NPR’s Jessica Stoller-Conrad questions the wisdom of issuing surgeon-distributed food discount cards to patients that have undergone stomach-shrinking bariatric procedures designed to facilitate extreme weight loss.
The cards are referred to as Weight Loss Surgery (WLS) cards, and when honored by a restaurant, allow patients to order a smaller portion of food for a discounted price.
Jessica notes some popular U.S. restaurants accept the cards. Cracker Barrel restaurants allow patients to order from the inexpensive children’s menu or order a lunch-sized portion for dinner, and Olive Garden and Red Lobster restaurants have pledged to do the same.
“Even ‘all-you-can-eat’ buffet restaurant Golden Corral provides a discounted buffet price upon seeing a proof-of-surgery card in some locations.”
Although WLS cards have been available for around twenty years, according to Ann Rogers, director at the Penn State Surgical Weight Loss Program, WLS cards have grown in popularity along with the stomach-shrinking surgery itself.
“Now there’s so much word of mouth about it, that if we forget to give them out [after surgery], the patient says, ‘What about those discount cards?’” Rogers says.
Gastric bypass surgery leaves the patient with a stomach pouch about the size of an egg, but Rogers insists that restaurants, especially buffets, still present problems for many patients.
“Unlimited portions and heavily processed, quickly digestible foods that keep patients from feeling full make it difficult to keep the weight off,” says Rogers. “I definitely discourage patients from going to buffet-style restaurants — it’s a danger for everybody.”
Jessica points out that although Rogers discourages her patients from eating at any restaurant, Rogers doesn’t oppose the discount cards.
Rogers acknowledges that it’s acceptable for patients to use the WLS card and splurge at the buffet periodically, and the card also encourages them to order smaller meals at other restaurants.
If patients make healthy choices about 75 percent of the time, they’ll keep the weight off, she says.
Rogers encourages patients to attend regular follow-up appointments. Those who participate in weigh-ins and healthy cooking classes, retain their lost weight about 70 percent of the time.
“For most of our patients, when the patients change their habits, it changes the eating habits of the whole household. It’s pretty educational,” she says.
Changing habits is critical, adds Rogers. It’s a myth that the stomach surgery is a permanent weight loss cure. After surgery, the hunger hormones go down and stay down for a year or two. But, slowly, the hunger starts to come back, Rogers says.
List of Restaurants Offering Discounts to Gastric Bypass Patients
Outback Steak House
*Contact the restaurants in advance to see what they offer. Cards are not accepted at all restaurants. Click here for updates.
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