There are a lot of reasons to join a bariatric support group and to attend the support group meetings,and a lot of reasons that people don’t. You can find support after bariatric surgery in your weight loss surgeon’s support group, but also on the internet and through smaller groups of friends. So why attend a weight loss surgery support group? Because you are not alone in your bariatric journey, you are not the first person in the world to have weight loss surgery, because you don’t need to be ashamed, isolated, or angry at the world because of your obesity. When you make the transition from being morbidly obese to being thin, a lot of things change, and sometimes change is hard to accept and to deal with.
Now, I hate modern psychobabble as much as the next person, but let me say this anyway. Some family and friends are merely enablers of obesity, and as you change your eating habits and your body begins to change, and you go from being shut-in to being more outgoing, your friends and family members may become jealous or upset. Your relationships that were built around lunches of super-sized Big Whoppers and French fries (or Freedom Fries), change as you eat a small bit of tuna fish and avoid the high carbohydrate, fat-laden foods. They feel they no longer have anything in common with you and they no longer invite you out. (It could also be that watching you eat your tuna and salad makes them feel guilty about all the calories they consume.)
Your weight loss surgery support group can become like family and friends. These people know what you are going through. They have already been through it, so they can lend you a shoulder to cry on and some encouragement. They can help you adjust to the changes in your body and your emotions. This might sound a bit new age for some, but I have not met a patient yet who would not benefit from joining a bariatric support group and interacting with other weight loss surgery patients.
Obese people develop many psychological ways of coping with their obesity
Now, I don’t want to make broad generalizations (yes, that was a pun) but here are a few observations. There is the “jolly” fat person, the class clown. Al Roker was a master at this. He developed his “jolly” personality, he will tell you, in order to fend of the criticism from his obesity. It was successful for him when he was obese, and even more so after he had weight loss surgery. But, even though you turn the laughter around, you can find yourself laughing alone and feeling isolated. One of the fears that Al Roker expressed was that, if he lost some pounds, people would look at him differently. He was afraid that the public wouldn’t like his newer, thinner self. He worked through this and found his audience loved him just as much after he became thin.
You will lose some “friends” as you lose some pounds, but you will gain many more in their place, and these will be people who like the new, slimmer and healthier you. Some interesting changes happen with an obese person’s personality when he or she begins to become thinner. Some bariatric patients become quite confident and aggressive following weight loss surgery, and may exclude family members they once were close to; especially if they realize the family members were enablers. The divorce rate after weight loss surgery is very high—and there are a lot of theories about this: one lady who had been married for over twenty years said, “I changed, I made the greatest sacrifice I could, undergoing bariatric surgery—but he wasn’t going to change. He was the same person, still drank too much, and still abused me. So one day I told him to get out.” There are a lot of complex reasons for this. But I have also seen the opposite. One bariatric patient who I thought was headed for a divorce before weight loss surgery, based on the rather cruel comments she made about her husband, found that after the procedure their life changed so much for the better.
Things will change after weight loss surgery
A lot of things will change: the way you eat, your tastes in food, the way you dress, and your bathroom habits will change. No one will understand you better than someone else who has gone through weight loss surgery. They can give a perspective that I cannot give.
Your bariatric support group can help you find new restaurants in your neighborhood that are friendly for weight loss surgery stomachs. They often have great collections of recipes, and more than one person there will offer to pass some clothes on to you as you transition from size 28 to 22 to 10.
Weight loss surgery support groups on the internet
The internet provides a great adjunct for a weight loss surgery support group. Any day on the message boards for various support groups (OSSG – obesity surgery support group), there are common and repeated questions. In the chat room at obesityhelp.com, you will find bariatric patients at various places in the weight loss surgery cycle: pre op, post op, and long term post op. All are anxious to answer questions, give tips, share recipes, and tell you their story.
Remember, besides the questions you will ask at the bariatric support group meetings, there are some things you will just need to ask your weight loss surgeon or primary care physician. Your doctor should answer questions about your medications, abdominal pain, fevers, or other health matters. Weight loss surgery support groups are meant for support, they are not for medical advice. The same goes for the internet chat rooms and support groups. I was in a chat room when someone asked if it was normal to vomit blood. I said, “No,” and asked why. The woman said she had been vomiting blood for a couple of days. I told her to go to the hospital immediately. Luckily, she did, as her blood count was less than half normal and she had a bleeding ulcer. So, when in doubt, seek medical attention.
Angels of weight loss surgery support
Roma Downey and Angels from God: I loved that show, even though I am not a terribly religious person. In fact, I worry about the lightening that flashes whenever I pass near a church. But angels are something that I believe in. I know a number of them, and anyone who has had, or is going to have weight loss surgery, can become one.Anyone who is sick in the hospital loves visitors, but an angel is special.
Angels are anyone who visits a weight loss surgery patient in the hospital. They can encourage, visit, and be a buddy. They become the nucleus of the bariatric support group. Several of my patients started visiting bariatric patients even before they had weight loss surgery and they continue to do this. One of my bariatric patients, Kathy, became so inspired by this that she is starting back to school to become a nurse!
You would be surprised at how much weight loss surgery patients appreciate this. Sometimes patients don’t want to go to bariatric support groups, they don’t want to be involved, but when they have weight loss surgery, they appreciate a visit from an angel. Anyone who is sick in the hospital loves visitors, but an angel is special. If the angel has gone through bariatric surgery he or she can empathize so well with what you are going through, and can tell you what is normal to feel and what is not.
Even more important, they know when to leave. Family members sometimes feel as if they must stay with their mom, spouse, brother or sister twenty-four hours a day. When you are in the hospital, there are times for visitors to be there, and times for them not to be there. Angels know this, especially if they have been through weight loss surgery. Sometimes the visits are only 15 minutes, but it means so much to the bariatric patient to have that time. So, if you have your bariatric procedure and someone says they will be your angel, please let them. They can help and encourage more than you know. Many life-long friendships have been developed from this.
In our age of the internet, there are even internet angels! They will collect well wishes from all those who know them on the chat room and forward them on to you. While it is not the same as having someone visit you in the hospital, it does connect you with a worldwide bariatric support group.
A bariatric procedure is more than just an operation. You have the opportunity to give back and to help others. You will get more out of being an angel than you can ever imagine. That nice little light shining on an angel’s head?—well, I cannot promise that you will have one, but you can still be an angel.
When you think of goals for your new life after your bariatric operation please think about helping those who are going through this. You might be shy, and not want to go to a bariatric support group, you might only be able to give a kind word, or post a simple message, or tell your story. There are many ways, but tell your story. Someone wants to hear it. Someone is going to be where you were—so, give back.