By Melodie K. Moorehead, PhD
Your bariatric program believes very strongly in playing an integral part in the postoperative process a patient goes through on the way to health and happiness. I was asked to address you directly about relationships in our lives and how many of these relationships are affected following bariatric surgery.
From relationships with loved ones to relationships with co-workers, bosses and even ourselves, there really isn’t much time for anything else. We even have relationships with inanimate objects such as food and money. When people elect to undergo bariatric surgery to control the disease of morbid obesity, they often discover that many of the relationships in their lives change. The relationship with food changes drastically. Previously, much more than nutrition alone, food to a bariatric patient must now be regarded as nourishment and nothing more – not a companion, not an escape. For some, this is very difficult to do; the absence of food is perceived as the loss of a best friend. Feelings of ‘mourning’ are often experienced. In contrast, others may feel a sense of relief --- relief because they have been released from the obsessive, all-consuming thoughts with regard to food.
For those of you who are experiencing a sense of loss, attendance at your monthly support group meetings can be very useful in helping you work through these difficult and lonely feelings. When relief is experienced, it is a wonderful time to learn new ways of handling stress so that as those feelings of craving reemerge, old ways of handling the feelings (binge or graze-eating) are changed.
For the most part, following surgery, the patient begins to experience many valuable improvements in quality of life that in turn impact the relationships present in the patient’s life. Relationships with family members can change dramatically. Whether it is husband/wife, sister/brother, son/daughter, the relationship is very often improved with the increase in one’s physical ability to move about more comfortably. Possibly even more important, as hope is restored, is the willingness to participate in social events with loved ones. However, our patients have also taught us that following the return of a healthy self esteem and hope for a new way of life, difficult or abusive relationships are no longer tolerated. Divorce and termination of negative relationships are quite common.
It is natural for change to occur in any relationship. Change is an important part of being alive. How we handle change can either promote or reduce stress in our lives. Teaching ourselves how to handle stress is often the key in the treatment of morbid/super obesity. Psychological stress has been sited in research as a major component in causing and/or contributing to this disease. Whether living with this disease or not, the more we learn to turn to new and healthy ways of releasing stress, the better off we will be.
Please give some thought to the relationships you have in your life and about the ways you deal with the stress brought on by any changes in these relationships. Tell your bariatric program about your thoughts as you speak with them during your pre/post-op routine follow-ups. We want you to achieve optimum success, and more importantly, acquire the tools necessary to sustain your success for life.