by Rockwood Clinic, Spokane, Washington
Preparing for weight-loss surgery is a very exciting time. Anticipating the resolution of debilitating health problems, increased mobility, and possibly the emergence of a brand new body, can be exhilarating. Most people view weight-loss surgery as a positive, life-altering event. What they don't anticipate, are challenges in places of their lives that they had previously thought were rock-solid; such as marriage, family and friends. With a little careful preparation and thoughtful consideration, you can avoid experiencing many of the emotional challenges that often impact the post-surgical Bariatric patient. Now is the time to cement your support system with people who want to see you succeed, will meet you at the finish line, and then bask in your glory when you're standing in the winner's circle. Read on to heighten your awareness of behaviors that could be symptomatic of something more serious.
For many of us, food is a source of pleasure, comfort and control in our lives. After weight-loss surgery, the question becomes, "If I don't have food, then what DO I have?" Many people turn to food in order to fill emotional voids, especially in times of turmoil. This dependence on food can be seen as addictive behavior. After weight-loss surgery, because food is no longer an available coping mechanism, many transfer this addiction to other unhealthy options such as alcohol or drugs. If you think you are an emotional eater and feel yourself slipping into unhealthy consumption patterns with alcohol or drugs (including prescription drugs), you should consult with your primary care provider or a mental health professional for evaluation.
Challenges with Interpersonal Relationships
Each person has their own established role with family or their circle of friends. A surprising struggle for weight-loss surgery patients is driven by an unexpected change in their role within these groups. This could be a person who was previously withdrawn and insecure, who becomes a person who is outgoing and sure of themselves. Or, there is the patient in a family of over-weight family members, who becomes the "skinny" one and induces jealousies. At any rate, patients may experience a wide range of reactions from friends and family as they begin to lose weight post surgery. Most reactions are positive and supportive, but there are a select few that experience negative interactions from the ones closest to them. Jealousy can lead to friends or family trying to sabotage a patient's success. An example of sabotaging behavior would be keeping foods in the house the weight-loss patient is not allowed to have, or making them feel guilty for not eating that birthday cake. New found competition may develop as the patient begins to lose weight and friends or family members remain over-weight. Healthy relationships will be able to work over these struggles with proper communication, but if patients are in an abusive or unhealthy/unhappy relationship emotional challenges could ensue.
Body Image Distortion
Bariatric patients can suffer from the same body image disorder (Body Dysmorphia) as anorexia nervosa patients. This usually develops as a coping mechanism established during the years of weight gain. Before surgery, Bariatric patients were able to convince themselves that they really were "not that big." After Bariatric surgery the opposite occurs, and once patients lose the weight they only see themselves as "fat" even though they are now down to an appropriate size. Patients become overly judgmental of their new bodies, focusing on all of the imperfections, and they have to learn to accept themselves as a thinner person. In some cases, a severe fear of regaining weight or body dysmorphia can lead to the development of anorexia nervosa if not addressed by a professional counselor.
Emotional ups and downs are very common during the rapid weight loss phase after surgery. One scientific cause of emotional instability in women is the release of female hormones into the body's system. These hormones were previously stored in the fat tissue, and as the fat stores are burned up, these hormones are released into the bloodstream, causing an emotional roller coaster. Men and women both may experience many ups and downs after surgery while they learn how to live with and accept their new body, new diet regiments, and how the world responds to the "new" them. A strong support system and attending monthly support meetings will help patients express and work through these emotions.
The widespread use of support groups has provided weight loss surgery patients an excellent opportunity to discuss their various personal and professional issues. Most learn, for example, that weight loss surgery will not immediately resolve existing emotional issues or heal the years of damage that morbid obesity might have inflicted on their emotional well-being. Most surgeons have support groups in place to assist you with short-term and long-term questions and needs. Most bariatric surgeons who frequently perform weight loss surgery will tell you that ongoing post-surgical support helps produce the greatest level of success for their patients.
© 2011 Rockwood Clinic
Click HERE to post your comments or questions.