You dreamt of being slim for years. But it was an unattainable fantasy, like winning the lotto or becoming an Olympic champion.
Life constantly reinforced the fact that you were fat. Your self-esteem was low, as it is for many people living with obesity. You needed to shop in special clothing stores that stocked your size, you were over the weight limit for many activities and could barely climb the stairs without getting puffed.
Now, though, some months after bariatric surgery, you’ve lost a substantial amount of that excess weight. Your old plus-size clothes hang loosely on you and a flight of stairs certainly doesn’t faze you now that you jog every morning.
No one who walked past you on the street would see you as fat anymore. But that’s still how you see yourself. What’s going on?
Bariatric surgery and body image dissatisfaction
We know the physical benefits of bariatric surgery but there’s been far less research into patients’ psychosocial wellbeing afterwards.
One review of the available evidence noted that there is a ‘complex and varied picture related to excess skin, body contouring surgery, and various body image indices.’
Losing a lot of weight very quickly can lead to sagging skin. There are a few ways to handle this:
- Know that it may happen and go into your surgery with realistic expectations
- Exercise regularly to build muscle and help your skin tighten
- Eat nutritious foods and take your vitamin and mineral supplements to promote skin elasticity
- Use compression garments to give you a smooth look
- Talk to your doctor about body contouring surgery to remove the excess skin.
At Life Weight Loss Centre, we understand the concern about loose skin but find that less than 25% of patients ultimately need a skin trimming procedure. If you do decide to have body contouring surgery, it’s usually done about 2 years after your bariatric surgery when your weight has stabilised.
Mental health after bariatric surgery
When you’ve had bariatric surgery and put in the hard yards of changing your diet and learning to exercise regularly, it can be quite a surprise to realise that you still feel fat at the end of it all.
By every physical measure, you’re doing great. Your surgery has succeeded in enabling a substantial weight loss that’s improved your health dramatically. Your blood pressure is better, your blood glucose is back within normal range, your cholesterol’s down, your sleep apnea has gone and your joints no longer ache.
You are a healthy person in good physical shape. But your brain is still trying to catch up with this new you.
Losing that much weight is a big change in your identity, that collection of personality traits, tastes, values and beliefs that makes you who you are. Somewhere in that mix, you identified as someone whose weight was out of control, whose body didn’t match the sleek, toned images on every billboard and who felt a sense of shame about all that. You’ve probably lived with that image of yourself for years or even decades.
Your identity forms and shifts and forms again throughout life. Positive changes like becoming a parent or moving interstate shift your identity. As time goes on, you start to inhabit that new identity a bit more. Your new city doesn’t feel strange now that it’s filled with new friends, familiar cafes and weekend plans that’ll keep you going for the next 6 months.
So, how do you become happier with your new body? It’s really a process of retraining your brain by:
- Giving yourself time to adjust, just as you would if you’d gone through any other big life changes
- Putting on some of your old clothes and noting that they’re far too big for you now
- Deliberately noticing what’s different about your new body such as:
- You now fit into a medium rather than a 5XL
- You feel energised rather than exhausted at the end of a Zumba class
- You’re one of the slimmest people at the party, not one of the largest.
- Identifying the real feeling that’s lurking under ‘I feel fat’. Maybe you feel tired, unappreciated, anxious about something. Naming it enables you to deal with it appropriately
- Meeting with a psychologist to help you develop a healthy relationship with your new body.
How Life Weight Loss Centre can help
At Life Weight Loss Centre we do our best to prepare you fully for bariatric surgery, including helping you understand the way it may affect your body image afterwards. Your care team includes a dietitian, exercise physiologist, and psychologist who each play a role in supporting a healthy new you after your surgery.If you’d like to know more, please call us on 1300 669 259.
All information is general in nature. Patients should consider their own personal circumstances and seek a second opinion. Any surgical or invasive procedure carries risks.