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Coping With Emotional Changes After Bariatric Surgery

Some people who opt for gastric bypass surgery, adjustable gastric banding or other types of bariatric surgery may be under the impression that it will cure their obesity forever, improve their relationships and solve all of their problems. Bariatric surgery is not a magic bullet or a panacea for what is wrong with your life, it is just a tool to help jumpstart your weight loss journey.

Preparing yourself for some of the psychological hurdles that may arise as you begin to adjust to your new body and your new life may help you cope with some of the physical and mental ups and downs that will occur along the way.

Here are some helpful tips from our advisor the director of psychology at the Beaumont Weight Control Center of Beaumont Hospital in Royal Oak, Michigan.

Get to Know Yourself After Surgery

It is common for overweight people to disconnect from their bodies. Some avoid looking at their bodies and many withdraw from life. Once thinner, some people still view themselves as obese. Adjusting to your new body size can be difficult, especially if you have spent years thinking of yourself as a fat person. Give yourself time. In a sense, it is like getting to know a “new body.”

Exercising more may help you develop a healthier body image. Support groups may also help as you struggle to accept the new, thinner and healthier you.

Set Realistic Expectations

Losing weight will improve your overall quality of life, but it will not dramatically improve your marriage/relationships. If your marriage was rocky before your surgery, most likely it will still be rocky after your bariatric surgery. That said, it may improve your sex life, which can help revive or add some spice back into stale relationships. (Learn more about how bariatric surgery affects your sex life.)

Keep Your Weight Loss in Perspective

Initially, you may feel like you are “wasting away.” This can be unsettling. You may begin to worry that the weight loss will never stop and you will be at risk for serious physical complications as a result.

After years of fighting the battle of the bulge unsuccessfully, this dramatic weight loss may also be quite energizing and empowering. It is often called the “honeymoon phase.” You may feel that the battle has been won forever. This can set you up for depression down the road if you do regain weight. What further complicates this is that those who experience weight regain after bariatric surgery often feel shame and humiliation, preventing them from seeking professional help for their depression.

Keep your weight loss in perspective, stay committed to the dietary and lifestyle changes needed to maintain your weight loss, and if you hit a roadblock or plateau, talk to your bariatric surgeon. There are a growing number of non-invasive bariatric surgery revision procedures that can help re-shrink the stomach after bariatric surgery.

Avoid Addiction Swapping

You may feel a sense of loss after bariatric surgery. Food was a very important and central part of your life. You likely spent hours planning, acquiring and thinking about food. This food obsession consumed your life. You may have used food to comfort yourself, to provide an activity, as a reward or to relieve stress after an exhausting day.

Food may have also been an integral part of your social life. How can you attend a party or go out to lunch with colleagues now that you can’t eat the way you used to?

Bariatric-surgery regret may also occur. You may feel sorry for yourself that you can no longer eat or enjoy your favorite foods, leading to questions of whether having the surgery was the right decision.

Alcohol use, drug use and even gambling are other issues that may come up after bariatric surgery. The concept of “addiction swapping” occurs when alcohol or drug use takes the place of food. Being forewarned is being forearmed. If you notice addiction swapping occurring, seek help.

You must also find new ways to enjoy yourself in social situations. Consider taking a power walk with a colleague at lunch instead of hitting an all-you-can-eat buffet. For other tips on how to socialize without sacrificing your waistline, check out our article on avoiding holiday weight gain.

Keep Your True Friends Close

Make new friends, but keep the old? Not so fast. You may need to evaluate some of your relationships after bariatric surgery. Some of your old friends may not provide the kind of support and encouragement that you need. The “still-overweight binge buddies” may try to sabotage your success by making negative comments or encouraging unhealthy eating. Establishing a healthy support system is crucial to long-term success after bariatric surgery.

Watch Out for Disordered Eating

If you have had a weight problem for most of your life, you may find the notion of developing an eating disorder laughable, but you are at risk. People who have bariatric surgery sometimes develop the type of disordered eating that can turn into an eating disorder such as bulimia or anorexia.

A common post-surgical effect is vomiting caused by eating the wrong food too quickly and not chewing thoroughly. This may become problematic if you begin to habitually rely on vomiting to get rid of certain foods and prevent weight gain.

Chewing and spitting out food is another unhealthy habit that may develop. Unable to fully indulge their old eating habits, some people may want to at least taste the food that once provided so much pleasure. Such behaviors may seem harmless, but can develop into serious eating disorders that may rob you of your quality of life just as your obesity did. If you are showing signs of an eating disorder, discuss it with your doctor. Help is available.

Consider Post-Bariatric Body Contouring Surgery

Most often there is an increase in self-esteem after bariatric surgery, but massive weight loss can result in a stretching or loosening of skin, mostly around the abdominal area. Many people don’t like the way their body looks. Post-bariatric body contouring surgeries can help improve overall appearance and self-esteem. Learn more about the body lift, arm lift and thigh lift procedures.

In addition to body contouring procedures, recipients of weight loss surgery also may be interested in evaluating other supplemental procedures designed to enhance the effects of massive weight loss. Neck lift and post-bariatric face lift are two such popular options amongst men and women.