Wynn for the Win: Bryan Wynn on Beating Obesity and Changing His Life
Dec 09, 2020 Cedars-Sinai Staff
Route 66 is one of the most famous roads in America, immortalized in literature and song. It is also where Bryan Wynn's life changed. The then 50-year-old had just left his doctor's office and was driving along Foothill Boulevard, a stretch of the legendary road. "I usually play the radio in the car, but I switched it off," he says. "I had a big decision to make."
On that sunny day in March, Bryan made up his mind. After decades of struggling with his weight and conditions such as high blood pressure and diabetes, he was going to sign up for gastric bypass, one of the most common types of bariatric surgery.
"In that moment, I took back control of my life," he says. Eight months later, the regional director of a grocery store union has never been happier or more confident.
For patients like Bryan, bariatric surgery can be the best solution in their battle against obesity. Health authorities have been warning for years about the dangers of excess weight.
"If your BMI is 40 or more, you may be a candidate for the procedure," says Daniel Shouhed, MD, Bryan's surgeon at Cedars-Sinai. Heart disease, sleep apnea and Type 2 diabetes are all more likely when you're morbidly obese, as are many other conditions, from stroke to cancer.
"Morbid obesity is a complex medical disorder. It has to do with hormones that control how full you feel and with signals that tell you when to eat, among other things."
The Limits of Willpower
Understanding why it's so hard for some people to lose weight has come a long way in recent decades. Years of research and tracking patients have also shed light on why bariatric surgery can work when everything else has failed.
"Morbid obesity is a complex medical disorder," says Dr. Shouhed. "It has to do with hormones that control how full you feel and with signals that tell you when to eat, among other things." Bariatric surgery solves some of these problems, making it easier for people to stick to lifestyle changes that ensure long-term success. "Willpower alone doesn't work when your body is compelling you to eat," says Dr. Shouhed.
About 85% of obese persons who try to lose weight through diet and exercise alone gain it all back. Only 15% of bariatric surgery patients do so.
A New Relationship With Food
Bariatric surgery drastically altered Bryan's relationship with food. "I'm not hungry all the time anymore," he says.
Hormones that regulate satiety—including ghrelin, which increases hunger—may not work normally in very overweight people. After gastric bypass, patients have significantly lower levels of ghrelin. A similar outcome is seen in patients who have sleeve gastrectomy, a different procedure in which a large portion of the stomach is removed.
Bryan says cravings used to sneak up on him all day. "After my operation, that voice got quiet, and I learned to hear what my body was saying," he explains. "If I crave bacon, I know I want protein." A serving of chicken or fish does the trick. He has become an avid cook and is amazed to discover how delicious a healthy, home-cooked meal can be.
Care and Support
Surgery was only part of the journey to bring Bryan back to health. At Cedars-Sinai, he worked with a team that included dietitian Stephanie Garcia, RN, who devised an eating plan and taught him that change takes time. Exercise has become more enjoyable than Bryan ever imagined. At first, he walked down the block. Then he walked a little farther. Three months after his surgery, Bryan jogged ¼ mile. Now he often starts his day with a 3-mile run.
Sticking to the diet and exercise plan is essential. His follow-up care includes regular check-ins with his team. "They are wonderful, caring people and I actually look forward to my appointments," says Bryan, who explored other hospitals before choosing Cedars-Sinai, the nation's #2 GI surgery center.
"Our surgery patients have to be motivated and prepared for a commitment to change their lifestyle," says Dr. Shouhed.
Bryan was definitely there. He had tried everything. "I was tired of feeling trapped," he says. "I was on 15 prescription drugs and using a CPAP machine for sleep apnea." With close guidance and the support of friends and family, he spent months making gradual changes to his diet. That process, required by Cedars-Sinai and most insurance plans, eased him into a new routine and proved he was committed. Preparation also included a psychological screening to make sure he had realistic expectations and was choosing surgery for the right reasons.
The pounds started to come off a week after the bypass. At first, Bryan lost 1 pound per day. Soon, the weight just started falling off. To date, Bryan has lost nearly 100 pounds from his 6-foot frame, dropping from 300 to 210. He sleeps through the night for the first time in years and wakes up feeling refreshed. More than that, he feels liberated. With his blood pressure normal and his diabetes under control, he doesn't need all those medications anymore. And that CPAP machine? It lives in a closet where Bryan can see it. "I never want to get rid of it," he says. "It's a reminder of how far I have come and how much I love my new life."