Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Don't be deceived, Weight Loss Surgery Community


There are people in the Weight Loss Surgery community that put themselves out there to "help others" when their true intentions are nothing more than self promotion. It's the kind of nepotism we associate with the "Good Ol' Boys" here in Louisiana.  The person or organization present as a "friend" or "ally" to support a cause, when the true objective is supporting their own agenda. It can be a struggle to have unbiased intentions.

Recently, I was encouraged to do some financial watchdog investigating of some 501 3 (C) organizations that support the weight loss surgery community.  I had always had a gut feeling that the true intentions of some people were not genuine in nature.  What I uncovered had me appalled but confirmed my suspicions.  I found IRS tax documents confirming that conference events were funding a big party for the elite members, more than $17k in Entertainment/Food/Beverage expenses. (Ref. Form 990-WLSFA-2012) Wow, what I read there is "Bar tab!"  What happens in Vegas, does not stay in Vegas.  I heard all about the excessive drinking, smoking and folly that follows when you get a bunch of people together to socialize. I thought we were advocating for awareness of the dangers of drinking after weight loss surgery?  I thought we were promoting healthy lifestyles... I thought... I thought.... Wrong.

I understand for many who spent their lives being an outcast or on the outskirts of the social scene due to self esteem issues, it can be uncomfortable, even anxiety provoking, to deal with large crowds of people or strangers or individuals who might ask you many questions about yourself OR talk endlessly about themselves without letting others get a word in edgewise. Instead of addressing these issue head on, drinking was encouraged and funded from the looks of these reports. When I offered to present at one of these conferences on my own dime, I got no reply.  I believed my education and expertise in mental health, anxiety, ADHD, depression and human ecology were useful to the community, and what I could offer was the cognitive restructuring instruction and expression that would make each individual in attendance assess their commitments, examine a self inventory, and work through their own integrity. I wasn't asking for money, I was offering a service at no charge, my expenses paid by me.  Nothing, not even an acknowledgement of my message was ever provided.

Let's go back to that $17k figure. That's nearly $50 per day a year for an organization that holds on one major event per year and maintains one full time employee, who does not take a salary.
(*applause here.*)
Now, I don't have a problem with people getting paid a salary. There are many people who work really hard for free (myself & many others in the WLS community) and don't care about making money because the intention of their actions is to do good for others by taking on the ethical responsibility to care for those in need.  I maintain my commitment to advocating for mental health issues in the weight loss community by offering ANYONE who contacts me, a referral to a local mental health professional (counselor, psychologist, social worker, psychiatrist, in-patient treatment, etc.) whom I have checked out.  That means, usually, that I will spend anywhere from 1-3 hours researching, through various resources, an appropriate provider for that individual's needs. I have only ever had three people take me up on that offer.

The disclosure of the grant recipient selection process has also been a mystery to me. It seems like the concentration of candidates for grants has come from a small pool of patients. It seems to help to be a friend of so-in-so and the requirements to be an Ambassador for a year after to the organization confuses me. Define how this is to be done... Help me understand what the entails. What happens when someone can't fulfill the obligation?  What happens when having gone through the process traumatizes the person to the point they are emotionally broken by the experience?

Please, beware of anyone asking for your money.  There are many people out there who tout themselves as "Coaches" or "Support Leaders" who have no true training in psycho-social group dynamics. Case in point:  I am supervised in a group weekly for my license. A group member, who had personal issues that effected her relationship toward me, verbally attacked me one day in group.  I retreated in defending myself because there was no right, wrong, rhyme or reason for her to target me in this manner. I let her air her grievances and returned them with silence. My supervisor did the same. Not everyone in the world can let such a matter go as we did. The next session, another group member confronted her and requested she apologize to me, without me saying a thing. This dynamic played out over 3 separate group meetings until I spoke up and asked her what made her so defensive with me.

It was simple: insecurity within herself. This person suffered from obesity, past addiction and drug use, and she choose to attack me, whether it be due to my success with weight loss or my lack of an alcohol or drug addiction. (That's a crowning achievement in this city, there are few people that you can count on to be sober 99% of the time, I am one of them.) My confidence in discussing my clients and my actions are always so precise. Her questions to me were always trying to pull apart what I did to find something wrong with my actions. She was trying to make me wrong by extracting details I always had an answer for, and she could never find much to criticize other than her excuse that, "I don't know what it's like." But I kept my bases covered. I always, always do my best to do the right thing, in the moment and in the end.

"There's no limit to the amount of good you can do if you don't care who gets the credit." 
I'd tell you who said that, but he wouldn't want to take the credit. 

Some people out there would have you believe that they themselves are living "Proof" that weight loss surgery works ALL the time.  They will tell you that you are to blame if you were not able to lose weight or you had complications. I'm here to tell you that it's more than just doing the right things.  It is finding the right mental framework, it is addressing ALL of your issues with emotional, psychological, and/or substance use and abuse, it is genetics, it is hormones, it is disease of the mind and body, and even the scars on the soul. It is everything that encompasses the complex disease that is obesity and goes straight down to the core of who you are.  Anyone who makes you feel inferior without listening to your story, understanding your struggles and assumes their prescription exactly what will work for you and is to have you pay them for support to tell you what they did/do, is not treating you as an individual but rather as a dollar sign.

What most people don't realize about counseling is that it is NOT advice giving.  It is NOT a quick fix.  It is a emotional journey, a personal excavation, and an opportunity to find genuineness of character within yourself.  Act out of integrity to yourself and others, admit that you are not without flaw or fault. Embrace the imperfectness, realize where your weaknesses lie. Be honest with yourself and others. If you have honest intentions, your results will always have positive outcomes.  Now, if someone were to call me for counseling services, yes, I do charge my clients for services. However, I will always consider financially challenged clients and work with them to find a rate that they can afford.

Dear reader, whomever you are, please refrain from the judgement that I am trying to start a riot in the WLS community or that I am targeting people. I am only pointing out observations and reporting facts.  I would hope that you take into consideration the charitable donations that could have gone to financially challenged patients out there who are struggling to regain their health but rather went to a bar tab and office supplies.  Advocacy starts with ethical action and unbiased intention. If the issues that I point out are resolved with action to correct the indiscretions of the past, the purpose of my tirade is served.  However, I completely expect people to criticize me and call me names and say mean things about me.  Because, ya know, bullying is so productive!


  1. GREAT post! Thank you, thank you, thank you!

  2. Recently, I was encouraged to do some financial watchdog investigating of some 501 3 (C) organizations that support the weight loss surgery community. I had always had a gut feeling that the true intentions of some people were not genuine in nature. What I uncovered had me appalled but confirmed my suspicions. I found IRS tax documents confirming that conference events were funding a big party for the elite members, more than $17k in Entertainment/Food/Beverage expenses. (Ref. Form 990-WLSFA-2012) Wow, what I read there is "Bar tab!" What happens in Vegas, does not stay in Vegas. I heard all about the excessive drinking, smoking and folly that follows when you get a bunch of people together to socialize. I thought we were advocating for awareness of the dangers of drinking after weight loss surgery? I thought we were promoting healthy lifestyles... I thought... I thought.... Wrong.

    How does this confirm anything? Look, my personal support for this organization has waned greatly in the last year for a variety of reasons, but if you're going to throw out accusations, they need to be accurate.

    This "Entertainment" category on tax forms is inclusive of a lot of different things. Why would you immediately jump to alcohol? Was there drinking in Vegas? Yes? There were cash bars at the evening events. But they were cash bars, not open bars.

    There was a luncheon provided for the 300 or so attendees. Do you know what a major hotel is going to charge per plate? It's likely in the $15-20 range, if not more. At just $15 per plate, that's 25% of that line item. That doesn't include the costs of renting the space and other expenses (including a small breakfast on Sunday).

    And as for the message about drinking, I know that if this unpaid employee you mention had their way there would not have been any alcohol at the event. But the reality is, it doesn't work that way. Had they insisted on that, the hotel would have charged a lot more for rental of the space, it is through alcohol sales that they offset lower room rental fees.

    I agree that there needs to be some clarification and transparency in the grant process, but the part about the $17k line item just seems like a petty attack. Yes, clarification on what that $17k went towards would be nice, but I think it is fairly easily rationalized without the accusations of "bar tab".

    1. Thank you, I understand that these events are very expensive to put on. However, there needs to be oversight and full disclosure when running an organization such as WLSFA. Questions like this have been asked before and they do not provide the answers. They put on one main event, but the actual impact to individual community members' to benefit from the grants is very small. There needs to be more of a reach and focus on education pre and post operatively. There are several members of the board whose attitudes are very condescending and the impression made on many is that they believe there way is the only way. Two in particular are charging $50 for an online support group, which I find to be the most ridiculous thing I've ever heard of. I don't agree with these pop-up WLS "coaches" who are nothing more than marketeers. "You can take the monkey off your back but you still have to deal with the circus..." Basically, you can lose the weight, but the psychological issues are bigger than the abused substance. It has been ignored for far too long. I offered to address mental health session topics, but since I'm not in the cliques my offer wasn't even worthy of a reply? There needs to be an increased impact on the community, grants are a lot of money, but there are ways to educate all members of the community on pre and post surgical topics that are not covered by their surgeon's clinical staff.

  3. PART I
    Wow...I am surprised by this post. Typically I read and move on but I find this deceiving as well.
    First of all as a reader, I can't help but wonder who "encouraged you" to investigate. I laugh because in most situations like this, it is someone that is not willing to stand for their belief but instead points to a fire and tells everyone else to do something. They may even be starting the fire. I applaud you for standing for your belief in writing about it, would you care to share your source of investigation inspiration?
    Next question that comes to mind...have you attended a WLSFA event ? Curious if you supported this cause you found worthy enough to volunteer to speak at, even though you were not selected to participate. What reads as bar tab in your investigation-- is your lack of fact. I have attended this event, and alcohol is a huge problem in this community (at all WLS events, another entire topic) I agree with Rob above, the WLSFA took many steps and precautions to have alcohol a non issue . Everything that Rob stated above is true. It was a cash bar, and the poor choices made by individuals are their own poor choices...not bought and paid for by the WLSFA. Therefore you are doing nothing but throwing out accusations...that are not factual. This event DOES promote healthy lifestyle; you can't force anyone to choose it.
    Most speakers that speak at this conference do it at no charge. They pay their own way. It is a form of paying it forward and working in the community. It sounds like you are dealing with your personal issues of not being selected to speak. As Rob, I have had my own frustrations with the WLSFA in regards to communication, but they are a very small team trying to do a really big job. If you find members of their board condescending-- that is your personal experience. I have experienced it too...but it’s their board. It technically is their highway. I look at the whole situation myself personally, and have found they do more good than harm.
    I also am very surprised at your personal attack of certain members. I was always told if someone is not your cup of tea, then don't drink it. Nobody is asking you to pay for coaching from them. The world is full of marketing and scams. I don't think two successful post ops trying to create a business paying forward what they personally practice is a crime. How is it wrong if they inspire and motivate someone? How is it different from a diet plan? People are adults. They choose where they and whom they spend their money on. I have paid following my mentors like Richard Simmons, Chalene Johnson etc. All self created fitness and health gurus. How is that any different? They don't have letters behind their names, but they are successful passionate motivating people that have helped me find success. I have also spent with people that have initials behind their name that have done nothing to contribute to my long term success. At the end of the day, the title or letters (PH.D, Coach, and Leader etc) are all descriptions. It is up to the consumer to find it worthy of a $, and that value to that consumer is held in their eyes. Not ours. These two individuals work hard on their personal success. They have given countless hours in forms of articles, video, correspondence to this community. So if they have created their own following and their own tribe.. they are doing their own thing...who are you to judge ? They may be in cliques, but they have created their cliques. You could do the same. I will be a certified nutrition coach soon; I may do exactly the that will make me one of those "coaches". My education cost me a lot of $, Time...but most importantly I have spent 8 years walking the Bariatric talk, and successfully. * Continued below.

  4. PART II:
    That alone makes me far more an expert than someone that has initials from a university that has never been morbidly obese. I can't tell you the endless letters and emails I get that thank me for helping them lose their regain. It amazes me to this day...because I sit back and think I did that? I changed and impacted their lives? By posting and answering questions? Personal experience can be priceless to many. It is about bio-individuality. Personal Choice. If you don't like it turn the channel. You have been so gracious to offer your services in the form of speaking and in the form of helping people find the help in their area...that is incredible...but yet nobody has taken you up on it, maybe it’s because you don't have that following? That tribe. Your voice has not been heard enough; as I am surely there are people out in this community that could desperately use your expertise. I agree with you 150% that there is a HUGE need for aftercare that does not come from surgeon clinical staff---girl, go make it happen. CREATE IT. IT is so needed. But right now this sounds more like envy and jealousy...which is ridiculous, as you all offer different skills and different voices...which we so desperately need. There is someone successful and positive out there for everyone....Everyone just needs to find the voice that fits them.
    I don't think you are trying to start a riot. I think someone ruffled your feathers to get you to write and react, shame on them for not doing it themselves. However you ARE targeting individuals that work hard in this community. That is a form of bully itself. You are making an observation--which is an opinion, and everyone is entitled, but you are also not stating all facts. Advocacy does start with ethical take action. Start your own nonprofit. Form your own grants. Do it the way YOU think is fit and proper. Give people another option where to donate their money. I support that idea 100%. But until you do, I would not attack what is out there trying to do well. If you don't believe in the WLSFA, don't support it. Don't attend. Stop asking to speak. Your incredible time and energy definitely could be of amazing use in this community. Find a cause that needs someone exactly like you. Start your own cause. Blog about the services you’re offering and private message me. I would be happy to promote positive things paying it forward. I support you 100%, but I don't support this message. The WLSFA is not perfect by far, but they are working hard, and learning along the way. The coaches you attacked are figuring it out themselves. You may not agree with their methods or their program, but nobody is forcing you to participate.
    Laura Preston
    Facebook: Bariatric Regain Laura Preston—

    1. Thanks, Laura. Yes, I admit a great deal of my attitude toward them has to do with spite when it comes to having been snubbed.

      I am in the process of working on many projects. A new non-profit is one of them. I stopped giving my money to them already and I will happily work with other organizations to address my initiatives within the WLS community. I do not plan to compete with what they do. Your insinuation that someone put me up to it might be correct, but it was only someone directing me to the information that I was already suspicious of because of how things seemed to go down within WLSFA.

      Should I write a public apology to say I'm sorry for calling you out, maybe it made me look like an ass? No, I'm just trying to remind people of the objectivity of being a non-profit and that full disclosure of how funds are spent are public information. I have an LLC, privately held company that I operate all my business under and I do not have to disclose anything about what money I make. I do not make money from my blog, I do not endorse products. My full purpose in this community is to promote the benefits of proper mental health and well-being.

      I believe you need advanced degrees to provide counseling services to truly talk about difficult memories, patterns and habits, and figure out how to break them. Finding the root of your mental sabotage and changing the inner voice is a complex process for many.

      I haven't gained that voice or tribe because I don't promote myself. I let people find me. I will happily chat with anyone in this community to provide help. My licensure limits me to fee for service only to people in the state of Louisiana.

      I have big plans in store. I am going to change things in the world.