From a Bariatric Patient: 6 Things I Wish I Knew Before My Bariatric Surgery
As a person who prides herself on her ability to research any topic to death, I thought I knew everything there was to know about bariatric surgery and recovering from it before I walked in the hospital doors. In some cases, I was happy; in others, less so, to learn, I could not have been more wrong. Everyone has a different experience when they go through bariatric surgery, so I can’t promise you that my exact experience will be the same as yours. Some people lose hair; some don’t. Some wind up with excess skin after weight loss, and some people’s skin bounces right back. Our bodies are different, so it makes sense that our response to surgery will be different too.
One thing is certain – the information your medical team gives you before surgery is your best friend. They taught me some things I didn’t take seriously enough and some that I incorrectly assumed would not apply to me. If I could go back and do it all over, I would tell myself to listen to my medical team and give myself a heads up about the following six things:
In laparoscopic bariatric surgery, the abdomen is pumped full of CO2 gas, almost like a balloon. This process, called insufflation, gives the surgical instruments and organs room to move around during the surgery. After your surgeon closes you up, that CO2 stays there, temporarily stuck as bubbles until your body naturally filters it out over a couple of days.
This gas, hanging out rent-free in my body, was what gave me the most pain. The small incisions were painless. Even the internal component of my stomach being cut and closed back up did not provide noticeable pain. But that gas? I was thrilled when it showed itself out after a day or two. The movement was what helped me the most. Walking, sitting up, and switching from side to side while laying down gave me relief and helped make the pain manageable.
Hopefully, you will receive unconditional support from your network during this process. I was very fortunate in that this was my experience. One thing I wish I had been more prepared for was everyone’s opinion — positive, negative, neutral, and everything in between. While everyone I told about my surgery gave me their support, they still managed to toss their unsolicited opinions free of charge.
Here is what I wish I could go back and tell my past self: Some people may say they don’t think you need surgery because you can lose the weight on your own; some may say you “look just fine the way you are,” and some may say they think surgery is taking the easy way out. None of these opinions matter in the least. The only thing that does matter is that you make an informed decision with your medical team to do what is right for you. No one but you has all the facts, and no one but you and your doctor can decide what will work best for you. Follow your gut (pun intended) and ignore the noise.
I was warned about this but didn’t entirely take it seriously enough – the weight loss on its own was not a magic wand that made me happy overnight. The mental components of my weight, overeating, and body dysmorphia did not go away with surgery. Logically, I knew the surgery would only change my body, not my brain — but I had to live it to understand. Therapy, meditation, and exercise have helped me in the process of working on myself and finding happiness in my new, healthier body.
The Quick Fix
I knew it would take time to lose the weight, but that wasn’t where I got messed up. What I didn’t fully understand is that the work doesn’t stop. Having the surgery does not mean the weight falls off. I still had to work for it every day. In my diet, in my exercise, in my daily habits and mindset. The surgery was just another tool in my toolbox. It was a beneficial tool, like the Rolls Royce of devices, but it cannot get the job done alone.
Along the same lines, I wish I had known how much harder the weight loss would get as time went on. Plateaus are natural, and they are hard. But I could reach my goals by keeping my mind focused and sticking with the work.
The Little Things
There were so many random, little things that I was not aware of before the surgery. They weren’t necessarily problematic; I’ll call them exciting quirks I noticed as I healed from my surgery.
- One was some minor hair loss. With the blessing of my medical team, I added a biotin supplement to my morning vitamins. I started adding collagen peptides to my morning coffee, and before I knew it, I was back to my former frizz-ball status.
- Runny noses quickly became part of my everyday. This is not the case for everyone, but for me, a surefire fullness cue was when my nose would start to run. It became a bit of a joke because of how seemingly unrelated the two things are, but it also was helpful to me in making sure I stopped eating before I got too full.
- I didn’t think much before surgery about whether I would have scars. Immediately after surgery, I thought they were the most noticeable thing on my body. After some healing time, a quick reality check, and some silicone patches from my local drug store, I realize they are now almost invisible.
- I didn’t predict how much I would miss eating regular food in the first weeks and months following surgery. Once my appetite returned, I wallowed in my misery for about a day; then, I got creative. Between my nutritionist’s tips, social media, and good old-fashioned trial and error, I found some great recipes that kept me satiated, nourished, and happy as I slowly eased into eating my new, healthier diet.
Moments of Joy
I saw endless references to “non-scale victories” while researching and prepping for surgery. While looking forward to experiencing these myself, nothing prepared me for the joy and sense of accomplishment I felt the first time I put on a pair of jeans, and they were too loose. I danced through my house like a maniac wearing those jeans, and I’m pretty sure my smile at that moment could have blinded someone.
The further I got in my weight loss, the more often I experienced these moments of affirmation and happiness when people saw me and did a double-take, when I sat cross-legged comfortably, even when I finally was able to eat a raw vegetable! I still derive joy daily from things like sleeping better, having more energy, and feeling a sense of confidence that I have never felt before.
As they say, you don’t know what you don’t know. But looking back, there were surprises in my path that would not have been there if I had thoroughly listened to and trusted everything my medical team told me. Our team is built of dedicated, experienced professionals whose entire mission is to ensure you are prepared for this journey. This surgery took a lot of work and dedication from my medical team and me, but in hindsight, I can confidently say that it was the best decision I have ever made for myself.
If I had known everything I know now, I would still go through it without hesitation. I’d probably do it with even more enthusiasm, appreciation, and preparedness this time. If you think bariatric surgery is a good fit for you, you owe it to your future self to give us a call and discuss how we can help you reach your goals. If I could speak to my past self, I would promise her she won’t regret it.