doctor’s office for a routine exam and the subject of weight loss came up.  Her doctor suggested the one thing she hadn’t tried: bariatric  surgery Her doctor told her that she was a good candidate for weight loss surgery, as it’s more commonly known in layman’s terms.  It is something she’d never considered before, but looking at it from a health point of view, as her doctor pointed out, she was risking all sorts of medical problems by carrying so much extra weight around with her year after year.


What Jasmine’s Friends & Family Thought

Friends and family told Jasmine bariatric surgery seemed extreme, but when she pointed out the health risks of prolonged obesity, they too started to come around and warm up to the idea of having the procedure done. What made Jasmine a good candidate for bariatric surgery?  And more importantly, is bariatric surgery for you? 

Below, you’ll find the things doctors look for when assessing their your suitability for undergoing surgery to lose weight. If you feel that you fit the bill, maybe it’s time to have a conversation with our doctor, about the benefits (and the risks) of bariatric surgery.


Is Bariatric Surgery for You?

Doctors have their own codes and language for expressing how overweight someone really is (they’re scientists, they can’t help it).  Therefore, it’s important to learn an important term and absorb a simple concept borrowed from their world, if you’re going to understand whether you make a good candidate for bariatric surgery. That term/concept is Body Mass Index.


Body Mass Index

This takes your personal condition of being overweight and reduces it down to just a single number.  To arrive at this number, you’ll need to know your height and your weight.  These numbers are plugged into a formula and out pops a number: your “BMI”. BMI is basically a measure of whether your weight is appropriate for your height.  It’s actually an estimation of your body fat.

If you’re under 18 or older than 65, the BMI scale doesn’t work for you.  But for everyone else, here’s the scale:

  • 18- 23 is a healthy BMI
  • 23+ BMI means you might be overweight- see your doctor for the final analysis
  • Under 18 BMI means you might be underweight.  Again, see your doctor for the finer points of interpreting this number


A Doctor’s Checklist of Bariatric Surgery Criteria

Now that you understand BMI, you’re ready to see if maybe bariatric surgery is for you.  Here are the criteria used by doctors when considering a patient for this ultimate solution to weight loss:

  • You are overweight by 20kg or more.
  • Your BMI is greater than 37.
  • Your BMI is greater than 32 and you have at least one obesity-related health condition (diabetes mellitus, high blood pressure, chronic back pain and joint pains, sleep apnea, hypercholesterolemia, etc).
  • You are between 16 and 65.  Some doctors don’t like to perform this surgery on anyone under the age of 16.
  • You have truly tried everything, including diet and exercise.
  • You understand the risks.
  • You understand what to expect and you are realistic about it.
  • You are properly motivated…i.e. for health reasons, not just to fit into a pair of jeans.


You should also be ready to change your habits post-surgery, which includes:

  • follow-up visits
  • exercise
  • healthy diet
  • vitamins


A Few More Things to Consider…

Those were the doctor’s criteria for weight loss surgery.  You have have your own, however.  For example, did you know that you MUST not get pregnant for a year and half to two years after having the surgery?

The nutritional deficiencies that inevitably come with bariatric surgery may result in dangerous conditions for both mother and foetus if you become pregnant too soon after the procedure.

Of course only you know whether you’re psychologically prepared.  As mentioned above, this means going into surgery with the proper motivation.  Do you understand the health risks of being morbidly obese?  Are you committed to the lifestyle change you will have to adopt?  Are you ready to commit to lifestyle and dietary changes for the rest of your life?

Remember, bariatric surgery is not only a physical transformation.  It requires a new outlook on life: your diet, your habits, the way you life each moment of your life from now on.  In addition to meeting the doctor’s physical criteria for surgery, be sure you’re mentally prepared.  Then and only then can you prevent the disappointing and dangerous outcome of gaining your weight back after you’ve had the surgery.


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