How to Analyze Online WLS Support Groups before Joining

Article By: Rachel Ignomirello, MS, RDN, CSOWM, LDN

Rachel Ignomirello is a Bariatric Dietitian and Board-Certified Specialist in Obesity and Weight Management.

As a bariatric patient, online support groups can be a goldmine of information and shared experiences. But remember, not every group is a good fit. Venturing into the realm of online bariatric support groups can be like navigating a new city. Each group has its own culture and rules, much like every neighborhood has its unique vibe. Some may feel like a warm, welcoming community, while others might not be the right fit for your journey. Just like you'd look for the right neighborhood to live in, finding a group that aligns with your needs and values is crucial. Let's explore how to make this choice with confidence.

1) Understanding the purpose of the group. Is the group focused on post-surgery lifestyle tips, or is it more about pre-surgery preparation? For instance, you might find a group dedicated to meal planning post-surgery, which would be great if that's your current focus. Be cautious of groups that promise guaranteed weight loss results or where there's pressure to buy specific products. For instance, a group that's constantly promoting a particular brand of supplements over balanced nutrition.

2) Evaluating the quality of information shared. When sifting through advice in online groups, it's crucial to discern whether the guidance is rooted in scientific research and credible sources. A major red flag is the frequent promotion of unproven 'miracle' supplements or diets. While fellow patients can offer valuable support and shared experiences, they should not be your primary source of medical guidance. They are not a substitute for the professional guidelines set out by your bariatric program. Always prioritize information that aligns with the medical advice you've received from your healthcare providers.

3) Checking the credibility of moderators and members. Look for moderators who are either healthcare professionals or have a long history with bariatric health. For example, a group moderated by a registered dietitian, or a long-term post-op patient could offer more reliable guidance.

4) Privacy and safety measures. In a well-moderated group, you'll often find a pinned post or group description outlining rules about confidentiality and respectful interaction. For instance, a rule might state, "What's shared in the group stays in the group," emphasizing the importance of respecting member privacy. A red flag in such a setting would be noticing posts or comments where members' stories are mentioned outside the group, or if members' posts are screenshotted and shared without their permission.

5) Engagement and activity level. You should see regular posts from various members, with supportive and engaging comments. A healthy sign is also the presence of moderators actively participating in or facilitating discussions. Conversely, a red flag would be visible in a group where posts rarely receive responses or where the tone of interactions is competitive rather than supportive, like members trying to 'outdo' each other's experiences or achievements rather than providing genuine support.

Choosing the right online support group can be a game-changer in your health journey. When in doubt, take a test drive. Join and observe. Does the group provide a supportive and positive environment, or do you feel judged or pressured? If a group feels more stressful than helpful, it might not be the right fit. By keeping an eye out for these key factors, you can find a community that offers credible support and a positive environment.

BariMelts provides general recommendations, not to be construed as medical advice. Please consult your doctor.

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