As a behavioral weight management therapist at Norton for the past 10 years, I am privileged to work with patients who have decided to commit to making healthy lifestyle changes. Deciding to undergo surgery is not a decision that is made lightly. It takes courage as well as serious consideration and research. When I initially meet with patients during the evaluation prior to surgery, I aim for all patients to have a positive experience. I truly believe this sets the stage for patients to feel comfortable to seek assistance after surgery if they are facing any kind of struggles or just need some additional support.
Unfortunately seeing a therapist for some people has a stigma attached to it. Other people may not fully understand the role of a therapist. Some people fear what others may think, while others may view seeing a therapist as a sign of weakness or it must mean something is wrong with them. Well, I am here to tell you the reasons why I believe seeing a therapist following surgery can be beneficial for Anyone undergoing surgery. So on that note, I wanted to share some of the reasons why seeing a therapist can be beneficial to you after surgery.
1) Struggling with motivation- If you need help with staying motivated and/or feeling in a rut, it can be helpful to address this with a therapist. It’s normal for motivation to wane from time to time; however, it’s very important to be proactive when you notice yourself struggling with adhering to the lifestyle changes or you find yourself slipping back into old habits.
2) Mourning the loss of foods you used to eat- I often see people, especially in the beginning of their journey, who are feeling mixed emotions following surgery. I often hear how people miss the foods they used to eat. I refer to this as a mourning period in which patients grieve the loss of how they used to eat. This is a perfectly normal emotion to experience and can be helpful to discuss with a trained therapist.
3) Finding new coping skills- It is important for patients to realize that they cannot turn to food like they used to in order to manage their emotions. If you were a stress eater before surgery, you will need to find alternatives to food after surgery to help you get through challenging times and situations. I often work with people who struggle with mindless eating and snacking due to boredom. People often revert back to automatic pilot and turn to food because that is what’s familiar and what they were used to doing for so long. This is where talking to a therapist can really help you get back on track with your behaviors and gain tools to help you cope with various emotions
4) Fluctuations in self-esteem and body image- Often people who have struggled with their weight for a long time may experience some anxiety when others begin to take notice of their weight loss and appearance. It is often the case that patients who are overweight feel invisible in a crowd and once they lose a significant amount of weight, others all of a sudden take notice. It can be quite common for patients to continue to see themselves as overweight following surgery. It’s as if the mind and eyes are in opposition with each other. Talking to a therapist about this can be helpful in addressing underlying emotions that go along with the rapid weight loss.
5) Residual feelings of shame and disappointment- Often people struggle with coming to terms that they needed to resort to surgery in order to reduce their weight. Again, it’s helpful to talk to someone about these feelings in order to come to terms with making such a life changing decision.
6) Changes in personal relationships-The change in lifestyle and mindset can put strain on marital relationships, especially if couples disagree about whether the surgery is a good idea or if other members of the household are not willing to be onboard with making healthy lifestyle changes.
7) Depression and/or anxiety- Some who undergo weight loss surgery cope with multiple issues that can have an impact on their mental health. If someone has a history of anxiety and/or depression, it will not automatically go away once weight loss occurs. Often people who struggle with food addiction may experience some changes in mood following surgery. A therapist can assist in providing resources as well as help you make connections behind the reasons you turned to food to begin with.
8) Transfer addiction-There is a risk to patients to substitute food addiction to addiction to something else. Speaking to a therapist can help you be proactive, particularly if you are vulnerable to switching to other unhealthy behaviors, such as smoking and alcohol/drug use.
These are just a few examples of what I have addressed with patients in my time at the center. I encourage patients to check in with a therapist from time to time for support and accountability. It never hurts to have a few extra people in your corner serving as cheerleaders!
Melissa Moody, LCSW