The mental health impact of bariatric surgery

Weight loss surgery, also called bariatric surgery, is life-changing for most people. If you’re thinking about getting this treatment, you probably expect changes in how you look and feel due to weight loss. But did you know that getting weight loss surgery can also affect your mental health?

If you or a loved one is thinking about bariatric surgery, it’s vital to know the emotional changes you may face after. Working through them helps you prepare for your life after weight loss.

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Potential Benefits of Bariatric Surgery

Bariatric surgery is often less invasive, with a short hospital stay and a few weeks of recovery. But the results change nearly every aspect of your life for a long time.

Depending on the type of treatment, most people quickly lose up to 40 percent of excess weight within the first six months. Besides weight loss, people who get this treatment can see their health improve, including:

  • A U-turn in insulin resistance, lowering diabetes risk.
  • Improved blood sugar levels in those with diabetes.
  • Improved blood pressure and cholesterol levels.
  • Lower risk of heart disease and cancer.
  • Better sleep.
  • More energy.
  • Better quality of life.

If you’re planning bariatric surgery, you’re likely looking forward to these. Still, knowing these returns may come at a cost is vital.

After bariatric surgery, many things in your life and daily routine will change. As a result, it’s not odd to feel or act in new ways after weight loss treatments.

What to Expect After Weight Loss Surgery

The treatment changes how your body works, so you’ll need to change how you eat. Many people cannot eat foods high in fat or sugar after treatment. That might mean choosing easy-to-digest foods or even giving up some beloved foods.

You’ll also have to learn how to eat very small portions at a time because you’ll get full quickly. You may need to eat slowly and with more intent. And your body may respond to alcohol in new ways after the treatment, potentially putting you at risk when drinking.

Your activity level will change after bariatric surgery. Many people look forward to being more active, playing with kids or grandkids, and having more energy.

Getting regular exercise is vital to lose weight and maintain the weight you’ve already lost. But if you’ve never been one to work out, you might feel lost or uneasy with the thought of joining a gym. It’s helpful to think about how you will exercise after treatment and try new activities beforehand.

As your weight comes off, how you look will change. When you lose a lot of weight, it’s normal for your skin to sag — like a deflated balloon. Building more muscle with exercise helps. Over time, if you have a lot of extra skin, you may want to talk with doctor about cosmetic surgery.

Over time, it gets easier to live with these changes. The reward is certainly worth it. Still, it’s wise to think about their impact on your mental health.

The Emotional Impact of Bariatric Surgery

Being overweight or obese often causes mental health issues. It’s common for people seeking bariatric surgery to live with depression, anxiety, and binge eating disorder.

While getting bariatric surgery often helps these issues in many people, it can trigger those same feelings in others. The truth is bariatric surgery can stir up many emotional responses, such as:

  • After years of being overweight, it can feel strange to “lose” part of your body and to see how you look change.
  • You may feel uneasy having others look at or compliment you, even if the reaction is positive.
  • The needed diet changes may be hard to deal with if you need to avoid your favorite foods.
  • You may feel left out if you need to skip eating and drinking at social events.
  • Holidays and family events can be hard when you have a restricted diet.
  • If food comforted you, you must now find new ways to deal with stress.
  • You may feel sad when your weight loss slows or stops for a time.
  • You may have a fear that eating certain foods will cause weight gain.

The first step in dealing with these emotional issues is knowing you may have them. Talk to your health care provider about any concerns you may have. They can get a team to help support you and provide you with tools for success.

Support Before and After Weight Loss Surgery

Preparing for weight loss surgery is a long process that takes about six months. Part of the reason it takes so long is so you can prepare your body and mind.

Your doctor will run tests and check you out to ensure you’re in good health for treatment and recovery. You’ll also meet with a team of experts to learn how to nourish your body before and after surgery. A registered dietitian will provide a meal plan, and an exercise therapist will plan a tailored fitness program.

People getting bariatric surgery will also receive mental health screening or counseling before the treatment. Your doctor may still ok the treatment if you have depression or other mental health issues. But a mental health expert can help you prepare for the changes ahead.

Support groups led by experts in the behavioral health aspects of bariatric surgery help many people. They allow you to connect with others planning surgery and those who have had it. There’s no better way to prepare than to hear what others are going through.

If you’re thinking about bariatric surgery, talk to your doctor about what to expect and any concerns you may have. They can suggest a therapist, support group, and information sessions to help you prepare.

To learn more about weight loss surgery at UPMC, contact The Bariatric Surgery Center of Excellence. We offer a full range of services to people getting weight loss surgery, including behavioral health services.

Editor's Note: This article was originally published on , and was last reviewed on .

About UPMC Bariatric Services

UPMC Bariatric Services is here to help if you’re struggling with obesity and want to lose weight. We offer both surgical and nonsurgical weight loss plans and can help you find the right path for a weight-loss journey. We will work with you to discuss your needs and develop and individualized treatment plan. We meet the highest level of national accreditation for bariatric surgery centers, and our team provides complete care. We offer our services at UPMC locations throughout Pennsylvania and New York. Visit our website to find a provider near you.