By: Dr. Michael Martinez, DHR Health Bariatric and Metabolic Institute
As a bariatric and metabolic surgeon, I make it an everyday habit to discuss health issues (and specifically weight loss) with my patients and our community. This time of year, it is even more common for people to ask about ways to improve their health. “New year, New you” is somewhat of a mantra around our clinic this time of year.
Under normal circumstances, an article like this would be centered on 3, 4 or maybe 5 tips to start the year off with a healthier you. The focus would be on new ways to eat healthier, exercise more, and ways to avoid the kind of overeating that is common this time of year, however, this really hasn’t been a “normal” year. These do not really feel like “normal” times, so this year we can take a slightly different approach on how to create a healthier you.
I know of many successful patients that have used the tool of surgery to help improve their health and not only lose weight, but keep the weight off, and remain healthy for many years. From the outside looking in it may appear the surgery is the magic that leads to such dramatic changes in the patients’ health. But surgery is not magic. It is not perfect, because we are not perfect. Every human body is different, and every person presents unique challenges due to their various health conditions. No matter how safe we try to make it, with better preparation and testing before surgery to anticipate problems, improvements in equipment, and improvements in techniques, it is still a mix of art and imperfect science. While the vast majority of patients have excellent and safe outcomes, some may not have the same outcome. Some do not lose as much weight as they hoped for. Some have complications despite our best efforts (most of them minor, but on occasion extremely serious as well).
Most people do not realize the tremendous sacrifice of patients leading up to surgery, and the amount of support and determination required, to turn relatively quick and dramatic results into a lifetime of improved health. What people may not realize is that giving patients the best and safest chance at improving their health takes a team of dedicated people (experts in many fields). This team guides patients through the many challenges associated with weight loss and weight loss surgery. Every patient that undergoes surgery in our program must visit with dieticians, a medical doctor, and a psychiatrist in addition to their consultations with the surgeon. We also have an exercise physiologist on staff to guide patients before and after surgery. I bring this up to say this… improving your health for the long term is about more than just diet, more than just exercise, more than just losing weight. We would not force all patients to visit with a psychiatrist before surgery, or give them access to psychiatric services after surgery, if we did not know, from evidence-based medicine, that it was vital to a patient’s success. OF COURSE DIET AND EXERCISE ARE VITAL, BUT YOU CAN NOT BE TRULY HEALTHY IF YOU DO NOT TAKE CARE OF YOUR MENTAL HEALTH AND WELL-BEING. This seems particularly appropriate to mention in the time of Covid-19.
This does not just apply to surgical weight loss patients. This is true for all of us. We are living in a time of great stress and this has serious consequences to our health. I ask patients to tell me how they can lose weight and almost all will respond with, “eat healthier, exercise more, or both”. Then I ask them about drinking more water and they give me a look. I ask them about their sleep habits and they give me a funnier look. I ask them about stress management and they usually say, “well, there’s nothing I can do about that, so let’s move on to the next topic”.
Everyone has stress in their lives, but not everyone is stressed out. Everyone sleeps regularly (except in the rarest of cases), but not everyone sleeps well or wakes up feeling rested. Everyone drinks liquids (again, with very few exceptions), but not everyone is well hydrated.
If you can find a way to drink more water you will be healthier, guaranteed. Some of our patients literally overeat food because they are mistaking thirst for hunger. When they increase their water intake, they feel full and eat less. When they drink water in place of sugar filled sodas or juices, they decrease cravings associated with those products that lead to overeating. Whichever option you choose to consume more water (with ice, without, squeeze of lime or lemon, in the morning or with each meal), you will be a healthier person with increased water intake.
If you can find a way to get better sleep you will be healthier, guaranteed. Some of our patients have medical issues that prevent healthy sleep like sleep apnea. Sleep apnea patients stop breathing throughout the night and do not get sufficient oxygen as they sleep. But many people have terrible sleep habits and do not often get enough sleep or restful sleep. Keeping the bedroom dark and quiet, turning off the TV or putting away the cell phone can go a long way to a better night’s sleep. Whatever is your chosen method to relax and get some peaceful sleep, you will be a healthier person by doing so.
If you can find a healthy way to manage stress you will get healthier, guaranteed. Some people use exercise, intimacy with a partner, meditation, prayer, or many other tools to deal with life’s stresses. Some people find stress relief in helping others, while some people prefer to be alone. Some people choose to stay busy to relieve stress, while others prefer time away from the hustle to just relax. Whatever your chosen method, if you can learn to handle stress in a way that does not lead to unhealthy behaviors, you will be a healthier person.
Focus on your mental health, well-being, and happiness. Manage your stress and get better sleep habits. Stay well hydrated. The real take home lesson is that it is all connected. Eating well gives you energy to be more active. Increased activity eases stress and also improves energy. Lower stress means better sleep. Better sleep means more energy and lower stress. Better water intake is vital for decreasing inflammation and controlling appetite, which in turn leads to improved health and vitality. For our patients surgery is not magic. The magic is created by the person who has decided to put effort in to getting healthier. The magic is having a comprehensive team of people to guide you to improving your health in all these aspects… mental health, physical health, dietary health… because it is all related and applies to everyone, not just surgical patients.
Our time here is all too short and a healthier you in 2021 can help you have a better quality of life for however much time you have left. This article is dedicated to co-workers who lost their 90 year old grandmother to COVID, childhood friends who lost a parent to COVID, mothers and fathers stressed about their children’s education in the time of COVID, family and friends struggling with isolation in a time of COVID, and everyone dealing with the rest of life’s problems that didn’t seem to stop in the time of COVID.
With new vaccines providing a hope for a better time beyond Covid-19 remember that life is worth living and finding ways to improve all aspects of your health will help you live life even better. If you or someone you know would like more information about living a healthier lifestyle, please call DHR Health Bariatric and Metabolic Institute at (956) 362-LOSE (5673).