Weight loss is one of the most popular New Year’s resolutions — and also the most common to abandon. This is often not for lack of effort, but rather because effort is given without results.
For many people, diet and exercise simply aren’t enough. This can be frustrating for individuals who don’t qualify for major surgery or who would prefer something less invasive.
The stomach balloon weight-loss procedure is a nonsurgical approach for individuals who want to lose 15 to 50 pounds, or more. The procedure involves placing a soft balloon in a patient’s stomach, through a tube inserted in the mouth. The deflated balloon is then filled with sterile saline. The balloon is designed to take up about one-third of the space in the stomach to help reinforce proper portion control and decrease hunger for up to six months. After the procedure, patients participate in 12 months of personal coaching sessions during which a customized plan is created based on personal abilities and goals.
Dr. Julie Ellner, a board-certified surgeon affiliated with Sharp Grossmont Hospital who specializes in both nonsurgical and surgical weight loss, has performed this procedure for many San Diegans over the last three years. She has seen many patients, including Margaret Vick, make inspiring progress.
In just 10 months, Margaret lost 58 pounds and discovered her passion for competing in races, including marathons and triathlons. Read on to learn about Margaret’s journey and how the stomach balloon procedure was critical to transforming her body, mind and spirit.
How did you first learn about this procedure?
I was checking into all my weight-loss options. When I read up on the procedure, I wanted to get more information, so I attended [Dr. Ellner’s] lecture on the balloon procedure in January 2017. I knew I wanted to have the balloon. I knew I needed a serious change in my life, but I didn't want to have a major surgery like the lap band or gastric bypass.
What was your primary concern before deciding to move forward?
My main concern was will it really work? I have done just about every weight-loss program there has been since 1987. Dr. Ellner explained everything well and put my mind at ease about what to expect. She was there every step of the way.
What were your days like after the balloon placement?
I had the balloon placed in March 2018. The first week included the challenge of being tired from detoxing off carbohydrates and sugars, but then my body adjusted quickly. Within a couple weeks of having the balloon, I felt comfortable with it and followed the plan Dr. Ellner gave me. I could see and feel the difference quickly.
Probably the main question on everyone’s mind: Can you feel the balloon?
I didn’t really feel the balloon, but I could tell it was there. When I would exercise, I could feel a heaviness, but as long as I was drinking water or liquids, there were no bad effects. I had a very easy time during the six months while the balloon was implanted. The experience was even better than I expected.
You said you could feel the difference quickly. What changes did you notice?
I began to have more energy, my clothes were getting looser and I wanted to exercise more. The more I did, the more I wanted to do. I started training for the San Diego International Triathlon. I ended up placing third in my age category.
Did that success inspire you to keep competing?
Yes! I also placed third in the Solana Beach Sprint Triathlon, first in the Rock the Bay Triathlon and fourth in the Semper Tri at Camp Pendleton in my age category. I also do fun bike rides (Bike the Bay, Bike the Coast, San Diego Century). I competed in the Carlsbad Half Marathon on Jan. 20, 2019. I have done the Sprint and Olympic distance triathlon, and I hope to complete the 70.3-mile Ironman this year.
Was competing in races something you always wanted to do, or was it something you became motivated to do as a result of the procedure?
I have always wanted to do the Ironman, but I never had the courage or expectation of being able to finish that far of a distance until now. The stomach balloon procedure and Dr. Ellner have changed the way I see myself. I now know that I can do anything I put my mind to.
After six months, the balloon was removed. What was the transition back to “normal life” like?
When I first had the balloon removed, I missed having the security of not being able to overeat but I think I have adjusted well. Just like anything, there are good and bad days. I know I will struggle the rest of my life with eating, but now I have the tools to keep my weight in check.
How do you plan to maintain your positive momentum?
I know I need to keep track of what I am doing, but I know I can also have fun with my family and friends to enjoy times like birthdays and holidays. I am mindful of all that I do and eat. I know I can take a break once in a while but then go back to the new lifestyle that has changed my life. I know I can never return to the old habits I had before the balloon, nor do I want to go back to being that unhealthy.
Overall, would you recommend the stomach balloon to others?
If I had to go back and decide if I wanted to do this, I most certainly would do it again. This procedure has totally changed my life for the better. I know if I fail or succeed, it is all because of the effort I put into it.
I would encourage anyone looking for a way to get their eating and weight under control, this is the best way to go. There is no secret pill. There is no pain from the procedure; it is just a little help from a simple balloon. The only thing I regret is I should have done it in 2017 when I first learned about the balloon procedure instead of waiting a year to do it.