After New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie secretly checked into a hospital for gastric-banding surgery this year, the issue of his weight suddenly reverberated in the national media three months later with a force befitting a potential presidential candidate.
Since then, he’s toured almost every inch of the Jersey Shore this summer and has made dozens of campaign stops across the state this fall. And the photos show a slimmer governor whose appearance is commented on by New Jerseyans almost everywhere he goes.
Now experts are confirming what many believe they see: Christie has lost a significant amount of weight.
“He looks very good,” said Dr. Jaime Ponce, president of the American Society for Metabolic and Bariatric Surgery who believes Christie has lost 60 to 70 pounds. “Just by looking at those pictures, he’s on track.”
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“I think he has done reasonably well,” said Dr. Prashanth R. Ramachandra, who has performed more than 1,000 weight-loss surgeries at Mercy Fitzgerald Hospital and Mercy Philadelphia Hospital. “If you look at Governor Christie, he still has a lot of weight to lose. But I would say he is at the average [of losing] four to six pounds a month so he should be about 35 to 40 pounds less.”
What it all means for Christie’s political future is anybody’s guess. What it means for his health is good. What it means for the gastric-banding procedure Christie underwent is a popularity it has never seen before, according to surgeons.
But for the governor, his decades-long struggle with weight remains a deeply private matter. It’s a subject he has tried to avoid despite reaching New Jersey’s highest office, achieving national prominence in Republican circles, becoming a coveted guest for Sunday morning political programs and late-night talk shows and now appearing on many pundits’ shortlist for the 2016 GOP presidential nomination.
A Christie spokesman said recently that he wouldn’t comment beyond what the governor has already said publicly about his weight loss, which hasn’t been much.
In fact, the only time Christie has brought up his weight during his current re-election campaign came when he suggested that a vaguely worded criticism by Democratic challenger Barbara Buono was essentially a fat joke.
Christie has said there was no political motivation for the surgery, whether for a second term as governor or a look toward the 2016 presidential election. Christie said he had the procedure so he could live longer and see all four of his children grow up.
But before the surgery, others expressed concern over whether he was fit enough to be president, none more so than former White House physician Connie Mariano. The self-professed Christie fan said she worried he could have a heart attack or stroke and die in office.
“It’s almost like a time bomb waiting to happen unless he addresses those issues before running for office,” Mariano said on CNN in February. Christie called her remarks irresponsible. Ten days later, he had the surgery.
Like New York Jets coach Rex Ryan and “Today” show host Al Roker, Christie has become a public face of weight-loss surgery whose progress will be viewed from afar by many considering the procedures, surgeons said.
Ponce said no other public figure has drawn as much attention to the issue as Christie. “We had more media attention when he announced than we ever had before,” said Ponce, who has performed more than 3,000 weight-loss surgeries. “It was amazing how many phone calls we received, and I think that’s because many people expect him to run for president.”
Christie chose gastric banding, a less invasive form of weight-loss surgery, but one where the results take a while to become noticeable.
A silicone band, with a balloon inside, was placed around the upper portion of his stomach during a 40-minute surgery Feb. 16 at NYU Langone Medical Center. Patients often lose 1 to 2 pounds a week and about 40 to 50 percent of excess weight in a year.
The gastric banding does not always work as planned, and the spotlight Christie brings could draw unfavorable attention if it doesn’t. About half of 82 gastric-banding patients who participated in a 2011 study in the Archives of Surgery needed to have the device removed because of complications such as infections and band slippage. Other research indicates that just 16 percent of patients had complications forcing the removal of the band.
“If (Christie) does well then, yes, it’s good for the industry,” said Dr. Beth Schrope, director of the Center for Metabolic and Weight Loss Surgery at The Valley Hospital in Ridgewood. “But what a lot of people don’t see is how difficult it is to maintain the weight loss. It requires a lot of work. This is not an easy way out.”
Christie has revealed little of his new eating regimen. In a May interview with People magazine, he said he is no longer hungry all the time. He lifts weights and does cardio exercises with a personal trainer four days a week, something he’s been doing since running for office in 2009.
Patients are told to eat slowly, chew their food methodically and stop eating as soon as they feel full. That’s not always easy on the campaign trail, but Christie has steadfastly declined treats almost everywhere he stumps whether they are offers of chocolate fudge on the North Wildwood boardwalk or birthday cake in Secaucus.
Christie can only hope to have the success Ryan has had. The Jets coach, who advised Christie on the surgery, said this summer that he lost about 120 pounds from his high of 348 pounds in the three years since he had the surgery.
Like Ryan, weight-loss experts say it will take a few years before Christie will look dramatically different, if all goes well. “It took (Ryan) a while to see a notable difference,” Ponce said. “After one year, people were saying that he wasn’t losing much weight, that it wasn’t working. Now look at him. The difference is notable.”
“I think one of the things people are used to are commercials where people are showing their outsized jeans,” he said. “They expect the governor to slim down right away, but it’s a gradual process.”