WLS Doesn’t Solve EverythingSeptember 8, 2016
The weight loss surgery (WLS) journey is a very exciting one. Prior to surgery, many patients are extremely happy about the start to their new life. I have heard patients even use their surgery date as their new birthdate! WLS can be life-changing. After surgery, many patients enjoy life in ways that they could not before. Simple things some people take for granted such as going on a roller coaster or not having to ask for a seat extender on an airplane are monumental accomplishments for the WLS surgery patient. Patients are usually very excited to see the scale needle move and experience the improvements to their health. The first several months can be difficult but very rewarding.
Despite the many wonderful changes for patients after surgery, WLS does not solve everything. The surgery makes changes to the stomach but not the brain.
I have seen a number of patients who are several months out from surgery and are not as happy as they thought they would be with their new life. Many times, this is because the patient thought that losing weight was going to literally change their life in every aspect. Yes, the health benefits are great. Yes, you can fit into smaller clothing. But, it does not necessarily change the way you think about yourself. It also does not necessarily change your relationships, or your job, or other things that you thought were going to change after surgery. These take a bit more work. Furthermore, many patients are sometimes shocked to realize just how much their relationship with food changes. You cannot eat how you used to eat and if that is how you coped with stress... boy, are you in for a surprise!
Your New Life After WLS - Project YOU!
Part of my job as a psychologist is to help prepare bariatric patients for the road that is ahead of them after surgery. I talk to patients about having realistic goals after surgery. This includes goals related not just to weight but to self-esteem and relationships. If your relationship with your spouse is not great before surgery, it might be even worse after surgery. If you are not feeling great about yourself before the surgery, the surgery might not fix that. It is important to go into the surgery and the post-surgery life with your eyes wide open. Not only do you have to get used to a different body after surgery, you also have to get used to how your mind sees this new body.
The surgery is only the first step in lifelong changes.
Remember when you were in school and had to take the time to study? Well, you need to think of your new life after weight loss surgery as a project but the subject is YOU. This means working on the areas of your life that are not what you expected them to be.
Now that your surgery is over and you have lost some weight, it is time to focus on you. I suggest that you take one of the areas of your life that you want to change, hunker down and start studying up on it like you would have done in school. If your self-esteem or self-image has bottomed out, then reach out for some support. It does not have to be a therapist. You can get support from a trusted friend, a virtual buddy, or even just time spent delving into the world of self-help. There are a lot of great books out there that discuss ways to deal with negative thoughts. One such book you can read is called The Self-Esteem Workbook. But much like learning a new skill, it is going to take practice. Self-improvement takes work—with or without surgery.
What Can You Do TODAY to Work on Yourself
Don’t get discouraged! The exciting news is that you are already on your way to a new life. Just break it down into steps. Focus on one thing each day. If you want to build your self-esteem and how you view your new body, then find a new mantra. Put it on a sticky note at home, in your car and at work. If you need to work on your relationship with a significant other, then remember, communication is the key.
Ask yourself, what can you do TODAY to work on yourself or those other areas that you thought were going to improve after surgery?
Sometimes, it needs to be a bigger change. For example, one time I worked with a patient who lost over 150 pounds after surgery. He soon became the poster child for weight loss surgery at his workplace. He felt as though the rest of his co-workers, although supportive, were not allowing him to move on to be a better version of himself. He started to hate going to work. He made the bold decision to find a new job. When he was hired, he did not tell anyone about the surgery. My patient felt like he finally had the new life he was hoping for after surgery.
Surgery is only one small step in your new journey to a better and improved YOU. You have already made the big step, making the decision to have surgery. Now, it is time to make sure that the other areas of your life are as healthy as your body!
ABOUT THE AUTHORMelissa Bailey, Psy.D. is a licensed clinical psychologist with active practices in several states. She has been in the field for over 20 years and received her doctorate from Illinois School of Professional Psychology at Chicago with an emphasis in Health Psychology and is currently head of Bailey Psychology Group. In addition to her private practice, Dr. Bailey has a special interest in the field of Autism.
Read more articles from Dr. Bailey!