After I had weight loss surgery in 2011, I joined online support groups and forums. Hey! I was a patient now too and knew that even with everything I’d learned in the proceeding 10 years working in the field, it couldn’t completely prepare me for life after weight loss surgery. I wanted to be in touch with other patients.
I loved the online groups. I found myself raising my hand to answer questions and offer suggestions. As a weight loss surgery educator, there were plenty of questions I had answers to. And as a patient I was eager to learn and share my new experiences. Over time, fellow patients contacted me privately wanting to talk a little more.
Conversations with weight loss surgery friends.
I share these conversations (names and identifying circumstances changed) because you may see yourself, your situation, or a similarity that can give you insight into your challenge and an action step that can help you reach your WHY…so you can live your best life.
~ Written in 2013.
“Hey! This wasn’t in my weight loss surgery pre-op instructions. They covered the surgery, nutrition, exercise, vitamins, healthy habits. But what about all the other stuff?”
Ummm, yeah. All the other stuff in life…surgery doesn’t change that.
And so begins another brilliant conversation with my Weight Loss Surgery Friends:
Janine- Gastric bypass, 5 years
Karen- Sleeve, 2 years
Kate- Gastric Bypass, 4 years
Mariam- Sleeve, 3 years.
Our topic, “Why didn’t somebody tell me?” came up because I had just been with a group of people preparing for surgery. Understandably, the pre-op questions were focused on the surgery itself, how long they’d be out of work, and what to eat those first six weeks after surgery. Really, that was it. But how could they know what else to ask? I shared my thoughts with my friends and they jumped right in.
Kate: “It’s like parenting. Start with giving birth. When you’re pregnant you read the books, you go to classes, you’re reading every story you can about labor and delivery, and you talk to mothers every chance you get. But even with all this, when you’re actually giving birth, nothing can prepare you for everything you go through. You can get an idea, but when those contractions are getting stronger, you’re on your own.”
Me: “Kate, you’re comparing pregnancy, childbirth and parenting to the Weight Loss Surgery journey, and you’re not far off. When you’re pregnant you’re just busy with appointments, eating right, and getting ready for the big day. That’s exactly like going through pre-op and getting ready for surgery which is the big day! Logically you know that raising a child is going to be the major task, but all you can focus on is giving birth and those first few weeks after. That’s exactly like Weight Loss Surgery. They tell you your life is changing, that it’s forever, but we only focus on the surgery and the first few weeks after. Baby! Surgery! That’s the big hurrah!”
Mariam: “Right. We follow all the instructions and it’s pretty simple in the beginning. Follow steps 1, 2, & 3. Then follow steps 4, 5, & 6. Then steps 7, 8, 9 & 10. But what comes after that? What about steps 11? 12? 47? What do we do after? Because most of us have struggled our whole lives, and if we knew how to lose weight and maintain it, we wouldn’t have had surgery. So PLEASE tell us what to do! That’s what I was thinking anyway.”
Janine: “At about one-month post-op, that’s when the novelty wears off. Everyone’s back to their regular lives, you’re back to your normal activities, work, kids, the house, and you need to make this all work. You don’t want to fail.”
Me: “So what would you put in you Weight Loss Surgery manual, your guidebook? There are thousands of parenting books for every stage of development. What would your Weight Loss Surgery book say? Can you imagine if there were books for every stage? Like, “Your Sleeve at Two & 1/2 Years Post-Op, for women over 50, with Two Children, who Work Full-time, and have an ailing parent.” Janine, tell us what you were going through at different post-op stages.”
Janine: “It was so exhilarating that first 6-8 months, I remember it well.” (I could almost hear the harp strings at this point, taking us back in Janine’s early post-op phase.) “The pounds are flying off and although you’re trying to find your rhythm, it’s still pretty much an easy ride. Then the weight loss begins to slow and the excitement does too. There can be some panic like, I’m gonna fail. How did this happen? I’m doomed to be fat forever! But this feeling subsides and you find your new stride with slower but steady weight loss. But the feelings come back AGAIN like a bulldozer when you plateau. Oh my gosh, this is it. I’m done and I didn’t reach my goal weight yet. But I’m doing everything right and I’m not losing. But then you stop, evaluate, and realize you’ve been cutting your exercise short lately. So you kick it up a notch and before you know it, you’re back on track with weight loss again. Then you’re 12-14 months out and the weight loss just stops. You decide to try maintenance because you really are pretty happy with where you are. You go on living and you do well maintaining. Or you think you are. And then you’re 3 years out and you’ve gained 15 pounds. And I haven’t talked to ONE weight loss surgery patient who hasn’t regained some weight. But even though I felt like it, I knew I wasn’t a failure. But, I also knew I had to deal with what was going on – 15 pounds was enough regain for me. So even though I knew I wasn’t a failure, I knew my choices had led to the regain. I had to figure out why I was making choices that were the opposite of the actions I needed to take to keep myself healthy.”
And this is the work Janine began 3 years AFTER weight loss surgery, with a 15-pound regain.
Can you relate to Janine’s account of the first three years after surgery? A lot of us can.
So if you do, you’re definitely not alone.
Willpower, persistence, and focus— can only get you so far. Eventually the things that have gotten in the way of your healthy weight over the years will resurface.
I love this quote from Iyanla Vanzant,
Those ‘things’, the thoughts you have about people, about yourself, about situations; that thinking that makes you want to eat when you’re not physically hungry, or skip exercise and watch TV instead, or go back to an old habit of stopping for a Frappuccino at Starbuck’s when you’ve had a hard day- those ‘things’ need attention, a fresh approach.
Love, light and peace to you.