Dr. Darrien Gaston

Despite ever-growing awareness and messages about healthy eating and exercise hammering people every day, the obesity rate in the United States continues to rise. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that almost 35 percent of U.S. adults are obese; 78.6 million people. Healthcare professionals are constantly attempting to pinpoint causes, citing factors including the proliferation of processed foods, stress and sleep deprivation. They are also seeking ways to reverse this condition in individuals and as a society. 

Dr. Darrien Gaston, a board certified gastroenterologist in Beverly, has seen this unfortunate trend in his own patients.

“I’ve been in practice for more than 25 years now and have definitely noticed that my patients struggle more and more with maintaining a healthy weight. Some have never been able to lose weight gained in college or while having a baby, some suffered from childhood obesity that is still a factor in adulthood and some have just put on five or so pounds each year, and suddenly woke up to realize that their weight is now a real health concern.”

Obesity is a real health concern, especially among African-Americans, where almost half the population is obese, and Latinos, where more than 42 percent are considered obese. About one-third of non-Hispanic whites are classified as obese as well. Obesity increases the risk of heart disease, certain cancers, stroke and type 2 diabetes. These challenges, and the decreased mobility that comes with being obese, can radically compromise quality of life and life span.

One of the most significant obstacles to weight loss is portion control.

Since 1960, the average dinner plate has grown causing diners to add more and more to the plate itself and getting used to those larger and larger portions through the years.

Portion control is at the heart of bariatric surgery. This drastic approach may involve stapling, banding or partial removal of the patient’s stomach. Unfortunately, that option is only available for the morbidly obese, those with critically serious health problems. For the rest of the population, those who are 50 to 100 pounds overweight, there was no such intervention. Patients had to use only diet and exercise to achieve results, which is maddeningly difficult at best. 

“Now, there is the Orbera procedure,” said Gaston. “This is really weight loss for the rest of us. It’s a portion control tool that is temporary and definitely not radical.” 

Gaston is referring to the Orbera Managed Weight Loss System, which he performs in his offices. He is the only gastroenterologist in Chicagoland performing this procedure. Because the non-surgical Orbera balloon is placed through the mouth, as an experienced endoscopist Dr. Gaston is most highly qualified to perform the procedure. Orbera is FDA-approved and has been in use for more than 20 years, with more than 220,000 people finding successful long-term weight loss with the device. 

Using an endoscope, Gaston inserts the Orbera balloon through the mouth and into the stomach of the mildly sedated patient. Flexible and durable, the balloon is then filled with a safe, salt-based solution until it’s about the size of a grapefruit.

The Orbera balloon is kept in place for six months and helps control portion size by taking up room in the stomach.

“There is usually some nausea in the first few days as the body adjusts to the balloon, and my patients can access me 24/7 to ask questions or address concerns. We partner patients with a wellness coach, so they learn from professionals what is needed to establish a healthy lifestyle and eating habits. Regular exercise amounting to at least 200 minutes per week is essential for successful weight loss with the balloon in place. We meet monthly so we can track results and ensure patients are making those changes,” said Gaston.

After six months, the balloon is removed just as easily, but the support continues.

“For a full year after the procedure, we will meet each month to help. With this support, patients continue losing weight and they continue to practice the skills they’ve acquired to keep it off.”

Clinical studies back this up. Patients usually lose over three times the weight with a gastric balloon than with diet and exercise alone. 

The CDC estimates that in 2008 alone, the annual medical cost of obesity was $147 billion. As obesity rates rise, that cost will continue to rise as well. 

Gaston sees a way to halt this trend and change its course. He offers free initial consultations for those who are interested in finding out if their weight, body mass index and medical fitness make them good candidates for the Orbera balloon procedure.

“The Orbera system can be used with adults over 18 years of age. If we can reverse obesity in our young adults, they won’t develop all the problems and diseases that come with it. In older people, we can see the significant health improvements that come with weight loss at any age. They will live to see, and actually enjoy, their grandchildren.”

“Portion control is a critical key to healthy, sustainable weight loss. Supported by informed food choices and balanced exercise, losing weight and maintaining a proper weight become attainable. This balloon and the guidance offered for a full year makes that happen.”

For more information, call (773) 238-1126 or visit metrogichicago.com.