The Ultimate Test: Determining If You're Ready for Bariatric Surgery
Article By: Rachel Ignomirello, MS, RDN, CSOWM, LDN
Rachel Ignomirello is a Bariatric Dietitian and Board-Certified Specialist in Obesity and Weight Management.
If you are reading this, you are probably researching bariatric surgery and considering surgery for yourself. Bariatric surgery is not just about weight loss. It’s a tool to use with the right behaviors for weight loss and maintenance. It’s a huge life change, so you should also be considering your readiness to that change. The following questions will help you reflect, assess, and determine if you are ready for bariatric surgery.
Review the following statements and see how much you agree with them:
1) I’ve reached my wit’s end with my weight, and I am willing to do whatever it takes.
The choice to get bariatric surgery is not a light one and often viewed as the “final straw.” Before you move forward with surgery, double check with yourself whether this journey will be a priority in your life. There may be challenges that need to be addressed first: family/home life, relationships, work, mental health, etc. Change is stressful, so you would want surgery to happen at the best time in all aspects of your life. Bariatric programs can help you through some challenges by working with dietitians, psychologists, exercise physiologists, etc, but it’s also important for you to take control of your behaviors. For example, many patients must learn healthy coping skills for emotional eating before even having surgery. Make sure this is the right time with full focus for optimal success.
2) I realize that surgery is only a weight-loss tool, and weight regain is possible if I’m not being mindful about my nutrition and exercise behaviors.
Whether you like it or not, bariatric surgery is not a magic fix. Surgery alone cannot fix obesity. It must be supported by healthy behaviors. Patients who return to unhealthy eating behaviors and low physical activity levels are unlikely to achieve lasting weight loss. Not only can weight return but so can heart disease, diabetes, cancer risk, etc. Incorporating healthy behaviors before surgery is a smart way to start practicing the postoperative lifestyle. Start thinking about how you can support your new tool before surgery and for life after surgery.
3) I can commit to consistent physical activity for the rest of my life.
Physical activity is often one of the biggest challenges for preoperative patients. Painful joints, shortness of breath, and poor mobility are just some of the common barriers to exercise I hear. Instead of thinking why you can’t exercise, start thinking about how you can. Can you walk in short bursts? Could you get in a pool? Do you feel like you’ll find the time to begin this process of self-care? After all, regular exercise is an indicator of long-term success after bariatric surgery.
4) I understand that certain food cravings may never go away, and I will need to limit unhealthy choices.
Having bariatric surgery does not make tempting foods magically disappear or old favorites any less alluring. If you love sweets and snacks now, chances are you will still love them after surgery. Surgery helps control hunger and fullness. It does not control the food you put into your mouth. If junk food normally tempts you, how will you cope with that challenge when on the important postoperative diet progression? Many patients initially avoid them, but that self-control may start to diminish overtime. It’s key to use the surgical time to develop healthier eating habits and coping skills. For example, many patients will stop buying treats and bringing them into the home.
5) I am willing to take vitamin and mineral supplements for the rest of my life.
Because of the small portions of food and absorption changes after bariatric surgery, patients must take bariatric supplements for the rest of their lives. No matter how far out you get from surgery, no matter how good you feel, and no matter how your labs look, vitamins are a forever commitment. Otherwise, nutrient deficiencies will occur: anemia, brittle bones, low energy, hair loss, etc. If having bariatric surgery is about improving your health, then you must be willing to take your daily bariatric supplementation.
6) I am committed to seeking psychological support as needed.
Some patients seeking bariatric surgery have a history of past abuse or disordered eating. I’ve heard many stories from patients who used their weight as a shield to defer relationship advances. After the shield was gone, facing that vulnerability was a challenge. Many bariatric programs require a preoperative psychological evaluation. It’s not to test who’s crazy. It's about talking to a professional about past challenges, coping with stress, and how to handle change. Emotional eating does not change just because someone has bariatric surgery. After all, this isn’t brain surgery. Eating for emotions can also be improved by seeking psychological support. Are you open to that?
7) I will follow my bariatric surgery team’s guidelines because I am not different from other patients.
Bariatric surgery is not done once you leave the operating room. That’s when it all really starts. Long- term follow-up with the bariatric program is key for success. The postoperative diet and vitamin recommendations are critical for safety and health. If you only follow half of the guidelines, you will likely only be half as successful and at a higher risk of complications. You cannot outsmart this surgery or the disease of obesity. If you do not intend on complying with your program’s guidelines and rules, then you are not ready for surgery.
If you agreed with all or most of the statements above, then it's time to look into bariatric surgery and see if you qualify for it. In the meantime, keep learning all you can about the procedures, professional tips, and patient experiences through exceptional resources like these blogs. :)
Resource: Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics
BariMelts provides general recommendations, not to be construed as medical advice. Please consult your doctor.
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