Life After Bariatric Surgery

Life After Bariatric Surgery: Creating A New Norm

August 12, 2019

The father of analytical psychology, Carl Jung, is credited with saying, ”I am not what happened to me, I am what I choose to become.” This well-known statement is indicative of reality, hope, and empowerment. A modern translation of it would be, “It’s not what happens to you, it’s how you respond that matters.” This paradigm can be applied to life after bariatric surgery and in creating a new norm for yourself.

Life After Bariatric Surgery

Life after bariatric surgery is a life filled with adjustments. It’s guaranteed that your journey will be filled with them, especially in the beginning. The obvious areas of your life that will change include your approach to food, and your approach to physical activity. The less obvious areas include finding ways to deal with stress, your relationships with your family, friends, and most importantly, yourself. Every individual needs to establish a new normal routine. So, how does one create a new norm? The key to building any healthy future begins by looking into your past.

“You cannot heal in the same environment that made you sick.”

Recognizing your past history including your habits, and tendencies can serve you well as a reference point of what not to do after surgery. If I had to build a psychological profile of a typical weight loss surgery patient it would look very much like someone who has practiced behaviors of self-neglect. These behaviors include everything from a pattern of skipping meals to unhealthy relationship boundaries to self-criticalness to self-sabotage to being overcommitted to tasks. All of these things are the perfect ingredients for self-neglect. If this was once your norm, you were great at taking care of everything and everyone at the expense of you.

Your lifetime of habits represents the old “normal” of what your life used to look like. You may have practiced some of these behaviors for years and, maybe even, decades. The things you’ve practiced repeatedly are difficult for your brain to forget because most of these behaviors end up being auto-pilot behaviors. These are the things that require very little thought to do them. And it seems the longer the habit, the bigger impact it had on your life.

Think about your old routine. What did it look like as far as your eating habits? Drinking habits? Exercise habits? Who were you influenced by? Friends? Family members? What or who kept you from taking care of yourself? How did you not become a priority? Spending the time to do an honest inventory history will help you decide what and who will play a part in your new norm.

Creating Your New Normal

Creating your new normal means probably engaging in things that are unfamiliar to you.

The example I often use is someone who is overly-competent at taking care of other people. Once you decide to have bariatric surgery, you make a commitment to take care of yourself first. For many of you, this is an un-natural, counter-intuitive thing to do. It is much easier said than done. Not only do you have to focus on self-care, but you also have to simultaneously retrain those around you to respect you respecting yourself.

Regardless of where you are post-op, it’s important to be reminded of the basic fundamentals of WLS. If you feel you didn’t get good, comprehensive education prior to having surgery, you may have to educate yourself by surrounding yourself with quality information to get the reinforcement you’ll need for long-term success.

Ask your surgeon’s office for the latest copy of their education materials regarding the post-op lifestyle. There may be information in there you may have never read, or you will be reminded of things that you knew in the beginning but may have forgotten about.

Out With the Old, In With the New

In the past fifteen years, I have learned a great deal from those who have been successful long-term after bariatric surgery. Their unrelenting commitment serves as an inspiration to all us in prioritizing self, and taking care of what really matters. This level of commitment doesn’t happen by accident. It is intentional, it is deliberate.

If it’s true that, over time, your habits become auto-pilot behaviors, new habits have to be done consciously and on purpose. It becomes not only a matter of what to do, it becomes a matter of what not to do as well.

Being open to change will serve you well in establishing anything new. Believing in the pay-off helps you work through the struggles that accompany these changes.

I can think of many examples of people who fought through changes. The patients who had virtually no history with strenuous exercise prior to surgery who now engage in running on a daily basis, and participate in marathons serve as evidence for essential commitment to self. The patient who now teaches spin classes at the local gym got to that point by establishing consistency in their new norm.

Prioritizing yourself has to be the foundation of your new norm. Without this in place, little else will change in your routine and, therefore, will not become a permanent change. The new norm includes having healthy boundaries with other people. If you don’t respect yourself, you cannot expect other people to respect you.

Everyone benefits from structure and routine. As much as I fight it, I recognize that I function way more efficiently with it than without it. It’s something I’ve personally come to embrace over time.

Consistency is the hallmark of commitment.

How do you know you’re establishing your new norm? The day you can’t make the exercise class and you miss it! Or, the time you can’t prepare your lunch you’ve been doing and you’re frustrated because of it. These are a couple of indicators of commitment, structure, and routine.

Remember, all of your life experience can serve you in establishing your new norm. There have been examples of what to do, and what not to do. Hope lies in that your past doesn’t have to define you. You choose to learn from, not replicate, your history is what matters.

Steps to Creating Your New Norm

  • Don’t be afraid to dream. Write down and ask what you want your life to look like? If it were in your power, what would you want to see changed? Having a vision gives you a destination of where you want to be.
  • Document your experience. As you implement self-care in its various forms, take note of how you experience things differently. Write in a journal, or make a note in your phone whenever you recognize a positive change.
  • Practice mantras. Adopt a mantra per week and focus on the inspiration of it that helps you focus on your changes.
  • Establish peer support. Having peer support and people in your life of like-mind is invaluable. As you create and maintain your new-norm, it’s important to know you’re not the only one living your lifestyle. One of the best sources for finding peers is at your local support group. Attending a meeting gives you the opportunity to seek out true peers.
  • Establish professional support. Teaming up with a mentor, coach, or therapist who can help you negotiate changes is worth the personal investment. The importance of having an ally in making these changes, especially the difficult ones will serve you well.
  • Review your incentive for having surgery in the first place. First, write down all the reasons you decided to have weight loss surgery, and the quality of life aspects you wanted to gain from doing so. Re-visit this list at least two times a year post-op especially beyond the first two years!

When you create your new norm after WLS, it will be better than your previous norm!

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Steven Reyes

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Dr. Steven Reyes offers expertise on the psychological adjustments associated with weight loss surgery. Dr. Reyes is best known for his compassionate coaching and therapeutic approach in helping others with their psychological and physical well-being. Dr. Reyes' research includes a phenomenological study of the post-surgical adjustment issues with weight loss surgery patients between 1 and 2 years post-op.

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