© Courtesy Adeena Fried In many ways, Eric Wilson of Dallas is your typical guy. Content with life, he’s got a great job, a great wife, and adorable kids, who often speak the truth that others are too polite to mention. It was Wilson’s kids (and a less-than-flattering photograph) that finally convinced the dad of three to trade in contented for ecstatic, by doing something about the spare tire he was sporting around his middle.
Like lots of us, Wilson would commit to an exercise routine for a couple of weeks, and then find himself in a workout plateau, falling off his routine, and into the arms of a large container of fries (here’s why you probably have hit your own workout plateau). He knew he was overweight, but not morbidly obese. (Morbid obesity is defined as being 100 pounds over your ideal body weight, or having a body mass index (BMI) of either 40, or 35, with health-related issues). Wilson’s BMI at 30.12 was higher than it should have been, but not to the point where his doctor was crying code red. (Here’s a quick explainer on your BMI.) “I kept eating junk food, and promising myself that tomorrow would be the day,” he says. Wilson found himself approaching the Big Four-0, and was starting to realize that his nasty habits were catching up with him. At the same time, his kids started in on a teasing campaign about his protruding belly and he also caught sight of himself sideways in a photo, and was aghast at what he saw. Coupled with those less-than-subtle knocks on the head was the realization that, at this weight, he wouldn’t pass the physical required for him to remain on active duty with the Air National Guard. For Wilson, that was it. It was time for a change.
Wilson’s wife works for Obalon, and she clued him in about a new FDA-approved process for weight loss, which uses inserted, expandable balloons, lowered into the stomach, through the mouth. The buoyant balloons take up room in the stomach, reducing appetite, and creating a feeling of fullness. They are inserted one at a time, over a three-month period. “When I heard about the technology, I thought it sounded neat. I qualified for it because of my BMI, but thought, I can probably not do this, and get away with it, what am I doing? And then I looked at that photo of myself again, and realized, I’ve said this a thousand times.” Wilson realized he was powerless over changing his eating habits on his own, and was just kidding himself. So he committed to the procedure.
The Obalon Balloon System is designed for people who are 30 to 100 pounds overweight, and is not currently covered by health insurance plans. (The Obalon cost is around $6,000 to $9,000, based on individual factors). Unlike more radical forms of gastric bypass surgery, this non-surgical system is designed to be a temporary fix, by providing a six-month window during which people can lose weight safely, while receiving counseling and guidance are provided about weight loss and healthy eating (like these 50 best healthy eating tips of all time), and lifestyle habits. After six months, the balloons are deflated, and removed, under general anesthesia. Wilson took full advantage of his six-month window, by working with a dietitian, and listening to her advice. But first, he had to have the balloons put in.
The night before the procedure, Wilson was given a placebo pill. “That’s just to make sure you can swallow the Obalon pill. I did not like that part, and found it difficult. I thought to myself, what am I doing? But I had committed to doing it, and was committed to seeing it through. Between the time I had first heard about the procedure and the night before it was scheduled, I had seen my BMI climb, a huge red flag.” Wilson went in the next day to have the first balloon inserted. “The deflated balloon is tethered to a catheter. They give you some water, and some apple sauce, if you need it. The catheter goes down your throat for around three to eight minutes. The balloon is then opened. If I had been able to laugh I would have, when the doctor said he was waiting for my balloon to hatch.” Once the balloon is open, a proprietary blend of gases is sent down through the catheter, to inflate it. The balloon is then set for the altitude of the user. (Scuba diving and skydiving are not allowed while the balloons are in your stomach, but flying, and most other activities, are OK). The catheter is then disconnected, and pulled out through the mouth. “The uncomfortable part for me was not being able to talk, and having the catheter tickle the back of my throat.”
Wilson found the first week with the balloon a bit uncomfortable, but has adjusted since then. “That first week I thought to myself, what have I done? I was uncomfortable, and had cramping. But I knew those feelings would only last a week, because that’s what my doctor told me to expect.” Wilson has also lost a significant amount of weight, much to the delight of his kids, who keep asking him where his tire went. “I did it for me. My wife urged me to do it for me,” he says. Most importantly, the balloons have motivated him to exercise. Two months later, with all three balloons inserted, he is now running almost daily, and is committed to making better decisions about food. He keeps a food journal, which has proven to be a powerful tool, and has lost a total of 27 pounds, plus six full inches, off his waistline. He has another four months left on the program, and a goal of losing an additional 10 pounds. Wilson says he can feel the balloons a little bit when he is lying down, and when he is hungry, but has adjusted to the feeling. He has also adjusted to the congratulations, and his new, improved health.