There is a new type of weight loss surgery currently being researched that targets the vagus nerve. The vagus nerve plays an important role in telling people when they’re hungry and when they’re full. With this new treatment, an electrical device, similar to a pace maker, is surgically implanted under the skin in the chest. This device emits electrical impulses designed to block the vagal nerve impulses and thereby making people feel less hungry, more full. The surgery has been tested in Europe, and shows promise.
But like other forms of bariatric surgery (and most diets as a matter of fact), initial results are pretty spectacular, while long term results are much less so. In the case of this surgery, patients lose between 20 and 50 % of their excess weight in the first six months, but gained about 50% of that weight back.
So what do I think of this surgery? For some, this could be a good partial solution. Certainly less invasive is better, and this surgery is less invasive than lap-band surgery and other bariatric surgeries. Furthermore, when someone has a large amount of weight to lose, and has tried everything without success, surgery can help.
However (you knew I’d get to the however, didn’t you?), in my experience eating for hunger is rarely the problem. In fact, you may have heard me say that hunger is a very good thing. It’s our body’s way of telling us how much nourishment we need. When our metabolic rate changes due to exertion or lack of exertion, our appetite lets us know. When we have had a big meal and don’t need to eat, our appetite goes down. It’s really a very tidy system.
Of course, that’s the way it’s supposed to work. Some people with weight problems never feel hunger at all. When I have new clients keep a hunger diary, some feel no hunger, ever, either because they eat enough that they never get hungry, or because they have trained themselves to not feel their bodies. My first job, then, is to help them feel again.
So what do I think about VBLOC surgery? The clinical results tell us it helps some, so I believe it. Patients should expect to lose and then regain some of what they lose (we know the cycle). VBLOC, like other bariatric surgeries is at best a partial solution. I also have to admit I find the notion of tinkering with a nerve as important as the vagus never scary. My common sense tells me we can’t possibly understand all it does.
The other part of the solution involves addressing the reasons we are overweight to begin with. What are we getting from overeating and being overweight that is worth so much to us that we are willing to compromise our health and our enjoyment of life to get it? Whatever it is, it’s a big deal, and can’t be surgically removed. Basically, the other part of the solutions is the Inside Out Weight Loss job.