Emotional Adjustments After Weight Loss Surgery & Getting Support from your Spouse/Partner
March 1, 2023
Written By: Carley Salas, MS, RDN, CDN and Janet Klein, MS, RDN, CDN, CDCES
The thought of having weight loss surgery is exciting, and the anticipation of all the positive changes that happen as a result can sometimes overshadow the reality of the after effects from the surgery. It is a good thing to think positively, while at the same time it is equally as important to be aware of and prepared for the realities of how things will be following the surgery. In other words, it’s very important to focus not only on the physical changes that occur with weight loss surgery, but be mindful of the psychological changes that come as well.
Having realistic expectations and preparing for different outcomes pre-operatively will ensure your success post-operatively. Some people think that having bariatric surgery will make the weight loss journey easy and therefore underestimate the real ongoing commitment that it takes. Bariatric surgery is a TREATMENT not a CURE for obesity. Once your BMI reaches the level of surgical candidacy, it is one of the MOST important tools in your toolbox to successfully reach a healthier weight and healthier you. However, making healthy food choices, exercising consistently, and taking care of your mental health are among the other important tools you’ll need to keep obesity in remission.
Start Making Changes
During your research on bariatric surgery, you may have heard some people say they had initial feelings of regret. This may happen when the realization of the necessary lifestyle changes truly sets in. People begin to grieve the loss of old eating behaviors, i.e. overindulging, which oftentimes served as a catharsis and distraction from dealing with underlying emotions pre-operatively, and the realization begins to sink in as they are confronted with the unhealthy relationship they had with food. This can happen when people do not give themselves enough time to truly reflect on their behaviors and begin to actively make changes prior to having bariatric surgery. We cannot stress the importance of this enough – begin working on improving your health habits, one step or goal at a time, as soon as you start the process to have bariatric surgery! The beginning can be challenging, but once you’ve reached the post-op phase and settled into your new healthy routine most of you share with us that you wish you had the surgery many years prior!
Understand that your relationship with food is going to be different after surgery. Because the amount of food you can eat is very little, especially in the beginning, it’s imperative that the foods you are choosing are as nutritious as possible. You may begin to pay more attention to how food makes you feel, and gravitate towards foods that make you feel good and provides your body with nourishment instead of choosing foods solely because they taste good, or you have a craving for them. This is known as “mindful eating,” being mentally present when you are eating and putting thought into your food choices, as opposed to “mindless eating,” i.e., eating while distracted watching TV or playing a video game.
Learn Healthy Ways to Cope with Stress
Food has been a reliable source of comfort for many people who struggle with their weight, but to take control of emotional eating you will have to learn new skills to cope with stress. This takes practice, so be patient with yourself and start working on this before surgery. Try things like journaling, meditation, calling a supportive friend to vent, taking your dog for a walk, yoga, painting, taking a nap or going to bed earlier etc. instead of turning to food. Ask yourself what triggered the emotion and describe what you are feeling; anger, sadness, fear? What needs to change to make you feel better or resolve the problem? We’re human and all experience unpleasant feelings sometimes – the goal is to disconnect those feelings from food and find better ways to get through life’s difficult moments, ways that actually make you feel better in the long term, not just the immediate gratification that food brings because you enjoy the taste or texture in the short-term.
The entire process of bariatric surgery from beginning to end can be a long and challenging road, but it is well worth the effort. It requires many different doctor’s appointments, testing and screenings, nutrition education, and major lifestyle changes. If you or someone you know is going through this process, they need all the support and positivity to help get them to where they want to be.
It can be frustrating and discouraging if you do not have the support of those closest to you, especially when you are trying to do something positive for yourself. Having people in your corner to help you through this journey is definitely recommended. But remember, not everyone is going to make the same changes as you, or change at the same pace as you. There are many things your family/friends can do to help you feel supported; keep reading for a few tips and suggestions!
- Have them accompany you to your appointments and attend Bariatric Support Group meetings. The more they know about the procedure and the required lifestyle changes, the more they can support you. At Garnet Health Medical Center we offer support groups for pre and post-op patients together. All support groups are open to the general public as well. To find out the support group schedule and to register, go to www.garnethealth.org/events and search ‘bariatric support’.
- Openly communicate with your partner/family how you feel about the recommended lifestyle changes and how you would like to start to implement them, not just for you, but also to improve your entire family’s overall quality of life. Be an active listener and allow your partner/family to express their feelings, as they may not be ready to make any adjustments in lifestyle for themselves. Respect this, and be patient, as most partners/family members begin to come around once they see the transition and metamorphosis taking place in YOU!
- Plan and prepare meals together. This can help reduce stress or arguments related to meal selection and preparation. You don’t want to feel like you are the only one having to eat a certain way and the only one making healthy changes that are not always easy. Sit down as a family/couple and make a weekly grocery shopping list that includes healthy foods that everyone enjoys. Everyone can benefit from eating more vegetables, fruits, and lean proteins! Choose new recipes or healthier versions of some of your favorites. This is an excellent way for them to learn about the types of food you will be consuming in your new lifestyle. When they become savvy with the type of foods and portion sizes, they may just find themselves eating healthier and losing weight too!
- Educate them. Many people have incorrect preconceived ideas about what bariatric surgery is, and some look at it as risky or “the easy way out”. The benefits of bariatric surgery include improvements or resolution of metabolic and other medical conditions; i.e., high blood pressure, diabetes, sleep apnea, swelling and joint pain, infertility, depression/anxiety, and high cholesterol. It is about much more than one’s physical appearance. With the advancements in laparoscopic/robotic bariatric surgeries in recent years, the procedures are extremely safe, and by significantly improving or resolving other medical conditions such as those previously described, prolong life for many years and improve the overall quality of one’s life. There is a lot of excellent information on the bariatric surgery homepage at www.garnethealh.org/bariatric to understand more about the surgery and by sharing this bariatric blog post with your partner/family, they will come to respect the hard work and effort it takes and give you all the credit you deserve with this important life-changing decision.
- Give them specific examples of ways they can support you. In addition to emotional support, perhaps you would like support with grocery shopping, food preparation or commitment to an exercise partnership! Exercising is a very important factor in facilitating weight loss, muscle toning and contributes to an overall healthy lifestyle, and is also a big stress reliever! Other ideas include going for family walks, hikes, bike rides, throwing a Frisbee in the park, golfing, swimming etc! Being active together as a couple or family is a great way to bond and stay motivated (and have fun too!).