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Not a Piece of Cake

Rachel Ginsberg

Last year alone, half a million people put their stomachs under the scalpel in order to undergo bariatric surgery for fast, drastic weight loss. Is this the new, easy way out of obesity, replacing the noble struggle of diet, willpower, and self-discipline? And are the pain, discomfort, and danger of this life-altering surgery a realistic swap for the hoped-for health benefits?

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

At a table in the corner of a popular Jerusalem all-you-can-eat hummus and falafel diner, Shimon Klaffer studies the menu as if it were his monthly Mifal HaShas exam. In a way, it’s an even bigger test. Last summer, at 330 pounds, he sat here in his favorite eatery with his newlywed wife calculating how massive a meal (including the basket of free pitas) he could get for his money, while she shrugged good-naturedly and ordered a salad. Today she’s still ordering a salad, but Shimon has to make an even trickier calculation. Old habits die hard, but what can he choose that won’t make him sick, that will be easy to chew and swallow, that won’t give him heart palpitations or send him to the nearest couch to lie down for two hours in excruciating pain? Shimon, now a drastic 90 pounds lighter after gastric “sleeve” weight-loss surgery, flips his menu back and forth. He settles on an appetizer, half of which will wind up on his wife’s plate. “Now I can finally eat like everyone else,” he says. But that’s not exactly true. His stomach is now just a fraction of its original size, and if he has more than a spoonful of food within a ten-minute period, he’ll feel sick. A slice of bread will take half an hour to go down, eaten in increments. Other foods will cause a common post-op “dumping” reaction — racing heartbeat, sweats, and dizziness. And if he drinks together with his small meal, he’ll pay with nausea and searing pain. But 21-year-old Shimon, a chassidic yungerman, is happy with the trade-off. He’s joined the ranks of about 500,000 men and women around the world who’ve put their stomachs under the scalpel in the last year alone, undergoing one of several bariatric surgical procedures that guarantee fast and drastic weight loss for the morbidly obese — those at least 100 pounds overweight. 

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