Bariatric surgery isn’t an easy way to lose weight nor a simple cosmetic procedure. It’s a complex, lifesaving medical surgery requiring extensive aftercare.
“While the results can be dramatic, the long-term success of weight loss surgery hinges on the patient’s willingness to significantly and permanently change their diet and eating habits, physical activity level and relationship with food and their own body,” says Dr. Nestor F. De la Cruz Munoz, Jr., a bariatric surgeon with the University of Miami Health System.
Having a medical, psychological and emotional support system can make all the difference in the days and years following this life-changing surgery.
Benefits of weight loss surgery
- Produce durable weight loss exceeding 100 pounds
- Clear diabetes
- Send some obesity-related illnesses into remission
- Enable wheelchair-restricted patients to resume walking
- Help patients with asthma and gastroesophageal reflux disease discontinue related medications
- Reduce the prevalence of cancer
- Raise one’s self esteem
- Relieve situational depression
Results like these can greatly improve a patient’s quality of life by opening the door to a more physically active social, professional, romantic and family life.
“But, post-operative progress can backslide if the patient deviates from the recommended dietary guidelines, neglects to exercise regularly or doesn’t have a solid network of supportive family members and friends, a specialized therapist or counselor and connections to a community facing the same challenges,” says Dr. De la Cruz Munoz
The first line of defense
Family, partners and friends play an important role in patients’ post-surgery recovery and long-term success. It’s helpful for loved ones to be made aware of what life after bariatric surgery will look like—including the emotional and mental hurdles—so they can promote healthy habits and offer much-needed support.
It’s easier for patients to stick to a healthy diet and exercise routine when those around them are respectful of their new lifestyle. Even the most well-intentioned friends and family members might encourage poor choices if they assume that occasionally “cheating” is okay because the patient has lost weight. But, deviating from the prescribed diet and exercise routine can reverse one’s progress and lead to a downward spiral of unhealthy choices, weight gain and depression.
Patients often experience the best long-term results from weight loss surgery when their partner, family and friends are inspired to improve their own health at the same time. Having an exercise or diet partner helps patients stay motivated, be accountable for their choices and celebrate their successes.
Regularly attend a support group
Even with the most encouraging friends and family, patients should take advantage of the additional motivation, guidance and relatability only a weight loss support group can provide.
In the year following bariatric surgery, those who regularly participate in a support group lose up to 12 percent more weight than patients who do not attend support groups. Research shows that patients who attend support groups have a 10 percent higher decrease in body mass index than those who don’t. And, the more often patients attend group meetings, the more weight they tend to lose.
Why are weight loss support groups so effective?
“Those who participate are more motivated to comply with their doctor-recommended diet, exercise regularly and make other lifelong improvements in their habits, mentality and behavior,” says Dr. De la Cruz Munoz.
Patients can rely on their support group to discuss:
- Food cravings and how to overcome them
- Frustrations regarding how long it takes to see significant weight loss
- How to interact with the world as a smaller person
- Overcoming depression related to new dietary restrictions
- Dealing with changes to interpersonal relationships at home and work
- How to approach social situations that revolve around food and alcohol
- Recipe and exercise tips
- How to ignore negative self-talk
Experts partner with patients to help them adjust to a new way of life and see continued progress after weight loss surgery. A bariatric support group enables patients to speak openly without the fear of judgement or frustration from friends and family.
Click here to learn more about UHealth’s bariatric procedures, services and specialists.
Dana Kantrowitz is a contributing writer for the UMiami Health News blog.