REGAIN after Bariatric Surgery: Change Your Mindset, Change Your LifeOctober 3, 2018
I use the story of Cinderella as a metaphor for bariatric regain. After much struggle, the princess finally gets to wear a beautiful gown and go to the ball, only to have the magic spell wear off at midnight. Getting surgery is our opportunity to wear the beautiful gown and go to the ball. After many years of struggling, we finally look better and feel better. Regain is the clock striking midnight. It’s the reality that we’ve slipped back into our old habits and into our old body.
I know that’s harsh, but it’s a reality many bariatric patients face, no matter how loudly they proclaimed they'd “never go back.” Regain is very real and a topic that is flooded with shame.
The Realities of Regain After Bariatric Surgery
I’m not a bariatric pessimist — I’m a realist. This stems from something my bariatric surgeon said to me during one of my first consultations. "Many of my patients are older than you (I was in my 20s then) and frankly, have fewer years to live. You potentially have 60+ years to keep the weight off once you lose it. Have you thought about how you're going to do that?” I still hear his voice in my head 10 years later.
When I started this journey, I made a decision to be very public about it. A bariatric friend warned me that going through this journey publicly is tough. She said the fall from the top can be painful when everyone is watching. I took those words to heart and used them as motivation. Instead of fearing public failure, I figured if I started ‘falling’ publicly, I could grab every branch on the way down. In other words, I could reach out for help to all the people who support me daily. There is no worse feeling than struggling in silence.
Some bariatric patients are very public. Others hide it. It's a personal choice. But once we start regaining, we instinctively go into hiding. We stop going for checkups and skip support group meetings. We feel we have failed not only ourselves but all those who believed in us. We compare ourselves to others or flood our minds with excuses in order to avoid reality.
So how do we stop the regain cycle? People want a quick fix: “just tell me what to do.” That’s not how it works. For every one individual, there may be 50 plans that could work.
It’s not about the plan; it’s about the mindset.
Until your head is in the right place, it’s unlikely anything will work long-term.
Change Your Mindset, Change Your Life
This advice is for individuals who want to avoid regain and for those who have gained and want to get healthy again. This isn’t a one-time deal. These are steps you will cycle through for the rest of your life. Consider it a constant commitment to yourself.
1. Unapologetically commit
Commit to yourself unapologetically and publicly. (Hear that resistant inner voice already? That’s the one we’re trying to fight.) ‘Public’ doesn’t mean you post your journey all over the internet or announce that you’re trying to lose weight at your next team meeting. Public means committing to a healthy lifestyle without hiding it. It means you tell your family how and why they need to support you in a healthy lifestyle. It means saying “no, thanks” to the tub of cookies at the office potluck without feeling like you have to explain yourself, or allowing yourself one cookie without fear of being shamed. You publicly commit despite your inner fears of failure.
This also means committing to support. Visit your bariatric surgeon again. Get your labs done. Post on ObesityHelp or attend a conference. Go to a support group meeting or join a gym to meet likeminded people. Involve others in your journey. This means you will have to rely on others, be vulnerable and face the potential of public failure. But like it or not, support is a huge factor in successful weight management. You cannot do it alone. Once you've reached your goals, continue to seek support. The journey never stops and your support system shouldn’t either. They should be the ones to call you out when you start backsliding.
2. Reassess your motivations
This is common sense, but it’s often an afterthought. Why did you get surgery? What was your breaking point? Now is the time to reassess your motivations. Figure out what you’re after and most importantly, why. What is the very core of why you want to be healthy? Maybe it’s because you want to live to see your grandkids? Why? Probably because that would make you happy? Simply put, you want to be healthy because it’ll make you happy. Write these reasons down.
What are your non-scale goals? These are the motivators that will keep you on track through plateaus. For example, right now I’m trying to gain muscle. My main goal isn’t “to gain muscle mass and lose pounds.” My goal is “to be able to pick up my almost 6-year-old son without hurting myself.” This goal will sustain my efforts long term. Concentrating on the numbers will not.
3. Come to terms with the reality
Face your excuses head-on. To do this, I use the “5 Whys” method. Here’s an example: “I am unhappy.” Why? “Because I am too busy to live a healthy lifestyle.” Why? “Because I have to exercise and prep meals and that takes too much time.” Why? “Because I don’t know what exercises to do and how to meal prep so I assume it’ll take forever.” Why? “Because I haven’t taken the time to research effective methods.” Why? “Because I am scared that if I start looking into it, I will feel like a failure because I can’t do it.”
So what is the key issue here? Fear of failure. Understanding the core of your excuses will help you create effective counter-measures. My #1 motto: there is always a way. I may not know what that way is, but I will figure it out. I don’t say, “I will try.” I say, “it’s done.” And then I figure out how to overcome my excuse and my perceived barriers.
This also involves tough love. Do you really want to be healthy? If you do, you will make it a priority. If you don’t, you won’t. And in order to make it a priority, you need to come to terms with your excuses. The only thing standing between you and your goals is your mindset. Yes, we all have some physical, financial, and mental barriers (some more than others), but they are what you make of them. You either give them power or you find ways to overcome them. How many more days are you going to allow yourself to live in the “yeah, but” mentality?
4. Forgive yourself.
I try to treat myself as I would treat my son or any child. I support and push myself but try to never put myself down for my failures. The closer you can get to forgiving yourself and accepting what has happened, what is happening and what will happen, the easier this journey will be. There is one thing we can count on: we will fall down. Many times, even. But those falls do not define us, much like they do not define a child who is learning to ride a bicycle for the first time. As you watch that kid, you have zero doubt he will succeed in learning to ride the bike because you are his advocate and his support.
Be your best advocate and support, but more importantly, be your own best friend.
Change your mindset.
Stop feeling shame for being human.
Stop giving your excuses power.
And stop waiting for the perfect time.
Take charge and make it happen.
Not tomorrow, not Monday, but right now.
ABOUT THE AUTHORYelena Kibasova is a 14-year bariatric post-op, certified fitness instructor and professional writer. She has spoken at numerous obesity-related conferences over the years, including ObesityHelp, Obesity Action Coalition and WLSFA. She is passionate about fitness for all levels and sustainable weight maintenance plans that combine physical, mental and social well-being. She coaches clients on habit transformation for weight loss and regain. Website: www.morethanmyweight.com. Read more articles by Yelena Kibasova!