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‘I Am a Different Woman’: Fighting Stigma Against Weight Loss Surgery

by Daisy

The journey of weight loss is often depicted as straightforward: eat less and exercise more. However, the reality is far more complex, evidenced by the fact that weight loss is a more than $150 billion industry in the United States alone.

Despite the well-documented health benefits of losing weight, weight loss surgery remains stigmatized. Many people view it as a last resort or even as a form of cheating. Maritza Cruz Rivera, a 64-year-old woman, provides a candid insight into the challenges of living with obesity and the transformative impact of weight loss surgery.

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“A Saturday night for me was going to Publix and buying some macaroons, Netflix, and a Coca-Cola. That was my date,” says Rivera, reflecting on her life before surgery. Standing barely 5 feet tall, Rivera’s weight reached 227 pounds, leading to severe back and knee problems, as well as depression. “When they weighed me, and I saw those numbers, I broke down,” she recalls.

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The turning point came when Rivera decided to undergo weight loss surgery, a procedure that often involves reducing the stomach’s size, thereby limiting food intake. “Enough, you’re going to die. You can’t move, you can’t put on your sneakers,” Rivera remembers thinking. Post-surgery, she feels like a new person. “I bought myself life. I am a different woman,” she declares. “And there is nothing better than that one. Because at 62, you’re not going to become the next Barbie.”

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However, a nationwide survey by Orlando Health highlights the stigma surrounding weight loss surgery: 79% of respondents believe it should be the last resort, and 60% view it as a shortcut, akin to cheating. Dr. Andre Teixeira, a weight loss surgeon at Orlando Health, argues that this stigma is detrimental. “If you smoke all of your life and you get lung cancer, we feel bad, but we don’t say, ‘It’s your own fault,'” Teixeira points out. “Same thing with obesity. It shouldn’t be that way. We shouldn’t have the stigma.”

Dr. Teixeira emphasizes that as weight increases, so does the risk of developing serious medical conditions such as high blood pressure, diabetes, high cholesterol, joint pain, fatty liver, and reflux. Despite this, Rivera faced significant pressure from her family and others to avoid surgery. “The people — oh no, do that — you’re going to have that stretched skin. I said I don’t want to hear that. No negativity,” she recalls.

With the aid of surgery, exercise, and a healthier diet, Rivera has lost 93 pounds. “I’m living a whole new journey. I’m living. I was existing before,” she says, underscoring the life-changing impact of her decision.

Rivera’s story is a powerful reminder that the choice to undergo weight loss surgery should be based on individual health needs, not societal stigma. “Look deep into yourself. Talk to yourself; it’s about how much you love yourself. This is not for anybody else. This is for me,” Rivera advises.

Despite the potential benefits, only one percent of those eligible for weight loss surgery actually undergo the procedure, according to a study. This statistic highlights the pervasive stigma that still surrounds this life-saving intervention. Eric Burris, a local reporter, has been open about his own successful weight loss journey following surgery in 2021, further advocating for breaking down these barriers.

In conclusion, weight loss surgery is a personal decision that can significantly enhance quality of life. By challenging the stigma and encouraging open, supportive conversations, more individuals may feel empowered to pursue the best options for their health and well-being.

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