MSNBC: Gaining Weight To Qualify For Lap-Band Surgery?

MSNBC: Gaining Weight To Qualify For Lap-Band Surgery?

From Edible Geography: Photo of a lap-band and how it fits around the stomach.

Long time reader Michelle sent this one in. Consider it presented with absolutely no comment:

At 202 pounds, Steffany Sears knew she was fat, but not fat enough to qualify for traditional weight-loss surgery.

Desperate for help, the Gold Bar, Wash., woman did what seemed the only logical thing:  She gorged herself on chips and cookies, pizza and fried chicken so she’d gain at least eight pounds more.

“I would have eaten myself stupid,” recalled Sears, 34, who was turned down by her insurance company for the $20,000 procedure. “I know friends who would have done that, too.”

In the end, she actually qualified to participate in a clinical trial that led the federal Food and Drug Administration this spring to lower the bar for obesity in people eligible for one form of weight-loss surgery, Allergan’s Lap-Band stomach-shrinking device. Because she had a body mass index, or BMI, of between 30 and 35, the target range of the new rule, she even got the treatment for free, instead of having to take out a second mortgage on her house.

Today, at 5-foot-6, she weighs 143 pounds. “I felt like I’d won the lottery, really, with my life,” said Sears, a native of England.

But Sears’ experience highlights what dieters and doctors alike say is a growing dilemma. Spurred by strict insurance policies that limit surgery to high BMIs of 35 or 40, some obese people are actually striving to gain weight — in order to lose it.

Web sites devoted to weight-loss surgery are full of advice and anecdotes from would-be losers who claim they ate piles of bananas, chowed down on burgers and curly fries or swilled gallons of water to nudge the scale to the correct heights.

“That happens all the time,” said Dr. Robert Michaelson of Northwest Weight Loss Surgery in Everett, Wash., who was a clinical investigator for the FDA trial. “I’ve seen people come in with ankle weights on.”

Sometimes, it works. Elizabeth Marks, 32, of San Diego, Calif., was turned down for surgery once by her insurance company for being less than 100 pounds overweight, but accepted after she gained more.

“I just had two weeks of eating all the junk I could,” Mark said.

In general, a person who is 5-foot-6 and weighs 220 pounds has a BMI of 35. At 250, the BMI climbs to 40.

Weight-loss doctors definitely discourage patients from gaining more and instead urge them to pursue non-surgical options, or to find other ways to pay for the surgery. One good reason? Some insurers regard the practice as fraud.

“I tell them go home. You don’t qualify,” said Dr. Namir Katkhouda, a bariatric surgeon at the University of Southern California who has performed 2,000 procedures. “They come back six months later and their problems are much worse.”

Actually, I take that back. I have two thoughts:

1) Is THIS why the FDA considered altering the weight requirement a while back? To prevent people from doing this?

2) Here’s hoping “two weeks of eating all the junk I could” isn’t enough time to cultivate an emotional eating habit in someone.


By | 2017-06-10T11:20:44+00:00 February 12th, 2015|Health News|30 Comments

About the Author:

The proud leader of the #bgg2wlarmy, Erika Nicole Kendall writes food and fitness, body image and beauty, and more here at #bgg2wl. After losing over 150lbs, Kendall became a personal trainer certified in fitness nutrition, women's fitness, and weight loss by the National Academy of Sports Medicine. She is also certified in sports nutrition by Precision Nutrition. She now lives in New York with her husband and children, and is working on her 6th and 7th certifications because she likes having alphabet soup at the end of her name.


  1. Tachae October 28, 2011 at 10:07 AM - Reply

    This pattern of abuse on our bodies have to stop! People will gain weight for this “solution” to their PHYSICAL obesity, but they are still MENTALLY obese. The problem starts in the mind, and if you don’t change those unhealthy cravings you can lapband your brain for all I care…you’ll STILL BE UNHEALTHY.

  2. Tachae October 28, 2011 at 10:09 AM - Reply

    Has* darn mobile internet. Lol

  3. Monica October 28, 2011 at 10:09 AM - Reply

    I have a sister who at one point considered this surgery. She actually was over 250 at 5′ 3″ so I think she technically could qualify. I am so thankful that instead she is choosing to workout and eat healthy. I can only imagine how much better she will feel, how much healthier once she gets the weight off. I won’t say it’s more valuable to do it the hard way…I know the morbidly obese may need emergency surgery. But if you’re NOT morbidly obese, it’s sad that as a culture we would rather get worse to get better. We must not realize that weight loss IS possible with some consistent work. I lost 35 lbs, going from overweight to fit, and have maintained for 2 years. I know it’s hard, it’s a lifestyle change. I’m glad my sister is dedicating her life to change how she thinks of food instead of waiting until she can barely walk to get surgery. Note: I’m not judging those who get surgery, just applauding those who take the difficult route.

    • Tremilla October 31, 2011 at 9:44 AM - Reply

      Congratulations on your weightloss. And I hope your sister continues on her journey so that she can show others it can be done. Hard work, consistency, and dedication are the keys to accomplishing everything in life. It shouldn’t be any different when it comes to your health.

  4. Monica October 28, 2011 at 10:14 AM - Reply

    Correction, technically have been maintaining for a year. Have been focused on my weight for 2 years. It’s a lifestyle change that a band can’t make for you!

  5. Stefanie October 28, 2011 at 10:46 AM - Reply

    When a person is desparate to lose weight, they will go to drastic measures; this I do understand and I empathize with these people. We know it is not smart eat loads of junk food to qualify for a life changing high risk surgery that will cut you stomach to the size of a grape, only to eat a fist worth of food in hope that you don’t vomit if you somehow eat more. I considered the lap band at one point in time; but I’m glad my insurance did not cover it because it was not the best option for me. Some people are good candidates for the weight loss surgery I believe. Most of us are able bodied enough to put one foot in front of the other and make some moves. So, with that said, for those of us who do not believe in the weight loss surgery, we should encourage those who want to do the surgery (but really don’t need it) by making sure we are making healther choices in our own lives so they can see that making good choices will be rewarding for our bodies and the rest of our lives.

    • Elle @ Chellbellz October 28, 2011 at 2:32 PM - Reply

      i get that, but 202lbs?? There are ppl out there that really need this, they can’t walk, they can’t so anything in some cases. At the end of the day the risk is too great for what 40lbs possibly? maybe 55? 20K when she probably could have lost it for not even 10% of that with a gym membership and a couple of meal plans. So what happens when she gets thin, then she goes back to eating how she wants. These things are perm fixes to be healthy. The only think that i saw from researching this is that, once you get the surgery your risk for type two diabetes is non-exsistant if you suffer from it and I think that has a lot to do with that wierd fat web crap you get in your stomach as you get older but these people would quickly waste this by going back to their old ways, never working out, and still not understanding the art of eating right.

      • Tremilla October 31, 2011 at 9:40 AM - Reply

        I agree 100%. I’m 200 lbs now (down from 215). The only way I could get surgey if I gained about 50-100lbs. I’d rather work on losing the weight. Surgery is a quick fix not a resolution. It makes you lose the weight but not the habits that got you there. And this surgery comes with its on set of issues depending on your health.

  6. Nicole October 28, 2011 at 1:53 PM - Reply

    I’m torn on this article. Intellectually, it is stupid to GAIN weight to qualify for a surgery, but I would have done the same as the first woman mentioned in the article. Either gain eight pounds and IMPROVE my health for FREE or mortgage my house and possibly WORSEN my financial future to improve my health … it’s a no brainer to me.

    But honestly, these folks hovering at the 200 lb mark should have just buckled down, bought some running shoes and cleaned up their diet. At most heights, 200 lbs is certainly in the obese range, but it is not impossibly large. Most people at average height only need to loose 40-50 lbs to be in a healthy BMI. Loosing that can be done in 12-18 months by sticking to a sensible low carb diet and walking for 30-60 minutes a day.

  7. Elle @ Chellbellz October 28, 2011 at 2:28 PM - Reply

    Mmmm why did i get excited to see my name in this. Hi Michelle here, my friends are I are still commenting on this via FB. It’s pretty sad basically…god forbid they get this surgery on the tax payers dollar. at 202 lbs, she could have considered going to the gym …these surgeries have risk, and when did eating a veggie pose a risk? It’s pathetic and I’m still just disgusted by it.

  8. Rachelle October 28, 2011 at 2:52 PM - Reply

    I think it’s ridiculous that people will gain weight to be able to qualify for a surgery instead of learning to eat properly and work out. They are further endangering their health. You need to change all of you in order to be a success story not just take off the pounds. I am sure this also contributes to the fact that there is a high percentage of people that regain weight after surgery since they have not properly learned to care for their body. On a positive note I love your blog discovered it a few weeks ago. Keep up the great blogging!!!!

  9. Jay October 28, 2011 at 3:19 PM - Reply

    Just ridiculous! I weigh 214 lbs. I can’t imagine gaining weight on purpose to get weight loss surgery. I have been running and working out since July. I love the feeling that I’m getting healthy and strong – losing weight along the way. Too bad they are missing out on the personal satisfaction of losing weight on their own.

  10. Tremilla October 29, 2011 at 3:03 AM - Reply

    This is crazy! As much as I would love a quick weight loss solution I can not imagine doing this too myself. I know some patients who use bariatric surgery, but those gluttons who are gorging themselves should be a shame. In my opinion, some people choose bariatric surgery not because they can’t lose the weight, but because they choose not to let go of the habits that got them there. People think that once they get these procedures done they’re cured, but that’s so far from the truth. There is no gurantee that you’re going to be skinny or that your issues will be resolved.On this episode of True Life, this young guy had a gastric bypass. He went to a restaurant ate about five different entrees, went to the bathroom to vomit, and out and ate some more. My advice: solve your food addiction first before undergoing these procedures.

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