Seven Reasons to Have Psychological Therapy After Bariatric Surgery

Seven Reasons to Have Psychological Therapy After Bariatric Surgery

Alex Brecher

Bariatric surgery is a life-changing experience. Even successful bariatric surgery patients who were well-prepared for their surgeries can expect a number of challenges following their procedures. It’s not just about food choices and nutrients. Mental health can be challenged, too. Taking advantage of psychological therapy can help you thrive despite the challenges so you can live your healthiest and happiest life after bariatric surgery.

Your Bariatric Care Team

The surgeon may be the most prominent member when it comes to your care, but an entire team of experts can provide the best care for bariatric surgery patients. These are likely members of your team.

  • Bariatric surgeon who performs the surgery and may perform pre-surgery testing and provide aftercare.
  • Dietitian or nutritionist who can help you set and reach goals for calories, protein, and other nutrients.
  • Exercise specialist to safely guide you as you get back to being active or you start an exercise program for the first time.
  • Mental health specialist, such as a psychologist, who can help you get through the procedure and the rest of your journey.

Your psychologist or other mental health specialist can do more for you than evaluate you before surgery. Psychological therapy can have several benefits.

Benefits of Psychological Therapy After Bariatric Surgery

These are some reasons to have psychological therapy after bariatric surgery.

  • Change your relationship with food.
  • Many bariatric surgery patients have an unhealthy relationship with food, especially before surgery. For years, or for a good portion of their lives, food may have played many roles other than satisfying hunger. These are some examples of how food may have functioned in your life. 

    • As comfort when you were sad, angry, lonely, or stressed
    • As something to be ashamed of
    • As a secret friend that was there for you and didn’t judge you

    Using food in these ways may contribute to weight gain.

    With psychological therapy, you may be able to change your relationship with food. It can become something that tastes great and gives you pleasure, but also that fuels your body and makes you healthier and stronger. 

  • Improve mental health
  • While many bariatric surgery patients have a lower risk for depression after surgery than before, surgery and lifestyle change are still a big deal. Your body changes, your daily decisions regarding eating and activity may change, and relationships may change. Handling all of these changes can be difficult, especially since they are so far-reaching and long-lasting. Psychological therapy can be a way to help get through it all. 

  • Learn coping strategies
  • There are all sorts of challenges after bariatric surgery, whether or not related to food. Psychological therapy can help with coping strategies. For example, you might learn about any of the following.

    • Figuring out whether you have “head hunger” or true hunger.
    • Delaying or distracting yourself when you have head hunger or a non-biological craving for food.
    • Setting out healthy foods so you can eat them before eating less healthy foods. 
  • Feeling better about it
  • Some people feel guilty about bariatric surgery. They may feel as though they failed themselves or people in their lives because they needed it to help with weight loss. A mental health professional can help you accept your situation and continue to value yourself, your hard efforts, and your weight loss surgery.

  • Get ready for social situations
  • Social situations can be tough after weight loss surgery. It’s possible to feel self-conscious even in the presence of the kindest of friends and family due to changes in your body and eating habits. That’s not to mention how you might feel or react when people aren’t so understanding, and go so far as to insult you, question you, or make rude comments about your behaviors, appearance, or decision to have surgery. 

    Psychological therapy can help you prepare for these situations so you can react appropriately and without feeling hurt. A therapist might, for example, role play with you or offer ideas for what you might say or do during likely situations.

  • Watch for replacement addictions
  • For many bariatric surgery patients, food addiction was a problem before bariatric surgery. You may have had strong cravings for certain types of foods, such as starchy, salty, or sweet foods. You may have found that you were anxious or unable to concentrate until you ate such foods, sometimes in excessive quantities. That’s common for bariatric surgery patients, but the surgical procedure can make it difficult or uncomfortable to continue that pattern.

    Often, when they can no longer use food as an addiction, bariatric surgery patients turn to something else instead of food. This is known as a replacement addiction. The replacement could be something detrimental, such as abusing drugs or alcohol, or it could be something that can be positive, such as going to the gym more often to satisfy an exercise addiction.

    Psychological counseling can help you be on the lookout for replacement addictions so that you can see if any may be developing. You can be mindful of whether you are engaging in excessive behaviors that could be harmful. Your psychological therapist can help you shape your new behavior patterns to keep them healthy.

  • Offer expert advice
  • You might wonder whether a support group can replace psychological therapy. After all, peers can offer encouragement as well as advice based on personal experience. However, a licensed mental health professional who is an expert in the field can provide guidance based on the latest research and evidence-based guidelines. You may find that one-on-one counseling or group therapy with a professional can give you more relevant ideas and strategies that work.

    With so many changes, victories, and challenges after bariatric surgery, it’s no wonder that you can use some support beyond a meal plan and exercise program. Psychological therapy after bariatric surgery can help you stay on track and focused, while keeping your mental health at the forefront. Be sure to check with your healthcare provider and team to find out how you can get the support you need.

    Post op psychological therapy