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Reality Check: Weight Loss Surgery Isn’t Easy

Written by Consumer Guide to Bariatric Surgery   Last modified on January 18, 2019

Mama June Shannon of Here Comes Honey Boo Boo “fame” stepped back into the world of reality TV recently with her show Mama June: From Not To Hot, which documented her 300lbs. weight loss after gastric sleeve surgery. The show is one of many depicting the travails of people opting for and recovering from weight loss surgery. Given their apparent popularity, it begs the question… are these shows doing us a service or are they glamourizing very serious medical procedures?

Although these shows do try to highlight some of the challenges associated with weight loss surgery — namely the fact that it is not a magic bullet, and requires some serious hard work regardless of whether the cameras are rolling or not — at the end of the day they are intended to be entertainment, and are therefore structured as such.

Electing to undergo weight loss surgery can be a life-changing experience, but it can’t be overstated that the process is not easy. It demands a complete and total commitment to altering your lifestyle and diet. In theory this might seem rather basic, but in practice it can be a challenge. For example, consider gastric sleeve, the surgery that helped Mama June transform her body. In addition to the strict dietary guidelines that must be followed in the weeks after surgery, patients must commit to a permanent change in the types of food they eat, in addition to also changing the manner with which they eat. This includes things like eating very slowly, chewing thoroughly and avoiding drinking and eating at the same time. Any deviation from the strict guidelines could put the success of your weight loss at risk. And the dietary aspect is merely one of many challenges.

It’s essential that weight loss surgery patients have access to positive support systems to help cope with the drastic lifestyle changes. There is a psychological component associated with weight loss surgery recovery, and not everyone has a cheerleader like Honey Boo Boo or a television production team at their disposal helping them along. Many patients instead must look to strangers in the form of support groups for help.

And then there’s the cost. To their credit, many of these reality programs show viewers that weight loss surgery is likely not the last surgery in the body transformation process. Drastic weight loss leaves in its wake the problem of excess skin that can droop and sag. A number of cosmetic treatments (which are not covered by insurance) are almost always required to correct such issues.

Mama June underwent tummy tuck, breast lift, neck contouring surgery and an arm lift to get rid of her sagging skin. This combination of surgeries likely cost upward of $50,000. Given the fact that June has had a relatively successful and lucrative reality TV career and likely received a significant amount of money for her new weight loss surgery show, that cost may not have been an issue for her. However, most patients aren’t so lucky, and are often unable to pay the out-of-pocket expenses associated with post-bariatric cosmetic treatment. In fact, a new study in Obesity Surgery found that just six percent of people in New York state who had weight loss surgery went on to have a tummy tuck or panniculectomy, largely because the procedures were cost prohibitive — suggesting that the reality of Mama June’s journey may be a bit unrealistic for some folk.

So what is the real take-away here? Reality TV is sensational by design, but it can affect change. These shows can motivate people struggling with obesity to take steps towards change. They can spark dialogue, and demystify and destigmatize procedures that can be life-changing. That’s a good thing. But it also cannot be understated that the journey isn’t easy. What’s most important is that weight loss surgery patients are aware of the full scope of what treatment involves and what it demands. Because even though it isn’t easy, the journey is absolutely worth it.

For more information, check out our article on weight loss surgery recovery.