Psychological Considerations After Bariatric Surgery
When we think of a bariatric surgery and the resultant weight loss, we often consider only the physical changes that we will experience. It may be because we’ve lived with obesity for so long or we are so excited to finally lose the weight and do many of the things we haven’t been able to for a long time, but we overlook the psychological component of surgery.
As a bariatric practice with thousands of surgeries under our belts, we are acutely aware of this common oversight and it is important for us to ensure that you are fully aware of the commitments, struggles and responsibilities you will have after surgery. Of course, we will discuss many of these during consultation, but we also want you to see a psychologist before surgery to ensure that you understand the changes that lie ahead.
So what changes will I experience?
Every patient is different and therefore their experiences after surgery will be unique as well. In the immediate recovery, you will be consumed with maintaining your postoperative diet and recovering from surgery. This phase will last approximately 5-6 weeks until you’re cleared to return to normal activity. By this point, many of the diseases associated with morbid obesity will have improved and some, such as type II diabetes may even have gone into remission. This will certainly give you more energy and excitement to continue losing weight. You will also likely have started losing some weight and will be seeing the results of your effort. As your life normalizes after surgery, you will encounter several potential hurdles:
First, those around you such as spouses, family and friends may not fully understand the changes that you are undergoing. They may seem downright unsupportive. To be sure, it is very difficult to deal with uncooperative people around us after surgery. While many may choose to fight, it is often best to either continue with your postoperative lifestyle changes regardless of what they say or even try to include them in your new lifestyle. Oftentimes, they are afraid that you may be leaving them behind. You will likely be happier, want to be more social and want to perform new and exciting activities. Those around you may feel like they don’t recognize you and may feel threatened. Communication is always a great option to try to bridge any gaps in understanding.
You may also encounter body image issues. Having lived with obesity for so long, it is not easy to see the thinner version of you. Many patients struggle with feeling like they are still obese and beat themselves up over it. While visiting a psychologist or therapist is a good option for those with the ability and means, a few small tactics can help.
- It never hurts to go to the clothing store once a month and try something on. Preferably, go to the same clothing store as sizing varies from store to store. Chances are, each month you will see the difference in dramatic fashion. In the beginning you may go down to size or two while later on progress will moderate, but this is a great way to prove to yourself that you’re moving forward
- Taking selfies in the mirror can be very helpful. Be sure to have the pictures printed and paste them either on that mirror or elsewhere – prominently. Seeing your progress month-to-month, side-by-side offers a much better visual than trying to see differences without an earlier point of reference
- Don’t just use the scale to measure your progress. On certain follow-up appointments, we will be taking measurements as well as blood panel. You will often see that your overall health is improving drastically from visit to visit. This may be despite a weight loss plateau – something you will experience several times over the course of the first two years after surgery. Be sure not to use your weight as the only measure of success
- Last, you will probably encounter those who believe that weight loss surgery is the easy way out. You will know, from your very own experience, that it most certainly is not. Ignoring the naysayers and communicating with your supporters is important here. We encourage you to develop a network of support at home, in social circles and right here at our office – both our team and our former patients. Having the support system is critical to minimizing frustration and maximizing results.
We want to be the first to tell you that the lifestyle changes after surgery are not easy. They require a great deal of dedication to your health. However, we also want to emphasize that the journey, while difficult, is one of the greatest accomplishments you will ever enjoy. Changing your lifestyle for yourself, your loved ones, kids or grandkids to be present both physically and mentally for a longer period of time is a noble cause and one worth fighting for.