Disordered Eating Doesn’t Magically Go Away with Weight Loss Surgery

If there’s one thing that truly gets under my skin, it’s the misinformation that exists at large about intentional weight loss. I grew up in the late 80s straight on through the 90s. I am a product of Slim Fast, Jenny Craig, Weight Watchers, Jane Fonda, Richard Simmons ads. I will never forget the amount of times a diet was recommended by my pediatrician or primary care physician before I was 18 years old. I will also never forget the amount of adults in my life who made sure I understood how undesirable my body was and how much I needed to change it.

It was this environment that led me to binge eating and emotional eating.

Conflict of Interest

As you can imagine, pursuing weight loss surgery sowed seeds of discord within my brain. After all, weight loss surgery is heavily tied to restriction in the most literal sense. They cut out a portion of your stomach and make it smaller. You are placed on a nutritional dietary plan that you must follow to 1.) encourage weight loss before surgery and 2.) help you prepare for life after weight loss surgery. In essence, everything that I had unlearned about food and nourishment was being pushed right back in my face.

I was super fortunate to have a nutritionist throughout my process who understood my disordered eating history, my thyroid disease and was keen on intuitive eating. She taught me how to honor my choice to nourish my body despite the prerequisites set forth by the surgeons.

Post-Op Life is a Mental Health Rollercoaster

Despite being in therapy prior to weight loss surgery and after; your mind and body still have to go through the motions of change. Rapid weight loss causes huge hormonal fluctuations. As you can imagine, that directly impacts the mind. As I’ve shared on my various platforms, getting smaller doesn’t mean you magically start to feel on top of the world, or that all your insecurities disappear. In fact, I would venture to say it’s done quite the opposite for me; the only thing holding me together is God and 2 amazing therapists I’ve had the pleasure of working with.

Add to the fact that I had another major surgery (hip replacement) within 10 months of weight loss surgery, my body is contending with what it perceives as trauma. This physical journey has created quite the visceral and emotional reaction within me. The overwhelming sense of vulnerability, weakness, and uncertainty triggered me right into that space of wanting to comfort myself…with food.

Accountability isn’t Pretty

I know we love the trendy memes and quotes that mention accountability; but it’s an action verb, not just a noun. When I realized that I was desiring a lot of snack foods or comfort foods, it hit me like a ton of bricks. It’s like although I’ve been nicotine free for 8 years and can still crave it when I am anxious. I was disappointed in myself for wanting to munch to feel better. I felt like a failure. I felt like I was regressing. I was so emotional and didn’t know how to explain it to the people around me. Until one night I finally broke down and told my husband.

There wasn’t much he could do but encourage me to seek out my therapist. I text her promptly to set up an urgent visit for later in that week. Over the next few days I tried to be aware of my motivations. Hunger is already tricky with weight loss surgery because sometimes I don’t even know I’m hungry until my stomach starts to hurt. I had to be more aware of my hunger cues and make careful choices about what I decided to nourish myself with.

But did I have a piece of cake?

Yes I did. That might seem crazy but it was important for me to do. If I tried to overly restrict myself, it could lead me right into binging. And honestly, I don’t know what binging looks like for a weight loss surgery patient, but I’m certainly not trying to find out. I had a portion appropriate piece of cake for my new designer tummy. After I ate it, it was important for me to acknowledge that cake is not bad especially in moderation. That’s the key to eating for me. Understanding that food is not good or bad, acknowledging that some foods have absolutely no real nutritional value and some foods just straight up make my body feel not great. Choosing to eat a food that doesn’t have nutritional value doesn’t make me a bad or good person; it’s just makes me a person.

Re-centering Myself

I was so relieved to talk to my therapist. We were able to identify my triggers, discuss what I was really feeling and ways to set boundaries to better protect my mental health. After my session I felt so much relief which was quickly followed by gratitude. I was able to acknowledge that I had grown. Had this been 10 years ago, I probably would have just delved into my old coping mechanisms and not given it a second thought. Awareness is not always easy as much as accountability isn’t. To know that I was able to recognize that I was beginning to spiral and I put a plan of action in place to help me get grounded; that was an amazing feeling.

The Lesson

If you’re one of those people who’s freshly out of weight loss surgery or perhaps you’re considering weight loss surgery; please hear me loud and clear. WEIGHT LOSS SURGERY IS NOT A CURE ALL. I know doctors these days are handing out weight loss surgery referrals like candy at a bank; but it’s not the fix all they like to make it out to be.

Weight loss surgery has had a profound effect on my physical health and I will never deny that. However, health is holistic, it’s beyond just the measure of our waistlines. If you have not had the opportunity to explore your relationship with food, potential harmful coping mechanisms or disordered eating; I would strongly encourage you make therapy apart of your weight loss surgery pre and post op care.

I see the comments of weight loss surgery patients in these groups, story after story of how grand life is going to be once they are smaller. My heart breaks for them because it’s clear they do not understand that their delusions of grandeur are tied to a delusion that weight loss will make them a better person. It’s more than that, so much more than that.

If the mind is not healthy, the body is not healthy and if they body is not healthy, the mind is not healthy. Health is holistic, it should be treated or cared for together, not separately.

The Wrap Up

It feels good to come here and blog after months of feeling at a stand still. I know I am still on a journey and I’m allowing myself grace to care for myself however I need to, and sometimes that means I can’t show up as a blogger because I don’t have it in me. The trade off? The peace of mind that I get when I know that for the first time in my life, I am intentionally caring for myself in a real way. It’s so worth it.

Until Next Time,