Tech + Health

05.08.13

Chris Christie’s Weight Loss: The Lap-Band Procedure Explained

Chris Christie revealed he secretly underwent a weight-loss surgery in February known as the lap band—and has dropped roughly 40 pounds since. Lizzie Crocker on whether you should have a titanium band wrapped around your stomach.

In February, Chris Christie, the notoriously heavyweight New Jersey governor, underwent a 40-minute lap-band weight-loss surgery, the description of which is enough to make anyone lose his appetite. (Note to readers: we don’t recommend reading the below before breakfast. Or immediately after, for that matter.)

Christie revealed his secret surgery to the New York Post this week, saying he “agreed to the operation at the urging of family and friends after turning 50 last September.” In case you haven’t noticed, he’s lost roughly 40 pounds since going under the knife less than three months ago.  

Sure, he still has a ways to go, but we have to applaud his efforts and sense of humor about the whole thing. Speaking to the Post, he joked about going out to dinner and pushing his plate aside after eating only a third of his steak.

So how did Christie pull off bariatric surgery without the media catching on? And what exactly does the procedure entail?

Here, everything you need to know about getting a lap-band.  

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Gov. Chris Christie explains why he got the lap band.

It’s minimally invasive (no staples required)

Having a silicone or titanium band wrapped around one’s stomach may sound like an elaborate form of torture, but it’s actually the least invasive weight-loss surgery available. Where gastric bypass surgery requires carving up the abdomen, lap band is done via a small incision through the belly button. “There’s no stomach cutting or stapling involved,” Dr. Shawn Garber, director of the New York Bariatric Group, tells The Daily Beast.

It’s also safe and speedy

Garber, who has performed band surgery on more than 3,000 patients, says it’s by far the safest weight-loss procedure. The window of recovery is much shorter than other surgeries, he says, with most patients leaving the hospital the same day they came in. It’s also the only procedure that isn’t permanent, since the band can be removed just as easily as it’s put on. But by the same token, it can fall off (commonly referred to as “band slippage”) or erode from exposure to stomach acids, though this occurs only in roughly 5 percent of patients.

So why do more people get full tummy tucks?

Patients don’t shed pounds as quickly with after lap band as they do with other surgeries. Christie would likely have dropped twice as much weight by now had he chosen one of the other procedures, according to Garber. The lap band also requires multiple follow-up visits so that it can be tightened as patients adjust to eating smaller portions.

Simply put, it’s not the quick-fix solution that many obese patients want. “It doesn’t work by itself,” says Garber. “We tell patients that all these surgeries are tools for weight loss. They’re not cures for obesity.”

What were Christie’s other options?

Garber says the most common bariatric surgery is the Roux-en-Y gastric bypass, in which surgeons both shrink the stomach by stapling a portion of it together to limit food intake and reroute the digestive tract to bypass part of the intestines. Patients tend to lose weight quickly and keep it off, which explains why the procedure accounts for 50 percent of the 200,000 or so bariatric surgeries performed in the U.S. every year.

In July, Governor Christie told ABC News that he would never consider gastric bypass because it was “too risky.”

That explains why he didn’t opt for the more drastic vertical sleeve gastrectomy, in which roughly 80 to 85 percent of the stomach is removed. The remaining portions are then stapled together, leaving patients with a sleeve-like, banana-shaped stomach for food to pass through. Due to its shape, the pouch fills up so quickly that patients feel full after eating even the smallest portions of food.

The biggest pitfall of both procedures is a greater immediate risk of food leakage or bleeding from stomach staples, which can lead to infection.