Bariatric Surgery and Change
People contemplating bariatric surgery are often concerned about how they might change and whether or not that would be a positive thing. Let's talk about that.
Certainly after bariatric surgery, you can expect to lose a lot of weight over the subsequent 12-24 months. Obviously, the physical change will be apparent not just to you but to those around you. More than one patient has told me that "it is literally like losing another person."
It can take time to adjust to this physical change. Your center of balance will be different. You will move with more ease. You may go to the clothing section that you used to only to find that those clothes are too big for you! You will not need a seat belt extender, and you will comfortably fit into a chair or booth. It won't hurt to climb stairs, and you will be able to get on the floor to play with your children or grandchildren. Many of our patients tell me that they get colder more quickly. This is because they do not have the degree of visceral (internal) fat that they used to have. Fat tissue is insulating. It keeps us warm. You may have excess skin that sags. That may be something you will eventually wish to remedy through surgical reconstruction.
Changes that one experiences after bariatric surgery and weight loss also involve psychological, intrapersonal and interpersonal components as well. People will react differently to you and act differently towards you. Some people have reported "not being recognized "by friends, colleagues and even some family members who had not seen them since their surgery. Most of the changes are viewed by people as positive - such as strangers opening doors for them, making eye contact with them and giving them compliments.
Not all reactions are positive, though. When you change, that means that those around you - especially your family members will also be affected. Some spouses are uncomfortable when their spouse loses weight, becomes more confident and is noticed by others. This can "rock the boat." Others can be threatened by your success and may try to sabotage you. You are a walking reminder that change is possible, and they may not be ready to make the same commitment.
From an intrapersonal perspective, patients have reported a grieving process - losing their former relationship with food and losing their usual coping and comforting strategies. People have described themselves as being a "fat person in a thin body." It takes time for the head to catch up with the physicals changes - sometimes even 1-2 years.
That being said, bariatric surgery is a life-saving event but also a life-changing event. Some people will refer to their surgery day as their new "birthday." Change does mean learning new habits. It is a process and a metamorphosis that requires ongoing support. If you believe in yourself and that you can succeed, I believe you will. If you are contemplating bariatric surgery, prepare now for those changes and communicate with your family and friends. Change can be frightening but it can also be a time for incredible growth and the opening of new doors.
Kathleen Baskett, MD is the Medical Director of Weight Management at St. Vincent Healthcare. She is a graduate of the University of Maryland School of Medicine, and the author of “Moving Forward: The Weigh to a Healthier Weight”.