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Monday, August 01, 2005

Why Are Men So Hard-Headed About WLS?

One of our readers, Diane, posted a thoughtful comment to this older post. She asks us, "Why do they have to be so hard headed?" Let's get some thoughts going about why it is so tough for men to undergo gastric bypass. Comments appreciated and men - feel free to chime in.

Men & Weight Loss Surgery
Is There a Social Stigma?

It’s estimated 200,000 American’s will undergo gastric bypass surgery this year. Only 15 percent, 30,000, will be men. Yet obesity statistics in this country indicate morbid obesity is not gender specific. About 60% of American men and women are obese. So why are so few men, comparatively speaking, going under the knife to lose weight?

It has long been known that if a man wants to lose weight he’ll go to the gym, pump some iron and maybe run a few laps. Seldom does he head for the kitchen to fix a nutritious, balanced low calorie meal. Men are genetically predisposed to lose weight more quickly than women. Most experts agree men tend to lose weight faster because they typically have more lean muscle mass and a lower body fat percentage than women. Said simply, men generally have a higher metabolism, or rate at which they burn calories, because they have more muscle.

Given the better odds for quicker success can we conclude that men are opting for conventional weight loss methods - diet and exercise – before considering gastric bypass as a plausible option?

Perhaps. But it’s been my experience that obese men, like obese women, are ashamed of being fat, ashamed of failing to lose weight and ashamed to take the last-resort surgical option for weight loss. And unlike women, men don’t cluster to talk about their “feelings” or the shame and self-loathing that accompanies obesity. Not surprisingly, many men feel very alone in their battle of the bulge.

One man, William, who secretly underwent gastric bypass said, “It is very difficult for men to reach out and ask for help because obesity is still very much considered a ‘women's disease’. Men may also not want to come forward for fear that people will think they are vain or worse weak.” When someone asks William how he is losing weight he answers with a slap on the back and a wink, “Working my ass off at the gym, buddy – you ought to try it!” He doesn’t even mention diet, portion control or nutrition.

Women are more often prompted to pursue weight loss, including gastric bypass, for self-esteem issues. They need to recover a sense of self-worth or validation, they need to feel attractive to future mates. Women often perceive that being overweight is a character flaw and by fixing it they can become a better person. Many believe media presentation of perfection fuels this perception. Men have generally been immune to unrealistic standards and historically an overweight man was one of affluence and abundance.

These days more and more men are prompted to lie on the surgical table for health reasons, few will admit having surgery to improve their self-esteem. Obesity related health problems scare, and perhaps, shame men to have surgery, lose weight and become healthier. But social stigma shames men into keeping quiet about it.

“I watched three men in my family, one-by-one, drop dead from massive heart attacks. Near as I could tell I was next,” said 37-year-old Frank Elliott. “At 385 pounds I needed to do something fast. So I had the surgery, I lost the weight and kept my mouth shut about it. I was ashamed of being so weak that I couldn’t lose weight on my own.”

Because men are reluctant to go public with their obesity solution there is a lack of male-bonding or support for one another. One LivingAfterWLS reader, Rob said, “I’m finding it difficult being one of the very few men who’ve had this surgery locally. By nature, I’m a talkative and sometimes overly reflective and analytical person. Maybe this is why I get a real sense of fulfillment when I can “talk shop” with other WLS people. But men, by nature I believe, don’t tend to want to band together in the support groups like women seem prone to. This lack of a true peer support system makes it a bit tough.”

Surprisingly men tend to celebrate the same “magic moments” women do when it comes to massive weight loss. Rob said, “The physical changes have been such a treat! I was wearing size 60 pants this time last year and I’m buying 46s and 48s now. Buying clothes is a blast!! One of my biggest short-term goals was to be able to go to most any store in town and buy clothes off the rack. I’ve jumped for joy each time I’ve had to take my watch to the local jeweler to have a link removed from the band. Did I mention that the physical changes have been a treat? I have collarbones now! The girl at the lab can find my veins by sight instead of “poke and fish” now. I’m almost down to having only a single chin!”

Wouldn’t it be great if he had a support network of men who were celebrating the same milestones?

In the context of human relationship male bonding is most likely to happen on the sports field, at the bar or in the stadium stands. Perhaps this is where the WLS male contingent needs to gather, rather than in the traditional meeting room on folding chairs. Given a familiar and comfortable environment where the words “emotions” and “feelings” aren’t requisite for the event I submit WLS men could build a camaraderie based on shared experience and common compassion.

Will that bust the social stigma for overweight men who chose to control their obesity with surgery? Probably not. But if it can help one or two or a hundred men become more self-respecting and more self-assured then why not? In the meantime, we have several male subscribers to LivingAfterWLS. Rob is one of them. I’m happy you are here.

© 2005 Kaye Bailey - All Rights Reserved


Diane; AL said...

This article hit very close to home for me. My younger brother has had the same battles with weight that I have had. He has even gone to the extremes of a liquid diet with injections. His willpower always amazed me. Here we were at a huge Christmas dinner. All of my family's favorite foods were there. He was content to sip his protein drink. But his weight never stabilized. Ya'll know the drill--lose 10 gain back 20. Lose 50 gain 75--etc.

After I had my WLS, he had tons of questions. He even went so far as to go to the first support meeting and check with his ins co. He had a specific WLS exclusion clause. Over this past 18 months while I've lost tons of weight it seems to be appearing on him. He is well over 400 lbs now. My parents have even offered to pay for the surgery. I toldhim there are ways to get around an exclusion clause. Just to give it a try. His exact words to me were"I lost it once on my own and I can do it again"

In the meantime he has been diagnoised with MS. All my family can see is him slowly deteriorating before our eyes. It has been my experience with the men in my support group that it takes something major to shake them up--heart attacks are #1.

My question for ya'll---Why do they have to be so hard headed?

Kim said...

The group that I went through has a specific "For Men Only" support meeting every two weeks. They are all very into the program and it's sort of a male bonding thing. At our annual reunion dinner, several of the men got up and presented their stories. It was very moving to see these men be so honest about how their lives changed. Each and every one of them thanked at least one of the men in the group for being a mentor to them. Maybe your brother needs to find a surgery center that has this sort of set up. I'm in Northern California and went through Valley Care in Pleasanton.
Good luck to you and your brother!

Kaye Bailey said...

Re: Men & WLS, I received a wonderful letter from Jeff Cadwell who is a maximum life coach who specializes in motivating people who are considering or have had weight loss surgery to live more robust lives - physically, mentally and spiritually. You can expect to see an article about him and his philosophy very soon here. In the meantime visit his site at

Thanks Jeff!