I work with a lot of bariatric surgery patients. While every journey is different in its own way, there are several things I like all of my surgical patients to know.
- Surgery will not heal your relationship with food. Surgery is a tool. It is a powerful tool and effective with a lot of people, but it is still just a tool. Surgery will not keep you from binge eating any more than keeping the trigger foods out of your house has when you’ve tried to stop in the past. If you want to overeat, you will find a way to make it happen. It will be very unpleasant, but that has probably happened again and again, but wasn’t enough to stop. Surgery will only help you if you deal with the emotional connections to food that have gotten you to the point of needing an intervention as extreme as surgery in the first place. If you don’t deal with emotional eating patterns, you will gain weight back. I guarantee it. You will also be white knuckling it every time you hit an emotional bump in the road. Surgery does not break your emotional connections to food.
- You will experience a grieving process. Food becomes many things to people struggling with emotional eating. It is an escape when we are stressed. It is a comfort when we feel lost. It is a friend when we feel lonely. When you have surgery and can no longer reach for food to meet your emotional needs, you will grieve. You will also get angry. If you don’t explore this before surgery, it can be a roller coaster.
- You will likely experience depression. Almost every bariatric surgery patient I have worked with has experienced depression at some point after surgery. I used to think it was because of the loss of food as their main coping skill. I used to think it was because of the huge hormonal shifts that come with weight loss. Those certainly play a part, but emerging research suggests that it is actually mostly due to a loss of serotonin receptors. Serotonin is the main chemical involved in managing our mood and also, incidentally, in our binge eating behavior. It is now assumed that about 80% of our serotonin receptors are in our stomachs, not our brain. When you have the majority of your stomach removed in surgery, this will have a huge impact.
While these are major barriers, they aren’t insurmountable. If you do decide that surgery is your best option, get help with the emotional aspects as soon as possible. The most successful clients I have seen tackle this before surgery.