Congratulations! You’ve decided to move forward with bariatric surgery. The procedure may very well be the path that finally helps you exit the excruciating roller coaster ride of weight loss and weight gain.
As your doctor or surgeon has told you, bariatric surgery is not be an easy physical process.
What your doctors probably can’t prepare you for are the emotional and mental challenges of your journey.
Because medical staff can only help you fully as far as medical problems are concerned. Your emotions are your responsibility.
But that’s okay. Bariatric surgery will be much easier and more rewarding when you obtain a more comprehensive picture of what to expect and how to secure the help you need for your own mental and emotional health.
The following is a list of items your doctor and surgeon can’t tell you about bariatric surgery but play an equally important role in the operation’s long-term success.
1. Speaking up and standing firm are important skills to employ throughout the process
Years of emotional pain regarding your weight can keep you from believing in yourself. However, to glean what you need from the experience you must be your own advocate.
Keep your goals in sight. Respectfully and firmly assert your right to speak up for yourself even if it isn’t easy drawing attention to yourself and your weight in ways you may have avoided before.
2. Your reluctance to ask for help is an obstacle to overcome quickly
Don’t get sucked into thinking that you or your decision is a burden to others. Lack of a support system can be extremely detrimental to success after bariatric surgery. You deserve people who empathize with your choices.
Keep reaching out. Consider support groups or a counselor. Take time to create a reliable support team that is sympathetic to your goals and available for the long haul.
3. Guilt is common and generally counterproductive
Due to your weightloss journey, you likely know all about guilt. You feel guilty about how big you are. Guilty about how your weight affects your relationships. Guilty about not losing the weight on your own. And now? You may feel guilty for bothering other people—doctors, friends, family, etc.—with your pre-op and post-op recovery needs.
Recognize that guilt is counter-productive. You have the a right to seek your best life, the best care, and the best support. Guilt gets in the way.
4. Change, setbacks, and unexpected internal responses will happen
The changes you’re pursuing affect your feelings about the past, your independence, and any unresolved emotional issues. Removing food as your best friend can hit you hard. It has the potential to depress you and make you anxious.
It will take time and effort to retrain your food-addicted brain. You may miss food terribly. Expect setbacks and dig deep to overcome them.
5. Jealousy, judgement and unsolicited opinions may change relationships
Gathering supportive people around you is vital and so is preparing for unsolicited attention and negativity. Envy or resentment may color some people’s reactions to you.
You may even need to employ the help of a couple’s counselor, to deal with jealousy or sabotage from a partner who suddenly feels insecure. Remember that it’s okay to share the process with a select few and set firm relational boundaries.
6. The “new you” may not live up to your bariatric surgery expectations
Often bariatric surgery patients have difficulty embracing the whole experience positively. Your well-meaning medical team may not understand your reluctance and ask repeatedly how you like the “new you.” Prepare for the following feelings:
- Social insecurity. You may find it stressful to give up the social isolation of obesity and engage those who once ignored you.
- Significant self-doubt. Your life goals and perceptions about the surgery may not match your improved physical metamorphosis.
- Focus on your “flaws”. Watch out for persistent obsession over one body part or another. This can lead to a serious mental health condition called Body Dysmorphic Disorder (BDD)
7. Unrealistic expectations can produce unproductive coping methods
Discouragement or disappointment happens during the process. If you are prone to addiction (food addiction counts) you may find that you’re prone to destructive habits.
This is called “addiction swapping” or transfer addiction. Seek help immediately if you find you are using alcohol or substances, disordered eating, or other risky behavior to cope.
Remember that taking care of yourself isn’t selfish, self-indulgent, or negotiable. Bariatric surgery is the first step. Deciding to work through all the challenges is a serious commitment. However, with adequate information and well-rounded preparation, you can confidently change your life.