Socializing after Bariatric Surgery

Socializing after Bariatric Surgery: Risks and Rewards

February 15, 2017

Bariatric surgery brings about a life change that can be stunning in its complexity. No aspect of living remains untouched, nor any person in the personal sphere of a bariatric patient unaffected by these changes. The physical, emotional and mental adjustments of both the patient and their support system are perhaps never more visible than when socializing after bariatric surgery aspects come into play.

Socializing after Bariatric Surgery Risks

Obese individuals remain a marginalized population. Patients suffering from obesity often report feeling invisible, unimportant, unattractive and disliked. Stories of discrimination or overt hostility abound and nearly all obese people can recount an incident in which their weight was used hatefully against them. When an individual suffering from obesity loses weight quickly, this rapid change garners a great deal of attention from friends, family and coworkers. Invasive questions can cause awkward or uncomfortable moments and the increase in visibility may bring old emotional scars to the surface. Patient reaction to this increase in attention ranges from intense pleasure and validation to anger, shame, resentment or fear.

While some patients are publicly proud of their surgery and their weight loss, others feel a desire for privacy. A shrinking body can be energizing but the emotional adjustment may make social situations difficult to negotiate, and emotions may be raw and volatile, changing one day to the next. Behavior may range from overt exploration of these new emotions through this sense of visibility and attractiveness to an urge to retreat, hide and protect themselves from a public that has eschewed them in the past. Years of self-esteem issues may surface with unhealthy or dangerous behaviors, such as sexual promiscuity, risk-taking and alcohol or drug abuse.

An abusive past may suddenly resurface with emotional disturbances that fuel these behaviors, the coping mechanism food afforded no longer available or effective. This can be a vulnerable time for the bariatric surgery patient, who has not had time to examine these changes and enact new, healthier habits in its place.

Recent studies are beginning to note increases in addictive behaviors in bariatric surgery patients. Whether this is a “transfer addiction” or a physiological process brought about by the rapidity in which alcohol hits the bloodstream remains unclear at this point. However, bariatric surgery patients do seem to present an increase in vulnerability to both the impact of these substances on their body and thought processes as well as their behavioral choices and possibility for victimization in social situations. Additionally, the swiftness in which alcohol impacts a bariatric surgery patient places them at increased risk for alcohol-related illness, such as gross intoxication, alcohol poisoning and alcohol-related accidents.

Spouses or significant others involved with the bariatric patient may struggle with their loved one’s changing physique as well as the personality changes that can come with such a rapid alteration. Many report fears that their loved one may leave the relationship now that they garner more attention and are perceived as more attractive. Others state they see personality or behavioral changes that are uncomfortable, alarming or just dramatically different from the person they had come to know. Relationships can undergo dramatic shifts in power as the patient begins to experience the world differently.

Socializing after Bariatric Surgery Rewards

Not all adjustments bring about strife or difficulties. Patients report increases in energy, sociability and satisfaction in both old and new relationships.

Non-scale victories become a battle cry in support groups, many of them revolving around social situations that had caused embarrassment or difficulty prior to weight loss and result in elation now!

These include fitting more easily in an airline seat without needing a belt extender, thus opening up a world of travel that had been difficult or impossible prior. Patients find themselves joining exercise groups, exploring a world of 5K races, Zumba classes and yoga retreats. These activities lead to new friendships that support the new habits the patient is trying to build.  Fitting more easily in a booth at a restaurant, being able to stand or walk in a social gathering to engage in conversation, feeling represented accurately by the clothing they can wear – all of these things provide confidence, pleasure and a sense of belonging.

The changing relationships discussed in the Risks section can be upsetting; however, the shedding of excess weight often gives an individual the strength and inner courage to shed unhealthy relationships that had stagnated long ago. An increase in self-value often leads to higher standards for personal treatment, better ability to identify what is acceptable and development of methods for making those boundaries both clearer and firmer.

Loneliness, which for many had been a given part of life when weight ruled the day, fades away as the individual begins coming out of his or her shell, often more receptive to relationships that may have been hampered in the past by personal fears, insecurities or unidentified prejudices.

More than just weight was carried in the excess pounds; patients who experience this rapid loss report sensations of freedom, excitement to shop for clothing and reduced intimidation by social situations. Many express a deep desire to reach out to others just starting on their weight loss journey for the purpose of offering support as well, reaching back to help others on their journey to a better place.

Thoughts that had been consumed by or comforted through foods are freed to explore other avenues of satisfaction and soothing, leading to inner peace and contentment that was absent during the years of obesity limiting their lives and opening a portal to fulfillment that centers around relationships or personal goals.

Weight loss surgery remains a catalyst for life change and patients need intense support as they negotiate these changes. Some are exceptionally exciting but may bring side effects that had not been expected. Even good changes may upset the equilibrium of a patient’s life; providing weight loss surgery comes with a responsibility to also provide means to cope with the holistic and emotional aspects of rapid weight loss along with the physical and surgical changes to the body. A referral network of professional colleagues provides patients with options to revitalize their health across the spectrum, as does the implementation of support groups, social networking resources and access to nurse educators throughout their journey.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Dr. Nick Nicholson is one of the nation’s leading bariatric surgeons. He’s been performing weight loss surgery since 2001 and has helped patients from 48 states and 10 countries. He leads a team of top surgeons, specializing in Sleeve Gastrectomy, Gastric Bypass, LAP-BAND, Revisions, Gastric Balloon, and abdominal cosmetic surgery after weight loss. He practices out of the Nicholson Clinic for Obesity Surgery.

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