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How surgery reduces weight

Common weight loss surgery approaches work as follows:

  1. Restrictive procedures make the stomach smaller to limit the amount of food intake.
  2. Malabsorptive techniques reduce the amount of intestine that comes in contact with food so that the body absorbs fewer calories.
  3. Combination operations take advantage of both restriction and malabsorption.

Restrictive procedures

The theory is simple. When you feel full, you are more likely to have reduced feelings of hunger and will no longer feel deprived. The result is that you are likely to eat less. Restrictive weight loss surgery works by reducing the amount of food consumed at one time. It does not, however, interfere with the normal absorption (digestion) of food. In a restrictive procedure, the surgeon creates a smaller upper stomach pouch. The pouch, with a capacity of approximately 1/2 to 1 oz. (15 to 30 ml), connects to the rest of the stomach through an outlet known as a "stoma." In a cooperative and compliant patient, the reduced stomach capacity, along with behavioral changes, can result in consistently lower caloric intake and consistent weight loss.

During recovery, patients must adhere to the strict specific dietary guidelines and restrictions their surgeon prescribes. While these guidelines may vary from one surgeon to the next, it is important for each patient to follow their surgeon's guidelines. When the time comes to resume eating "regular" food, the patient must learn to adapt to a new way of eating. At each meal, they are restricted to consuming approximately one-half to a full cup of food before feeling uncomfortably full. Patients who see the best results from a restrictive procedure are those who learn to eat slowly, eat less, avoid snacking and avoid drinking too many fluids, particularly high-calorie or carbonated beverages. Patients who fail to follow these guidelines can stretch the stomach pouch and/or the stoma outlet and defeat the purpose of the surgery. Failure to achieve the expected level of weight loss is usually the result of a patient's failure to comply with the recommended dietary and behavior modifications, such as increased exercise and regular support group attendance.

Malabsorptive procedures that alter digestion

It can be said that some of the restrictive approaches discussed above have not always achieved the excess weight loss surgeons and patients anticipated. For this reason, procedures that alter digestion, known as malabsorptive procedures, were developed to work in conjunction with restrictive approaches. Some of these techniques involve a bypass of the small intestine, thus limiting the absorption of calories. On balance, malabsorptive or malabsorptive/restrictive procedures have resulted in an overall increase in the loss of excess weight. The risk of complications and side effects generally increases with the lengthening of the small intestine bypass. You and your surgeon must determine the risks and benefits over your lifetime with the type of weight loss surgery you choose.

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