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Deciding on Bariatric Surgery

Is excess weight affecting your life and your health? Bariatric surgery (also called obesity surgery) may help you reach a healthier weight. This surgery alters your digestive system. For the surgery to work, you must change both your diet and lifestyle. In most cases, the surgery is not reversible. So if you’re considering surgery, learn all you can about it before you decide. Bariatric surgery also has a number of potential risks and complications that you need to discuss with your surgeon.

Projected weight loss for most people, showing Weight, Ideal weight, Years after surgery. Most weight loss happens in the first year and a half.

Qualifying for Surgery

Surgery is not for everyone. To qualify:

  • You must have a BMI (body mass index) of 40 or more, or a BMI of 35 or more (see box below) plus a serious health problem such as type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, or sleep apnea.

  • You must be healthy enough to have surgery.

  • You may be required to have a psychological evaluation.

  • You must have tried to lose weight by other means.

Doctor talking with patient

Setting Realistic Expectations

The goal of bariatric surgery is to help you lose over half of your excess weight (the number of pounds over your estimated normal body weight). This can improve or prevent health problems. This surgery is not done for cosmetic reasons. Keep in mind that:

  • Other weight-loss methods should be tried first. Lifestyle changes, behavioral modifications, and prescription medicines are initial options. Surgery is only an option if other methods don’t work.

  • Surgery is meant to be permanent. You will need to change how you eat for the rest of your life.

  • You must commit to eating less and being more active after surgery. If you don’t, you will not lose or keep off the weight.

  • You won’t reach a healthy weight right away. Most weight is lost steadily during the first year or 2 after surgery.

  • Most likely, you won’t lose all your excess weight. But you can reach a much healthier weight. So be realistic about your expectations. 

Obesity is measured by a formula called body mass index (BMI), which is based on your height, weight, and gender. An ideal BMI is 18 to 25. A BMI of 30 or more signals obesity. A BMI of 40 or more reflects severe (morbid) obesity.


  • American Society for Metabolic and Bariatric Surgery

  • National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute Obesity Education Initiative

Online Medical Reviewer: Foster, Sara, RN, MPH
Online Medical Reviewer: MMI board-certified, academically affiliated clinician
Last Review Date: 3/31/2014
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