The decision to tell others about surgery is one that most patients grapple with. Whether to tell or not to tell, who to tell and how to deal with the resulting challenges in your relationship is something that everyone faces at some point. At this month’s support group, we used an article on this very topic as the starting point for our discussion.

“Relationship Challenges Before and After Weight-Loss Surgery,” by Bariatric Surgeon Dr. Walter Medlin, appeared in a recent issue of Your Weight Matters magazine. Many patients related to the advice in the article and shared some of their own stories. Here are some of the highlights and some helpful hints on coping with relationship challenges with your…

Self

Many patients still have negative self-talk after surgery. It’s important to take the time to be kind to yourself during your weight loss journey. Always remember to praise yourself for the many achievements. Dr. Medlin stressed the importance of not working on your “self” alone but instead attending support groups or therapy.  Hearing about others who are experiencing similar thoughts/situations as you can help you to sort out your own feelings. There were many heads nodding yes when the “self” relationship topic was brought up at group.

Spouse/Significant Other

This person may be the one who is most affected by your decision to have weight loss surgery. There may be tension in the marriage/relationship because of the lifestyle changes. Try to involve them in the process prior to the surgery so that they can understand the basics of the procedure and what is expected after the surgery, including recovery, expected weight loss and especially diet. One patient at support group said that she was finding it difficult to avoid the sweets that her husband started bringing back into the house. So she asked him to put them somewhere where she can’t find them.  This was a great compromise that could avoid difficulties later on.

Parents

There are many different reactions from parents when learning about their child’s decision to have bariatric surgery. For some, it may be tough to convince them that surgery is the best option since their emotions may lead them to focus on the risks instead of the benefits of surgery. Others may express their fear through withdrawal and that may feel like rejection. Once parents are able to see the benefits of your weight loss surgery, they can become your rock and biggest supporter. One patient shared that she didn’t want to worry her mother, who is in her 80s, so she chose not to tell her about the surgery. Another patient two weeks out of surgery shared that when she got home from the hospital, her mother made sure she was OK every other minute.

Children

If you decide to inform your children of your decision, help them to understand that the surgery is going to help you lose weight and get healthier and that their support is important to you. Bringing adult children to a support group or seminar is a good way to get them involved.  For younger children, discuss it in terms they’ll understand and explain that you’ll have a new eating plan after surgery. You may want to stop buying some of the snack foods and sugary treats that you purchased in the past or purchase treats that are not tempting to you, so that you avoid them. But your kids may surprise you. One patient said her 20-year-old son told her it was OK to stop bringing junk into the house. Remember that healthier eating will benefit everyone in the house.  Of course, a treat here and there never hurt anyone, but we don’t want them to become a staple in your everyday life.

Work Friends

Not everyone at support group decided to share their decision to get weight loss surgery with coworkers. Those that did share with coworkers found that some are very supportive while others watched their every move (“You’re allowed to eat that?”). If some coworkers seem uninformed or uneducated about the procedure, change that by informing them! (Read more on this subject at Thanks But No Thanks: Dealing with Food Pushers and the Food Police)

Old Friends

Sometimes old friends feel like their relationship with you may change with your new dietary restrictions. Remind old friends that you can still go out to dinner and socialize but that you will just be eating smaller portions. Keep in mind however that some may not provide the kind of support and encouragement that you need. One patient told a story of going to meet an old friend who has morbid obesity for dinner. The patient ordered her meal and asked right away to bring a “to-go” box so that she could save more than half of her meal for her next couple meals. Her friend, however, ate his entire portion. At the end of the meal, he said to her, “Don’t worry, you’re going to gain all the weight back sooner or later.” To the patient, this was very disheartening and made her realize that this isn’t someone that she needs in her life. She felt that he was trying to sabotage her success. Surround yourself with a strong support system so that you can achieve long-term success after bariatric surgery.

Program Team and Surgeon

“Don’t forget that most of us went into healthcare to solve problems — you will not disappoint anyone by being honest,” writes Dr. Medlin. This is one of my favorite lines from the article. Don’t ever feel like you will be judged.  If you’re struggling after surgery, don’t hesitate to make an appointment. Get the help/support you need right away.

Next support group is Tuesday, March 21. Topic is still to be determined so if you have something you’d like to have us talk about, please let us know in the comments section.