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Beware the Magic Button

The media has been abuzz with news that the requirements for qualifying for LAP- BAND®surgery, the original FDA approved adjustable gastric banding device, have been “lowered”. An obese individual with a BMI (Body Mass Index – a measure of body fat based on height and weight) of 30, down from 35 previously, may apply for this surgical procedure, providing she has another obesity related illness – thereby including another 26 million people who may qualify for this surgery. What this decision means is that a new and broader audience of people seeking an answer to their obesity and to their suffering about obesity has emerged. Now, millions more will opt for a “cure” that is invasive, expensive and full of risk and danger.

The decision to lower the BMI to 30 is truly frightening. Seeking an overnight solution to healthy living is not the answer and it never has been. A person’s life is in danger because they have not successfully faced their conviction that eating food large in proportion and/or high in fat will soothe their pain and bring them comfort. Without inquiry into the heart of the matter and reconnecting with one’s strength, wisdom and wise choice, poor eating habits continue and, many times, obesity is the outcome. A surgical procedure that promises weight loss is often viewed as the magic button or, literally, an overnight solution. Too often, there is danger, disappointment and weight regained.

Having only been around since 2001, the “risks” and “contraindications” for lap-band surgery are too numerous to address in this short article. I counted over 50 risks and contraindications listed on websites supporting lap-band surgery. This is not a simple procedure (considering the risks and possible side effects) nor is it a safe procedure, considering the long list of contraindications. In addition, the cost for the procedure is usually beyond $17,000, making this “answer” to obesity very expensive for most people.

In my private practice, I am currently working with a young woman, age 30, who chose to have the LAP-BAND® surgery three years ago to remedy her obesity. She has not only gained the weight back but has added over another 100 pounds. She, like many, has struggled with overeating habits and unhealthy behavior all of her life. After many appointments and qualifying efforts, she elected to have the LAP-BAND® surgery. “It was my last hope” she said.

Now, three years later and at her highest weight, this young woman reports feeling “cheated”. She understood this particular surgery would help her eat smaller amounts of food and avoid foods that were “binge foods”. She feels angry and resentful that she wasn’t prepared more fully for this procedure and its consequences. She also believes that the people involved in her preparation and education for the LAP-BAND® surgery did not adequately address her habit of binge eating. She was told: “This is not about food, but about hunger. The procedure will reduce your hunger”. And it did at first. My client ate only small amounts in the beginning, dropping weight quickly and feeling very encouraged. Unfortunately, she lost more muscle mass than fat, lowering her strength, metabolism and bone density. It was only a matter of time before she began to gain the weight back. In addition to gaining significant weight, failure, guilt, shame, anger and disappointment are her constant companions.

With rare exception, obesity is a medical condition brought on by unhealthy eating habits. If the answer to obesity is more information or yet another overnight solution, we would be a svelte culture, enjoying food as nourishment, pleasure and celebration – in appropriate, healthy amounts. Healing from unhealthy eating habits and their consequences in our lives is not about a quick fix or an overnight cure. Though “instant” might sound appealing at first, most of us long for a richer life ~ one with meaning, purpose, happiness and peace. When we live with the constant and unrelenting belief that we will be a better person, more lovable and happier, if we achieve something “out there” (such as lower weight), we will never be at ease with ourselves because what we long for lies within. Our true hunger is for something beneath the tyranny of diets, procedures and control.

Though healthy nourishment is important to wellness and well-being, reaching the heart of the matter is what will bring healing and healthy living. Therefore, we must examine why we eat as well as what we eat. The temptation to reach for food can be overwhelming. Eating emotionally can become a way of life and compulsive behavior can become an attempt to manage feelings only to have the compulsions manage us in the end. The true cause of our months, years and perhaps lifetimes of struggle with weight is that we have forgotten who we truly are and have, instead, allowed fear, shame and guilt to run our lives. We have forgotten how to trust ourselves, how to trust our lives and how to live joyfully. We have forgotten the power of paying attention mindfully and in doing so, we turn to our compulsions -to food or to control-to numb ourselves rather than experience fully what we are feeling.

Healing and healthy weight will not happen on a purely physical level. We must go deeper to find solution. Overeating or compulsive eating is not a food issue but a relationship issue- with ourselves and how well we honor and respect the person we are and have always been. When we “open to” rather than “turn away from” our compulsive and disordered eating habits, we allow them to be our teachers -our guides back to ourselves. As we learn to pause and listen mindfully to the voice of these compulsions, we are then able to be aware, compassionate, forgiving, loving and wise human beings. We become able to live from our core- from the center of who we are with wisdom, connection and deep love. As we transform our habit of seeking answers or solutions from somewhere outside of ourselves to trusting our own innate wisdom and knowledge, we become a healing presence for ourselves, our relationships and our world.

If you have struggled with being overweight and think this “revolutionary” procedure, called the LAP-BAND® surgery, is for you, please pause for a moment and ask yourself: Is this a wise answer to my health challenges? If your answer is “yes”, please ask yourself: How do I know? And then examine, with kind and compassionate curiosity, each reason you have listed. Could this be another means to achieving an end result by skipping the internal work of deep honesty and revelation? Can you imagine yourself acting with wisdom, courage and commitment: facing your life situation fully and with acceptance and an eagerness to learn?

On some level, we are all starving for a deep and abiding relationship with our true selves. We are hungry for a deeply authentic life – one that brings us alive and one that is loving, compassionate and forgiving. By trusting our innate wisdom, committing fully to a sustainable and healthy lifestyle and learning from every situation, we can create a life lived with purpose, joy and freedom – a healthy life, a healthy weight.

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