I am aware, as I write, that before tonight I had lots of judgments about people who choose to have surgery to lose weight. Actually no, that's not true. I didn't, I had judgments about the doctors who offer the surgery. I felt angry that people are being put under the knife before being offered tools and support to change their relationship with food (other than diets!) which might mean they could avoid such major invasive surgery. How many people I wonder, who opt for bariatric surgery, have been offered the opportunity to work on their overeating in a supportive and positive way? How many of them have talked to other people who understand and hear them with compassion about what it's like to live with body hatred, feeling bad about themselves and stuffing those feelings down with yet another pack of crisps? How many of them really know, before they change their digestive system, sometimes irreversibly, that with support and care and encouragement, they could transform their relationship with food and stop overeating...
And this evening I saw things in a different light. Whatever my views about surgery and the alternatives, I met people who have been thrown a life raft. Their stories moved me and I felt a huge amount of respect and admiration for every one of them. They know, as I know, that the surgery offers them a tool, one way to manage their eating and they also know that there's lots of work to do to change their relationship with food once they've undergone the procedure. That the surgery alone is not enough. Without making changes the weight comes back on, just like it always does. When we don't know how to manage the reasons we overeat, when we don't know how to deal with it when every bone in our body wants to eat, when the urge to fill ourselves up with something, anything, is so great, so overwhelming, that it feels as if it controls every fibre of our being, then even a gastric bypass cannot keep the pounds at bay.
The surgery is not THE answer and it does make an enormous difference to some people's lives. It is so easy to judge, to think that people who opt for surgery are taking the easy option. That is definitely not the case. Only those who have been there understand the utter desperation, misery and anguish that accompanies being overweight and/or yoyoing up and down year after year, for decades. The diets fail us, the dietitians, nutritionists, doctors, therapists... they all fail us. None of them offer a realistic, lifelong solution. So where do we go when we reach the end of the road? With stone upon stone to lose?
Beyond Chocolate offers people hope, not just because we look at our relationship with food from every angle; what we eat, how we eat, why we eat... we look at emotional eating and body image, we deal with exercise and healthy eating. And we do all that with kindness and compassion. We don't patronise people - we know that they know everything there is to know about food and diets what they 'should' or shouldn't eat. They could probably write a book about it! We don't just offer a one dimensional fix. We show people exactly how to change the way they eat in a way that is sustainable and real. Gradually, one step at a time. And sadly Beyond Chocolate and it's cousins (the few that exist out there) are not offered to people by GPs because we have not yet had the financial good fortune to invest in research to 'prove' that what we do works. While GPs reluctantly or happily refer people to the good old slimming clubs (who can afford the glossy brochures and so called research showing how much weight people lose - but not how much they invariably regain!), we remain the prerogative of those who can afford to pay and have the good fortune to come across us or hear about us through word of mouth or on the internet. We're working on it! Slowly but surely we are gaining ground. We'll get there.
We are committed and passionate about empowering women (and men) to know and trust their bodies and to taste the freedom that comes from a healthy balanced relationship with food. And that means anyone, however they choose to support themselves, including bariatric surgery.
I am so grateful to have been invited to speak at the BOSPA meeting tonight. I left feeling moved, honored and much better informed and with huge admiration for all the participants and Georgina, the woman who runs such a supportive and encouraging group.