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The Emotional Impact of Bariatric Surgery: Helping Patients Understand How to Protect Their Mental Health on Their Weight Loss Journey

Bariatric surgery is not a magical cure-all for poor self-esteem. Bariatric patients might find themselves struggling even more with their self-confidence after their surgery than before. Helping them understand the emotional impact it can have on their life can mentally prepare them for their transformation.

Bariatric surgery is a life-changing procedure. It’s one of the most momentous decisions a person can make, and it’s one that should be carefully deliberated before reaching a final conclusion.

As people think about what their lives will look like post-surgery, they’re most excited about how the procedure will transform their bodies. They spend hours consulting with their medical teams, reading articles online, and following the success stories of other bariatric surgery patients to anticipate the benefits they’ll soon enjoy themselves. And while it’s okay for them to lose themselves in the excitement, it’s essential they consider the risks too.

I’m not going to discuss the medical risks of bariatric surgery in this article. That’s a conversation they should be having with you, their medical team. I want to discuss the less talked-about risk that comes after a complete physical transformation. Bariatric surgery can help get people closer to their dream bodies, but they don’t often think about how it could impact their mental health.

As many as one in five patients gain at least 15 percent of their weight back in the years following their procedure. But what people don’t always know is that a number of patients also report feeling more depressed and anxious post-surgery. This shift doesn’t always happen, nor does it always happen immediately, with most people experiencing a newfound sense of euphoria after their procedure. It’s usually a gradual decline that occurs over several years. This isn’t entirely uncommon given the biological, lifestyle, and social changes that patients have to learn how to navigate post-surgery. But a decline in mental health can actually sabotage the surgery’s success. 

We want our patients to be the best versions of themselves after bariatric surgery. Helping them understand the emotional impact it can have on their life can mentally prepare them for their transformation. Below are the most significant mental health triggers you should discuss with your patients.

Bariatric surgery buyer’s remorse

People believe that if they spend enough time thoroughly deliberating their decision and weighing their options, they can walk into their surgery with absolute confidence they made the right decision. But in the days, weeks, and months following their surgery, they may feel that assurance quickly fade as they find themselves regretting their choices. Many people wonder how it’s possible to second-guess themselves when they were so sure bariatric surgery was the best decision for them, but we know this as bariatric surgery buyer’s remorse. 

Most patients feel buyer’s remorse as a response to their recovery difficulties. The strict guidelines they must follow as they learn how to eat and drink again with your new stomach might have felt worth it in their planning phase, but now that they have to follow these guidelines, it’s more overwhelming than they imagined. 

It’s our responsibility to inform them that this regret is usually temporary, but it can serve as a reminder of why it’s so important to surround themselves with a good support system. This support can include a partner, family, or friends, but it can also include their provider. Community and support are critical to a patient’s success, especially during the early stages of recovery. This is why at Be Slim Bariatrics, we provide ongoing support to our patients at no additional cost, medical and nutrition-wise. Our bariatrics packages also include access to a large peer support group which is supervised by our team of dedicated health professionals.

Losing food as a source of comfort

Most bariatric patients share a similar relationship with food. Some patients turn to food and eating for comfort. Food can bring cheer when one is depressed or anxious, but it’s also a crutch that can help bolster one’s happiness and enjoyment.  

Bariatric surgery changes this entire dynamic. Food can no longer be a source of comfort, which can stir up some complicated emotions that people have abetted by eating for so long. Bariatric patients can have a difficult time processing these unpleasant emotions while in the midst of a challenging recovery process. They might feel an intense urge to eat, and when they can’t, they will grieve the loss of food. 

Providers must work with patients to change their relationship with food and help them discover healthy coping mechanisms to aid in their recovery and long-term success, like prioritizing self-care activities, spending more time with their loved ones, or finding other habits to occupy their minds. Behavioral modification is essential in the weight loss journey of a bariatric patient. It should be provided through a medically supervised weight management program like Be Slim Bariatrics offers.

Reclaiming one’s self-esteem

Bariatric surgery is not a magical cure-all for poor self-esteem. Bariatric patients might find themselves struggling even more with their self-confidence after their surgery than before. There are a few reasons for this.

First, patients often feel insecure that they’ve had to turn to surgery to lose weight. Society tells us that through diet and exercise, all things are possible. This isn’t only wrong, but it’s a dangerous mindset that continues to fuel harmful inaccuracies about weight loss. Opting to undergo surgery to get someone closer to their goal weight isn’t taking the easy way out, it’s a personal commitment to achieving greater physical health. And second, losing excess weight can often elicit an identity crisis. It might take patients some time to believe they are actually the person who is staring back at themselves in the mirror — and that’s okay. It will take time for patients to reclaim their sense of self and learn how to love this new version of themselves. We should encourage them to give themselves grace and patience.

Bariatric surgery isn’t just a physical transformation; it’s a mental metamorphosis. Our patients’ physical and mental well-being are interconnected, so helping them care for and heal both sides of themselves is crucial.

Photo:mi-viri, Getty Images

Jenn Christine is the Founder and CEO of Be Slim Bariatrics in Roseville, CA. Be Slim Bariatrics takes a more holistic approach to weight loss, with a passion for helping everyone along their weight loss journey.

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