Bariatric surgery is one of the most profound transformations a person can undertake. While exercising regularly, eating the right foods and taking supplements is part of the post-operative journey, one of the biggest challenges is how the person is perceived by others. Even though the weight loss is positive for health and social reasons, leaving behind old habits and ways of thinking can be difficult, especially when it comes to relationships.
A person’s most intimate relationship is with themselves. After engaging in negative thought patterns relating to weight, a person may find it challenging to look in the mirror and see someone they like, even with a significant loss of body mass. Three ways to confront this issue are to:
- Not shame, blame or be too hard on oneself
- Practice positive self talk
- Join a support group to aid in adjustment
Whether it is a boyfriend, girlfriend or a spouse, a romantic partner must deal with the changes a person goes through after bariatric surgery. Some ways a weight loss may be perceived include:
- A threat to the current status quo
- A ticket out of the relationship through new options
- A loss of power if there has been dysfunction
If a relationship is under strain, counseling is an option to help both people adjust to the new circumstances.
Family dynamics can be the most difficult to overcome after a big change. Parents may not know how to act around a person they brought into the world and raised but who now looks and acts very different. Siblings may be confused. Some common responses include:
- Withdrawing from the relationship
- Guilt for creating the weight problem
- Disapproval of the person’s choice to have surgery
Most family members do come around, but it can take time and therapy before everyone is comfortable again.
Friends are the family a person chooses, so it can be jarring if the expected support is not there after weight-loss surgery. Like the blood-family dynamic, friendship is based upon people sharing life experiences within a set of particular circumstances. If that delicate balance changes, the following can happen:
- Envy over the weight loss
- Attempts to pull the person back into old, negative habits
- Ending the friendship over having nothing in common
Much like addicts, those who lose a great deal of weight may need to leave some old friendships behind in order to move on to more positive and affirming connections.
The main focus after bariatric surgery should be recovery and learning how to navigate life with a very different body. How the person feels about themselves is the most important thing, and that is where wholesome food and the right supplements come into play. Nurturing the self will build the character needed to meet relationship challenges as the weight comes off and the person moves forward on their new and improved path.