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Bariatric team at GBMC lends emotional support to weight loss surgery patients

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In partnership with Fox45

January 18, 2023
There are more than just physical changes involved when a patient decides to undergo bariatric surgery.

Emily Watters, MD, who works in the Bariatric and General Surgery departments at GBMC HealthCare, explains the importance of having emotional support once the decision has been made.

“Not everyone is supportive because there’s still a lot of stigma around weight loss surgery. People tend to think it’s an easy way out, when really that’s quite the opposite.”

The emotional aspect of the surgery is so crucial to a patient’s success, Dr. Watters says, that everyone who decides to undergo surgery must be evaluated by a psychologist beforehand to make sure there are no underlying disorders that would make the surgery unsuccessful. Once the surgery is scheduled, patients are given six months of nutrition education to ensure they’re ready for the changes that will take place after the operation.

Dr. Watters explains, “Monthly nutrition meetings are held via Zoom in a group setting. If a patient has additional questions or needs extra help, they’re able to set up a one-on-one session with a registered dietitian.”

In addition, patients are given a plethora of resources to help prepare for and recover from their surgery. This includes meal ideas and grocery lists, exercise recommendations, and important habits to start building.

While all this information is helpful, Dr. Watters says it’s the support from others that can really make a difference in a patient’s success.

“You can’t do this alone. The best way to be successful is if you have someone to encourage and support you along the way,” Dr. Watters explains.

The team at GBMC recognizes not everyone has the support of their friends and family, so they’ve created a community within the hospital to give support and encouragement to every patient.

“We have a private Facebook group for folks who have gone through the program,” Dr. Watters says. “There are people in there that are brand-new to the journey, and we have one patient who’s 10 years post-surgery giving advice and sharing her story. Whatever point of the journey you’re on, there’s someone there with you.”

She says some of the topics discussed in the group include dealing with negativity from loved ones and how to navigate events centered around eating, such as birthday parties and holidays.

In addition to the support group, patients are given suggestions by their care team on how to prepare for life post-surgery. This includes logistical planning, which could include selecting a protein (and a backup in case the patient gets tired of the first one) and having recipes on hand that are easy to make. But, Dr. Watters adds, it also includes suggestions for a new lifestyle.

“Finding a new activity or hobby that doesn’t revolve around food can really help a patient’s success,” Dr. Watters says. “Recognizing you might need to find a new group of people to be around if your current circle isn’t supportive can also make a big difference.”

Patients meet with a dietitian post-surgery to answer questions and ensure they’re adapting to their new lifestyle, as well as monthly support group meetings. Dr. Watters says, while bariatric surgery can be life-changing, it’s important to remember we’re all human and things don’t always go perfectly.

“My colleague, Dr. [Shauna] Costinett says, ‘slip, don’t slide.’ Don’t let one slip (an off meal or an off day) dictate the rest of your year or define your progress.”

She adds, whether a patient wants to share their surgery with friends and family is a decision that belongs to them.

“It’s okay to keep this to yourself. If you get a negative reaction from anyone, they do not have to be allowed on this journey with you.”

Dr. Watters says the bariatric team at GBMC prides itself on the emotional support they offer to patients before and after bariatric surgery and encourages anyone who has questions to reach out.
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