When Pam Davis, RN, CBN walks into a room of bariatric surgery candidates, she not only shares her expertise as a certified bariatric nurse and the program director for the Centennial Center for the Treatment of Obesity, but she also shares her personal experience as someone who has literally walked the same path the candidates are about to take.
At her heaviest, she weighed 330 pounds. Today, she maintains a healthy weight in the 170’s. “I tried treatment with dietary changes, with medicine, and ultimately with surgery. Now, how I maintain my treatment is with dietary and lifestyle changes,” she explained. “My obesity is still there; it’s just in remission,” she added of the lifelong journey.
It’s that combination of expertise and experience that makes Davis immediately relatable. She understands the process and complex emotions that go into the decision to have surgery because she’s been there, and she knows the process doesn’t end when a patient hits their goal weight. “I really think obesity has to be looked at as being treated on a continuum just like diabetes,” she said.
Davis added that weight loss is never easy, although bariatric surgery makes it a little easier by restricting the amount of food that can be taken in at one time. “Surgery is going to make their stomach right, but they are the ones who have to make their heads right. We do provide all the tools possible, but motivation is internal,” she said.
Davis noted that if someone is sitting in a seminar thinking they can’t give up their sweet tea and trying to figure out how to continue drinking it post-op, then that individual isn’t ready for bariatric surgery. “Instead, you should be thinking, ‘this is a tool to finally help me break my sweet tea addiction.’”
The mental and emotional part is key, she continued, since it is possible to ‘out eat’ any of the surgical procedures and regain weight.
After all, Davis noted, you can always find a reason to overindulge. It’s New Year’s or Super Bowl or Valentine’s Day or the club’s Memorial Day picnic. “You can, at any point, look for an excuse to go off your eating plan and bow to the social pressure of an all out eating frenzy … or … you can say, ‘I’ve made this commitment to myself to become healthier physically and mentally with my relationship to food,’ and that’s a huge switch to make.”
As a society, Davis said we have made social settings all about the food. It takes a lot of effort to put the emphasis back on Aunt Betty instead of on Aunt Betty’s delicious potato salad.
Interestingly, Davis said that as the weight comes off, bariatric surgery patients could potentially find that some of their biggest champions aren’t quite as supportive anymore. Whenever a person loses a large amount of weight, she noted, there are social, emotional and societal changes that impact the dynamic among family and friends.
“It’s always someone’s unofficial role to be the heaviest one in the group. Now that you weigh less, someone else might have to take on that role, and as you can imagine, that’s not a role someone takes on willingly,” Davis explained.
Having this type of insight helps her patients be better prepared for the road that lies ahead. She also is a huge proponent of making use of all the tools made available by Bariatric Centers of Excellence like Centennial. Those options include support groups, access to dietitians, exercise physiologists and additional counseling. “The after care program is so important,” she stressed.
Although she is a support group leader, Davis said she also learns something new from these classes and appreciates the continued support she derives from the other participants on her own personal journey to lifelong health.