How to Tell Family and Friends about Weight Loss Surgery

How to Tell Family and Friends about Weight Loss Surgery

Alex Brecher

Bariatric surgery, or weight loss surgery (WLS), is a life-changing procedure. If you have decided to get surgery, you probably have not made that decision lightly. Most patients carefully consider the pros and cons of WLS and research their options thoroughly as they come to their decision.

There is an issue that comes up for everyone who has decided to get WLS. Should you tell your friends and family about your procedure? How should you tell them? Do you need to tell each of them the same thing?

The only clear answers to these questions are, “maybe,” and “it depends.” In fact, every WLS patient needs to handle telling people in their own way. What is sure, though, is that the decisions are up to you, and that your decisions should be driven by what is best for you

First up: “Should I tell my family and friends about my weight loss surgery?”

The answer to this is a very clear, definite, “MAYBE.” Whether you tell them is entirely up to you. Also up to you are:

  • What or how much you tell them. Telling about any of the details of the surgery is optional, including which procedure you are getting, what you are expecting to experience during preparation and recovery, and how your lifestyle will change as the result of WLS.
  • When you tell them. If you want to tell, but think that telling them before your procedure will lead to stress that you do not need, then you can wait until afterwards.
  • Exactly which of your friends and family (if any) you choose to tell. Telling about WLS is not an all-or-nothing option. You can tell the family members and friends whom you want to tell, and not tell the others.

Your boss or supervisor at work is someone else to consider telling about WLS. The possible advantage is getting some empathy on days when you have follow-up doctor’s appointments or do not feel well after surgery. A possible drawback is the feeling of being judged. Other people to consider telling (or not telling) are your coworkers.

The Need for a Support System

A support system is essential for success, but your own support system may not look like another WLS patient’s network. The support system that you may think of may include the people around you. For example, parents, close siblings, a significant other, coworker friends, and other close friends may be part of your support network. 

The people who are around you can provide support in many ways, such as the following.

  • Listening to you.
  • Eating healthy with you.
  • Watching the kids or cleaning the house so you have time to work out.
  • Checking in on you to hold you accountable.
  • Not keeping junk food in the house or pressuring you to eat at restaurants at which you do not feel comfortable.

Not everyone has this type of support built into their lives, but that is okay. There are many other possible sources of support from people who understand what you are going through and who are ready to empathize with you and problem-solve with you. These are a few places you can look to connect with people who can support you.

I’m ready to what?!

Let’s say that you decide that you want to tell your friends and family that you are planning to get bariatric surgery. How do you do it?

In general, it is important to be straightforward about your surgery. That way, they can understand your plans. Being direct also lets them know that you have made the decision already, and you are confident in that decision. Directness lets them know that you are telling them that you are getting WLS, and not that you are asking their opinion about whether to get it.

You might want to state a few key facts that will let them understand what is happening and why. For example, you might explain:

  • The thorough research you did about the surgery and the surgeon you have chosen.
  • Why you decided to get surgery.
  • That the surgery is not magic. It is just one tool that you will use to help you reshape your habits so you can eat right and be active.
  • Which changes in your diet, exercise, or other habits they may notice.

You do not need to tell every detail of your procedure and weight loss plan, especially the first time you talk about it with someone.

How to Handle Objections

“Congratulations!,” “Good luck!,” and “How can I help?” may seem like reasonable reactions when you tell someone about your decision to get life-changing surgery that may make you healthier. However, these may not be the only answers you get.

You are almost sure to encounter objections when you tell people about your WLS. Many of them are predictable. You can prepare for them.

These are some common negative or doubtful reactions and how you might respond to them.

“You’re taking the easy way out!”

You know you are not taking the easy way out. Tell them so!

  • “Actually, the surgery is just a tool to help me make the right decisions. I will still need to make healthy choices when it comes to eating and exercising.”
  • “I don’t believe it will be easy. I will be following a strict medical diet and exercise program. The surgery is a tool to help me do so.”
  • “I wish it were that easy, but it is not. I will only reach my goal weight if I follow my medically-supervised meal plan for 1 to 2 years after the operation, and I will continue making healthy choices for life to keep the weight off.”

“Why don’t you just diet and exercise like the rest of us?”

Come on! Don’t they think you would if you could?! It’s time to explain!

  • “I have tried diet and exercise for over (how many) years and have been unable to maintain a healthy weight. My doctor and I believe that WLS will help me improve my health.”
  • “If it works for you, I am sincerely happy for you! I wish it worked for me, but I have tried (how many) diets and been unable to maintain a healthy weight. My doctor and I believe that WLS may help me lower my health risks.”
  • “I have been overweight since I was (how many) years old. I have been trying diets and exercise programs for (how many) years and my weight continues to be a health problem. My doctor and I believe WLS may be the healthiest option for me to lower health risks.”

“I just don't get it.”

That’s okay. They do not have to “get it.” Consider telling them,

  • “Yeah, I had trouble at first, too. It took me a long time and a lot of research to agree that this is best for me, but now I am committed.”
  • “I understand. WLS is a pretty big step. I hope you will still be able to support me or if not, I hope we can still be friends and respect each other!”
  • “Right, it’s a big step! I wanted to be sure to tell you because you are such a big part of my life, and over time, maybe we can talk more about it!”
  • “That’s okay. I hope I can continue to talk to you about it since it will be part of my life, but it’s okay if not. We can still be friends.”

they can respond with something like "I hope with time you will understand. but even if you don't, that's okay. we can be friends/love each other and not have to agree on everything. at the end of the day I am doing something for my health and it is a very personal decision. I just wanted to inform you because I appreciate you as a friend/family member and felt you should know.

It’s not healthy/It is too risky.”

What?! Riskier than having type 2 diabetes, hypertension, heart disease, sleep apnea, asthma, and/or arthritis due to obesity? Probably not!

  • “Actually, WLS is a relatively safe surgery, especially now that the procedures are minimally invasive. Compared to the health conditions I have now as the result of being overweight, WLS seems like a good gamble for me.”
  • “My mother/father/grandparent suffered from type 2 diabetes [or another condition] and I do not want the same for myself. Research shows that WLS can prevent these conditions!”
  • “My doctor thinks that being overweight is going to shave about 10 to 20 years off of my life. I want to be around to see my children grow up.”

Considering Their Point of View

If a friend or family member questions your decision or seems to be attacking you, it can help to consider their perspective. A reason they may sound upset or against surgery may have nothing to do with you. It may be the result of concerns such as:

  • Will you reject them if you lose weight?
  • If you eat healthy, will they lose their eating buddy?
  • What if something goes wrong in the surgery and you get sick?
  • Are you expecting them to lose weight or eat healthy with you?

When you tell them about your surgery, remember that you have had weeks, months, or even longer to get used to the idea. You have plenty of information. They may have had no time to prepare for the news, and they may have no information about WLS besides possible negative media coverage. Give them a break!

What if my friends and family don't understand?

Sometimes, even the best-meaning friends and family members just do not understand. Maybe they never had weight problems, maybe they are able to control their weight with diet and exercise, or maybe they just choose not to worry about their weight. Maybe they just have a bad impression about the safety of WLS.

For whatever reason that they do not understand WLS, there is rarely a reason to end your relationship with them. Instead, just let them know that it’s okay if they do not understand. You are living in your shoes, and they are living in theirs. You can respect each other’s decisions, including your decision to get WLS. Maybe as time passes, they will understand your decision.

What If I don't want to tell someone about my WLS?

Then don’t. It is 100% your choice.

Okay, but what about the nosy people around you? People are sure to notice your weight loss after a few months as long as you are following your WLS diet. How do you handle questions like, “did you get WLS?” “How did you lose so much weight so fast? Did you get WLS?”

If you do not want to tell, these are some possible answers.

  • “My doctor put me on a low-calorie diet.”
  • “I have been following the diet that my doctor put me on.”
  • “I’ve been eating smaller portions and limiting my carbohydrates.”
  • “Wow, thanks! It feels great to have someone notice my weight loss!”
  • “That is a pretty personal question. This may not be the right time or place to discuss my weight or health.”

Then feel free to change the subject. The weather, their weekend plans, and any current news stories can be good safe topics.