January 31, 2019

Etta James – weight loss surgery and the fear of failure

More famous for her indomitable spirit, larger than life performances and well documented battle with drug addiction: Etta James replaced her addiction to illicit substances with an unhealthy relationship with food and struggled to control her weight.

At the peak of Etta’s obesity she reportedly weighed as much as 24 stone. At just five foot three this weight gain led to increasing incapacity. James was reportedly often bed bound and when she did appear publicly she was seen in a wheelchair. She was unable to perform during this period which left her desolate.

Making the decision to have weight loss surgery

In 2004 she took the bold decision to undergo weight loss surgery and approached Dr Mathias Fobi (bariatric surgeon to the stars). Fobi performed successful gastric bypass surgery, later commenting that Etta “…had severe malignant obesity... If she didn’t lose weight, she wasn’t going to live much longer”.

The surgery allowed Etta to claim back her life dropping from a size 30 to a size 10. Much to her delight she was able to choose clothes in shops again instead of ordering custom made items and, most importantly, she was able to take to the stage again to perform. She told Ebony Magazine in 2006 she could sing “lower, louder and longer” than before.

Adjusting to life after bariatric surgery

However it was not all plain sailing, and Etta had enormous difficulty adjusting to her smaller stomach. “I had trouble keeping food down,” she said. Her mental health also suffered in the aftermath “I went through a depression. You’re doing well, and then all of a sudden you’re not. I thought I was going to fail.”

This fear of failure is common amongst patients who resort to weight loss surgery after conventional weight loss methods have been unsuccessful. It takes time to achieve a healthy weight even with surgery and Etta spoke openly about her frustrations.

It wasn’t until 3 years after her gastric-bypass surgery that Etta had the dawning realisation her life was back on track and she was going to succeed. Exasperated by the inaccurate scales in her doctor’s office she purchased some butchers scales to keep at home and saw a reading of her target weight: “I kept weighing myself, and it kept saying 200 lbs… I couldn’t believe it!”

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