Posted on July 4, 2014 at 11:59 PM by Todd Eibes, MD
Even after great success with bariatric surgery weight loss, you can still struggle with body image. As you shed weight and begin to experience life as a thinner person, you might find adjusting to some unanticipated changes, in addition to the necessary new eating, exercise and lifestyle habits.
In addition to your changing body, curiosity from others and new social connections can be particular challenges after bariatric surgery weight loss. It can take time to transition to your new body and your new life.
While many people are pleased by their weight loss, not everyone is as happy as they expected to be or even as society assumes they should be after their bariatric surgery. It is not uncommon for people, especially women, who have lost a lot of weight to experience disappointment – even if the physical success of their surgery is great.
When they reach their goal weight the excess fat may be gone, but sagging skin, cellulite or a body shape that they don’t think of as ideal can still be issues. Some even see themselves as though they are still overweight.
Some specialists use the term “phantom fat” to refer to this phenomenon of feeling fat and unacceptable after weight loss. Experts suspect this may happen because the brain hasn’t adjusted to the new, leaner body, particularly for people who were obese for many years and then experienced rapid weight loss.
It can take years after surgery for your perception to catch up to your new reality.
Part of the problem is many women, and increasingly more men, have highly unrealistic expectations of what their bariatric surgery weight loss will do for them. Too often, they think reaching their ideal weight will make them look like a model in a catalog, and they are disappointed when that is not the case.
Anxiety may also come from the fears about regaining the weight. People are less likely to embrace a new image that they worry won’t last.
Some people will adjust naturally and more quickly to the weight loss than others. Give yourself time for both your body and mind to adjust to your weight loss.
You should seek professional help, however, if you are experiencing significant anxiety, sadness or depression, or your feelings are interfering significantly with your normal activities (such as not going to social events or avoiding public areas, obsessing about your image in the mirror, or avoiding intimacy with a partner).
Practice responding to questions and compliments. Initially, it can be difficult to face common questions about your bariatric surgery weight loss from friends, coworkers, and acquaintances. This can cause stress if you haven't thought about what to say.
Ultimately, you need to feel comfortable with your new body image before you can expect others to be. This confidence will make the transition easier. Expect positive attention, but keep a healthy perspective.Rapidly losing weight after bariatric surgery may send some people in search of attention, as they feel more attractive than they did when they were obese.
Plan for relationships to be affected. Life after bariatric weight loss surgery can be trying, and new eating, exercise and lifestyle habits may affect the way you socialize with or relate to family members or friends. Expect relationships to change.
Also, bariatric weight loss surgery patients often gain self-confidence after losing a great deal of weight, and this can change the long-standing dynamics of a relationship.
It can be very helpful to discuss the physical and emotional changes that come after your weight-loss surgery in the Iowa Weight Loss Specialists support group. Hearing the insights of others can help you to recognize when you may be sabotaging your own transformation or find yourself situations that may become emotionally unhealthy for you.
The support group will give you coping strategies as well as help you develop healthy levels of self-esteem and self-confidence after your weight loss.
Weight loss will certainly improve your overall health. You need to understand that at the same time you’re working on making your body healthier, you will also need to retrain your brain let go of the negative images you have held for a long time.
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