Bariatric surgery is often the last option for obese or morbidly obese people who struggle to lose weight on their own. There are four different types of bariatric surgery commonly performed in the United States: gastric bypass, sleeve gastrectomy, adjustable gastric band (gastric banding), and biliopancreatic diversion with duodenal switch. All of them have something in common: the major impact that they cause in patients’ lives.
Both obesity and bariatric surgery can lead to major physical, emotional, psychological, social and financial burdens on people and families. In addition, patients who undergo bariatric surgery need to be committed to lifestyle alterations regarding diet and physical activity. As a result, patients are recommended to participate in a bariatric support group to help them cope with the demanding journey of weight loss surgery.
Importance of Joining a Bariatric Support Group
The Obesity Action Coalition emphasizes the positive role that a bariatric support group can have in patients’ lives after surgery. “Support group is a time during the week that you think about your surgery and your progress. Life is busy and people get overwhelmed with work, kids and other commitments. Sometimes your surgery and your program take a backseat. When your surgery takes a backseat, your program can slip. Coming to support group can give you a shot in the arm and you will become refocused,” explained Sarah Muntel, RD in an article titled “Bariatric Support Group Secrets – What I Learned as a Support Group Leader.”
Patients can find different types of help in a bariatric support group, including education. Following the surgery, patients need to learn how to change their lifestyle behaviors, and many groups are focused on learning about food choices, meal plans, vitamins and fluid guidelines — information and tricks that are not in the books. In addition, it is expected to work as safe place, where no one is judged. Patients can sit and hear other people’s stories — or share theirs as well — and will most likely develop a good relationship with other participants in the group, since being in the same situation creates a special connection.
Where to Find a Support Group After Bariatric Surgery
There are numerous bariatric support groups and patients seek them by proximity, schedule, or any other factor. Patients may find information about support groups with their surgeon, medical center or healthcare team. Even in cases when there is no support group in the medical center itself, physicians may help find one. Organizations focused on obesity and bariatric surgery, like the Obesity Action Coalition or the American Society for Metabolic and Bariatric Surgery (ASMBS) can also offer information about it.
“Every bariatric center has them. Bariatric surgeons talk about them. Patients promise to go. When it is all said and done, there are many more patients that do not attend support group than those who do. Studies show those who attend groups on a regular basis have a better weight-loss,” continued the registered dietitian with IU Health Bariatric & Medical Weight-loss, who worked in bariatrics for 12 years, helping people get to a healthy weight, improve their health, feel better and become more active.
Reasons Not to Participate in a Bariatric Support Group
Despite the benefits that can come from attending a bariatric support group, many patients do not do it after the surgery. In the study cited above, Dr. Muntel believes that patients often do not participate because their schedule is too hectic and there they perceive that they have no time. However, the dietitian tells patients to make their health a priority so that other things in life won’t get in the way of being successful after the surgery.
In addition, there are patients who claim that they feel like outsiders. Despite the fact that sharing a personal experience in a group can be intimidating, patients need to remember that everyone has the same purpose, while regular participations will make it easier. Patients who think that by doing well now can mean that the group is not necessary, can also benefit from it since there are always bumps and obstacles.