The talk is all about addiction, lack of willpower and feelings of desperation.
People are sharing stories about being humiliated and trying to fill up emptiness created by loneliness, abandonment and childhood abuses.A facilitator steps in only to check the flow of words if it looks like misinformation is being shared or if the group is getting too deeply off-track.
No. It's not Alcoholics Anonymous or even Overeaters Anon-y-mous.
This is the 2 Oz. support group, formed to help people who've had gastric bypass surgery or people who are looking at having the surgery.
Twenty-two groups exist throughout a 10-state region, usually meeting once a month in hospitals and clinics, according to Colleen M. Cook, program coordinator from the Center for Obesity Management for Columbia St. Mark's Hospital.
They exist to offer support, comfort and as a resource for the overweight who want to know what they're taking on when they undergo what is known as Roux-en-Y Gastric Bypass surgery - a fairly drastic permanent weight-reduction measure sometimes called stomach stapling. (Stomach stapling is actually a less radical procedure that does not include bypassing the larger part of the stomach and the duodenum altogether.) The stomach is converted into a very small pouch that holds the equivalent of 2 ounces - hence the strange name for the groups.
Patients who used to consume 2-3 quarts of food are now physically limited to the amount of food they can take in. They feel full and satisfied on far less food than they are in the habit of consuming, and weight loss usually follows.
The routine gastric bypass comes with a price tag of a new car, around $15,000 ($9,000 to $10,000 for a four-day hospital stay, $3,700 for the surgeon, $1,100 for the assistant surgeon and the anesthesiologist.) The patient's life changes overnight.
"Every aspect of your life is changed by this," said a member of the American Fork 2 Oz. Support Group. "This is not a diet."
Patients are helped by the fact that their body teaches them a lesson if they try to overstretch their new small stomach. They become violently ill with too much food, too much sugar or too much liquid. New habits are demanded. Exercise is in. Carbonation is out. So are alcoholic drinks.
But they, like an alcoholic, face a lifetime of trying to change their perceptions about food and socialization and love and self.
"We need very little food, we're finding out," said Miki Grant, a marriage and family therapist who's been trained in treating eating disorders, speaking to the American Fork group. "It's emotionally based, our overeating. There are triggers built in during childhood. We associate happy times with food. Mother's Love is a kiss and a cookie.
Grant said the secret to succeeding in the ongoing weight battle is to learn to talk to one's inner self in a positive fashion, reinforcing the good and deleting the bad.
Participants in a 2 Oz. support group come with questions. What about the costs? What about the risks? What about the family, how will they react to such a drastic solution? Those kinds of questions trigger story swapping; from the heavy mother who cannot ski with her family of teenagers any longer because she's so large; from the woman whose mother asked her if she had to pay for two airplane seats when she travels.
"There's so much humiliation," Grant said. "That doesn't help."
Grant said she used to stay in and sip herbal tea while her co-workers went out to lunch. She ate light meals at breakfast and dinner yet she still gained weight.
"Our bodies go into a starvation mode when we decide to cut down. Our brain gets the message that there'll be no more food so it better hold onto what there is."
But people carrying an extra 75 to 100 lbs., or more, are threatening their lives with morbid obesity, straining their hearts, taxing lungs and kidneys, pushing up their blood pressure.
"I had gastric bypass surgery Dec. 28, 1995 . . . I feel fantastic! My body, which used to fight me, is now helping me."
Groups are set up in Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, Oregon, Wyoming and Utah. To find where a group meets near, you call 1-800-339-9129.