Lap-Band Gastric Weight Loss Treatment Ruined My Life
The needle the doctor took was about the length of my forearm. He was right, I shouldn't have looked down. I'm standing in his office in Glendale, California, shirt off, pants pulled up to my ankles. My belly was on display to every doctor, nurse, assistant and attending who came up to see the operation up close. It was 2010, and lap bands were still considered a heady “panacea” for the obesity epidemic ravaging Los Angeles. You can't drive on any freeway without seeing a “1-800-GET-THIN” billboard.
Gastric band surgery is like putting a rubber band over your stomach. There are no internal cuts (a big specialist), and your stomach remains intact, unlike gastric bypass surgery, where the stomach is cut open and the bowels rerouted. The waistband hugs the upper curve of your stomach, creating a small upper pocket. Basically, it tricks your body into thinking your stomach is the size of a pigeon. You eat much less and feel full faster – all of which are big selling points. Of course, my body needs to be tricked. I knew that by that time in my life, I wasn't going to give up a pound easily.
I was 19 when I got the band, but I started dieting as early as 7. I'm tired of getting fat, tired of training for one goal all my life, tired of waiting for my life fat to start. So I had the doctor push a needle into a port in the back of my chest and inject a full cc of saline. I felt the sides of the band expand and completely close my stomach. He slowly pulled the plunger back and my stomach opened up just the tiniest bit, enough to hold water or other fluids. I've lost 30 pounds – only 80 left. Only in my 80s can my life finally be mine.
Little did I know then that lap bands wouldn't be the gateway to a new life. It was just a trap, sold to me for $6,000 – an eating disorder I bought and now can't escape.
I got knee straps because a girl was mean to me. Ok, here's the short version. But it's not untrue. I moved to LA when I was 18 and 320 lbs. I'm in love with my roommate who doesn't mind the attention but never takes me seriously as a date. Nor did she quibble on the subject: I'm too fat. It's not that you're too fat to play, but too fat to be invisible, too fat to love.
The long version is much longer. My mother was very concerned about my weight and put me on diets throughout my childhood. By the time I was 18, I had been to weight camp 3 times, was a hardcore member of Weight Watchers, and could recite to you the basics of every fad diet that's been around since 1997. I drink cabbage soup, skip carbs, skip lunch, eat liquids for breakfast, and get a personal trainer two, three, five days a week. At all costs, but I'm still fat. (One night, when I was at my thinnest, my dad decided over dinner to count how much it cost him for every pound I lost. It was supposed to be a joke, but I don’t think I laughed much.)
We paid for the belt out of pocket and I qualified based on the BMI requirement – I was at the bottom of the chart in the “why you ain't dead” section. I don't need letters from a therapist, or multiple consultations with my surgeon of choice. A deposit, some blood, pee, and a CT scan of my body, and I booked a surgery day. I drank only fluids for 10 days before surgery. I spent them smoking marlboros and drinking orange juice in a row. I lost my first 10 lbs.
Under anesthesia, I dreamed I was kissing Catherine Zeta-Jones. When I came back to myself, the pain was sharp and choppy, pulling my chest inward and the upper half of it collapsing away from me. It took weeks to walk fully upright, and it took a few days for me to sleep comfortably. It's worth it to me. I felt myself recoil, reveling in the compliments that came fast and thick.
I will always remember the first few days after surgery. I lay in bed and ate a handful of ice cubes, popsicles, and chicken soup. Rituals without food – coffee for breakfast, drinks with friends – the world would feel empty and strange. But it also feels open and new and possible. I don't need food anymore. I beat it. I would erase all memories of my fat self and start over with a slender shiny body that everyone would love.
The first thing I threw up was an apple. That's not on the billboard – vomit. Nor are symptoms of underlying hair loss or dental damage or general malnutrition. The girdle is an actual physical barrier – it literally stops food from entering the larger part of the stomach. What if you're not chewing slowly or often enough? Vomit. Something with too much fiber? Eating too fast? Still in bed? All of these will immediately restore food. Sometimes this happens if I drink water too quickly or eat something that is too cold or too spicy. Sushi, pizza, and hot dog buns are out of the question. I spat in trash cans, out of car windows, loping behind trees, and around the corner of Notre Dame when I couldn't help it. But the first time is Apple.
After my wristband was filled with saline (this is called an adjustment), I started on a full liquid diet. About two months after surgery, adjustments begin once the band has loosened from the original implant. Saline was injected through a needle into a port in the back of my chest, a humiliating ritual I then had to repeat every 30 pounds or so. Adjustments are essentially resets – they make my stomach unacceptable to anything but water and broth.
Weeks of broth and prune juice (trying to get my bowels to work) finally gave way to just soft foods. As the brine in the strips evaporates and the strips become loose, I can try foods that a toddler might be able to handle. The sheets I got suggested cottage cheese, plastic flavored baby food and sugar free puddings which blew my mind. Some nights, I'll go to the deli and order a warm gravy and sip it slowly with a spoon, carefully licking each bite to my tongue.
I quickly ignored the advice, swallowed anything with flavor, and got creative with the word “soft.”
I decided on “soft meals” that included Whole Foods house-made pico de gallo crumbled fancy blue cheese for a punch. I sliced fresh avocado and doused it with sweet soy sauce to quench sushi cravings, and when I was craving a bagel, I had smoked salmon with lemon juice and a thin layer of cream cheese. I drink miso soup like water and am obsessed with the delicate pulp and vitamin-rich juice of young Thai coconuts.
Eating at home isn't a problem, though — it's going out. Every social event seems to suddenly revolve around food. It's everywhere—everything I can't have. At first, I drank a latte while my friends enjoyed cheeseburgers. I remind myself that I am now beyond food. On top of the cheeseburger. As the months passed, I was (literally) craving something with bite and texture. I lost weight rapidly and new clothes fell out within weeks of purchase. Eventually, I stopped buying new jeans and just bought a belt that I punched myself in when I ran out. I feel like I'm constantly under siege – watching people eat and drink and go about their normal lives while I go to school with bottles of Pedialyte and protein shakes so I don't pass out. Eventually I found that I could eat what I wanted and put it all back in the toilet.
I was hungry and throwing up. I'm used to throwing up. I'm good at throwing up. I couldn't do it before the band – I couldn't do it alone. Now I know exactly what will come back and how quickly. I can put my head back like a dove and eat a meal. I start eating things that I know won't stay. why not? What does it matter? I am still losing weight. As long as it keeps coming off, no one cares how it comes off.
I lost 100 pounds and then about 20 more. Then I stopped adjusting. Then I made $50 back – and they wouldn't budge.
Lap bands are not as popular as they used to be. No more billboards.this gastric sleeve It is now the most commonly performed bariatric surgery in the United States (a surgery in which only most of the stomach is removed and the smaller stomach is left intact). While others may have been successful and completely satisfied with their bondage experience, it has been reported to result in less weight loss than other bariatric procedures, and as of 2019 it accounted for only 0.9% of all bariatric procedures in the United States With injectables like Mounjaro and Ozempic flooding the market, bariatric surgery may soon be a thing of the past.
I got the silver bullet attraction. At my heaviest, I'd rather have an entire limb lean, and I mean that literally. But miracles are not real, because humans need food. We must eat. This is non-negotiable. When I was at my heaviest, I was lonelier than ever. Life feels like it's happening to me — to other people. I'm stuck on an island and trying not to take up too much space. I want to tell you I won't be getting bands again, but I can't promise. I am desperate.
The world wants fat people to be desperate, sorry, invisible. Body positivity may have changed things, but we're still relentlessly searching for a “cure” for obesity. It took me a long time to understand that I didn't need to be healed. My body and my tummy are doing what they have evolved over centuries – maintaining my weight and keeping me alive. Not having the plastic strap would change that – not really.
I'm not going to judge anyone taking these new “miracle” drugs. I want that miracle too. I now know that miracles are not real. However, your body is. Regardless, it's worth loving.
William Horn is a writer living in Boston.you can find him on twitter @wellshorn And read everything he posted on the internet here. He's currently working on a memoir and a book about being professionally fat.
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