I’m a trial lawyer turned young adult fantasy fiction writer who’s never really had a weight problem, mostly because I’m an obsessive runner who runs at least two marathons a year. When my friend, surgeon Nick Nicholson, asked me to co-author Weight Loss Surgery: The Real Skinny, a book on the emotional consequences of weight loss surgery, my initial thought was that maybe he should find someone else. If he’d wanted to write about running, I’d have been all over it, but how was I going to find the common ground necessary for open communication with the patients I’d need to interview?
I needn’t have worried. It turns out that weight loss surgery at its core isn’t really about weight at all. It’s about answering the question Melvin Udall asked in the movie As Good As it Gets.
Remember Melvin? He’s brilliant, wealthy, and obsessive compulsive to the point that he has no friends and no real life. He’s miserable, he makes everyone around him miserable, and it’s clear in the first few minutes of the movie that despite the fact that he’s in his fifties, has the money to hire the best psychiatrists and the time to put into recovery, he’s had zero success in managing his mental illness. When he sees the weary faces of patients like him sitting in his psychiatrist’s waiting room, he blurts out, “What if this is as good as it gets?”
Weight loss surgery is about daring to hope that the answer to Melvin Udall’s question is “not if you don’t want it to be” and having the guts to act on that hope.
Unhealthy eating has little to do with physical need and everything to do with emotional need. People overeat to numb, to avoid, to soothe, to escape. Weight loss surgery can’t cure that. It’s a tool that jump starts someone into a new life, like giving someone a powerful push on a swing to propel them forward, but after that it’s up to them to keep it going.
Anyone can eat their way out of the surgery, no matter how drastic the procedure. To stay healthy, the patient ultimately has to figure out what’s really eating them — whether it’s a bad marriage, a job they hate, an inability to handle conflict, a lack of self-worth, dissatisfaction with where they’ve ended up in life, or a myriad of other issues — and face it head on. Keeping the weight off means doing the unpleasant work of identifying and confronting uncomfortable emotions and finding healthy ways to deal with them.
At some point, every adult faces Melvin Udall’s fundamental question. Many hunker down in their dysfunctional foxholes, unwilling to feel the pain and put in the work to change the course of their lives.
Successful weight lost surgery patients have dared to do what many won’t — believed that their lives could be better and then backed that belief by putting their heart, soul and mind into the effort of making it so.
Interviewing them and hearing about their challenges and successes was as relatable and inspirational to me as watching someone who’d never run a marathon cross the finish line with tears streaming down her face. Their efforts made me want to tackle the issues in my own life that keep it from being as good as it can be.
Like them, I want to be able to answer Melvin’s question with an in-your-face “just watch — I can make it better”.
~ by B. A. Blackwood
Dr. Nick Nicholson a renowned bariatric surgeon, and B. A. Blackwood, an author, retired trial lawyer, and marathon runner, teamed up to write Weight Loss Surgery: The Real Skinny, a guide for people who are considering or have already undergone bariatric surgery. Nicholson was voted one of D Magazine’s top bariatric doctors seven years in a row, and Blackwood has completed more than 20 marathons. Together they share a passion for encouraging people to achieve and maintain healthy lifestyles. Find out more about them at www.nicholsonclinic.com and www.bablackwood.com.