How Bariatric Surgery has Become the Band-Aid of Obesity Treatments

Weight loss isn’t as simple an issue as some may think. While it’s easy to believe a person can simply cut back calories and be more active to drop the pounds, oftentimes this equation fails because there’s a story behind the weight that’s never really been dealt with.

Dr. Carolyn Ross, MD, knows all about this. As a consultant on eating disorders for The Ranch and integrative medicine for treatment facilities across the country, and the owner of her own weight loss treatment and counseling program in Colorado, she has seen how this equation fails first hand.

“In 30 years, I have yet to find a patient that is simple that I can just give a diet sheet and they lose weight,” she said. ‘In the Anchor Program, we provide a simple program for eating and exercising, and remove mental blocks to weight loss such as abuse the patient may have suffered earlier in life. We also address the emotional issues that are the root cause of their weight gain.’

The Anchor Program was founded by Dr. Ross to specialize in obesity counseling to not only work through the practical areas of weight loss like diet and exercise, but the emotional, mental issues as well. In that way, Ross refers to the treatment as a ‘whole person program rather than a diet program.’

One of the areas Dr. Ross is very familiar with within her practice is bariatric surgery, including the Lap-Band procedure. And while there are many proponents of these procedures, the adverse effects of bariatric surgery are rarely discussed, which is an area Ross would like to shed light on. Doing so, she believes, wouldn’t deter people from the procedure, but rather better educate them on all of the risks that it can carry.

One of the lesser known side effects of bariatric sugary is vitamin and mineral deficiencies that can lead to such conditions as osteoporosis. “There are nutritional deficits after all bariatric surgeries because you’re eating a smaller amount of food and you don’t have the same digestive track,” she explained. “With gastric bypass, it bypasses a part of the intestine where most of those nutrients are absorbed. That’s why it’s really a big, big issue.”

Just a few of the nutritional deficiencies Dr. Ross listed include folic acid, iron and zinc, and vitamin D. And most if not all patients who undergo bariatric surgery have to take vitamins and supplements for the rest of their lives to make up for these losses.

Dr. Carolyn Ross

But beyond the side effects, Dr. Ross is concerned about the way bariatric surgeries are being approached and viewed by physicians, insurance companies and individuals alike as it’s a much more dangerous and complicated procedure than often perceived. From her perspective, bariatric surgery is not a bad solution if the person really qualifies for it and goes into it with the proper perspective. But this, she says, rarely happens.

“I’m not against the surgery. In a perfect world we would have a program to screen people and help people deal with the emotional problems of their weight to make sure those getting the surgery really are the BMI of 40 and have lots of medical complications,” she said. “And then they would have follow-up appointments after the surgery to address the nutritional, emotional issues, etc. But honestly, most of the programs are not doing that.”

Dr. Ross estimates that we’re spending between $15,000-20,000 for each Lap-Band procedure and double that for other surgeries, and that cost is often covered by insurance. But what insurance doesn’t cover is the far less expensive $600-range programs, such as nutrition counseling, exercise training, or education about emotional eating, that truly treat the issue.

“The problem is, this system is set up to give people a quick fix rather than a true treatment program that will help them with all of the issues surrounding weight loss,” she said. “Most of our patients with obesity have had lots of neglect and abuse and problems that they’ve never worked through in their lives,” she said. Dr. Ross cited Kaiser Permanente’s Adverse Childhood Experiences Study as proof of this, which found that many of these mental and emotional issues are directly tied to obesity. And that’s something, she says, Weight Watchers just won’t fix.

While Dr. Ross believes bariatric surgery does work, the person has to change their lifestyle along with it no different than they would do if they wanted to lose weight without the procedure. But based off of studies surrounding the procedures there’s at least a 30 percent failure rate for people who regain their weight afterwards, although she believes that percentage is actually much higher.

Dr. Ross believes that comprehensive treatment programs that treat the whole person rather than just the weight are what those struggling with their weight really need. Otherwise, it’s like sticking a band-aid on an open wound – the real issue will never be properly treated.

Dr. Ross can argue this point as she’s seen an incredibly high success rate among her patients. People who go through her program leave feeling less fear around food, more comfortable knowing what to eat, how much to eat, and experience a shift in their feelings about their bodies, with far less less body dissatisfaction and hatred.

‘My goal is to help people lose weight over time. It’s not uncommon to have people lose 5-10 percent of their weight in the first stages of treatment,’ she said. But what she’s most proud of is that a large majority of her patients have more success at maintaining that weight loss over the course of their lives as compared to patients in ‘quick-fix’ programs.

“In America, we are gaining more weight than any other developed country. We are eating more, but we are enjoying it less. It’s important for people to focus not just on the number on the scale, but on the joy of eating well, on how you can improve how you feel about yourself [in the process]. Because in many ways, [obesity] is a form of soul hunger.”

Those who may be interested in seeking care or counseling through Dr. Ross’s treatment program should visit for more information.

Also Read: 

Diabetes Returns in One-Fifth of Those Treated Through Bariatric

Guest Blog: My Bariatric Success Story

Bariatric Surgery and its Health Benefits 


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