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Weight Loss Surgery: Psychological Effects

While weight loss surgery has a direct and dramatic effect on the body, the psychological effects of the surgery almost outnumber the physical ones. And while most of these effects are positive, some are not.

Weight loss surgery, also called bariatric surgery, can alter your relationships with other people, your feelings about yourself, and your whole way of living.

People suffering from obesity often deal with social anxiety, feelings of helplessness, and even depression. For this reason, many people are turning to weight loss surgery as a solution. It helps obese persons to lose weight and regain their health quickly and with less physical effort than regular dieting.

Life After Surgery

Since the effects of weight loss surgery are so profound and far-reaching, you might find life afterwards to be disconcerting at times. You might feel odd or not quite like yourself. You might get overwhelmed by all of the changes you have to make and maintain for the rest of your life. These are perfectly natural reactions.

Talk to someone

Consider joining a weight loss surgery support group where you will find camaraderie and encouragement from people that are able to relate to you. Your group will celebrate achievements, will act as a reminder that your new lifestyle, improving health and taking control of your life is positive change and will motivate you to stay on track. Your group will offer guidance in finding ways to cope without food.  And, your group will help you deal with changes in eating, especially in social situations or when interacting with family and friends who do not have a smaller stomach.

Cope without eating

After surgery, many weight loss patients realize how much they relied on food for comfort in the past. If an individual used food to handle emotions, to cope with stress, to deal with a traumatic experience, or for comfort, they will be left with no coping mechanism when they can no longer use food this way.

Patients who are not able to find new positive coping mechanisms often find themselves developing other addictions such as smoking, eating disorders, drinking problems, gambling problems, sexual promiscuity, and drug addictions.

Find comfort in your own skin

Obese people who quickly become thin through surgery may find themselves feeling vulnerable or uncomfortable with the changes in their bodies after surgery. Being obese in the past often left them feeling less attractive and prevented unwanted overtures or perceived threats to their safety from others. Other patients feel less attractive with the loose skin and scars left after surgery.

Feel empowered

The positive psychological effects of surgery are pretty well defined. You will notice many positive changes in the way you look at yourself, your life, and those around you. Many patients are finally able to deal with those feelings of helplessness because there is something they can now do to combat obesity.

Find a balance with your family

In addition to the positive psychological effects, there are physical changes you'll have to make after the surgery that may have some negative effects. Anytime you change your habits, it can be stressful. Making changes is difficult to do and not always embraced by others. Family members may be fearful they will need to make changes too or they may fear that you will not need them or love them the same now that you are smaller.

Listen to your body

Many patients notice other negative psychological effects as they try to deal with these changes. One major change will be the inability to eat as much as you want. And while this is a positive physical effect of the surgery, it may affect you mentally as well. Another change you'll notice is the effect of your increased energy. It may feel like you're bouncing off the walls until you learn to deal positively and productively with increased amounts of energy.

Unlike other surgeries, the results of weight loss surgery are obvious and public. People will notice, and whether you like it or not, they might ask you about your appearance.

Some important things to keep in mind:


Weight loss surgery will radically change how you can eat. Meals that might have seemed tiny in the past will quickly make you full. You'll find that you need to eat small amounts slowly, chew well, and make the foods you eat count.

Be especially cautious at the beginning as you get the hang of eating with your smaller stomach. Depending on the operation, you may need to take dietary supplements for the rest of your life. 

Weight Loss

Obviously, you'll lose weight after surgery. But make sure you know exactly what you should expect, so you're not disappointed with or alarmed by the results. Many people find that their weight loss ebbs and flows over months, dropping, then leveling off, and then dropping again. Depending on the procedure, you might keep losing weight for up to two or three years after surgery.

Changing Habits

Surgery is not a cure for obesity. Weight loss surgery won't solve your problem. To keep off the weight, you need to work at it.

Physical Activity

After surgery, regular physical activity might be the most important way of maintaining your weight loss in the long term. Talk to your doctor about easy ways to begin exercising. You may also benefit from working with a physical therapist or trainer.

Physical Appearance

As you start losing weight your body shrinks, but you may find that your skin doesn't shrink as much. It may start to look loose and baggy. Some people need plastic surgery to remove this excess skin. 

Social Interactions

You may find that some of your relationships with friends and family change after surgery. One common problem is that many of us rely on eating and drinking as a way of socializing. That becomes harder after weight loss surgery. Weight loss patients have to come up with new ways of meeting up with family and friends that aren't focused on food.


Coker Ross, Carolyn (Summer, 2010) Weight Loss Surgery and Cross Addiction: A look at Binge Eating Disorder.

Earhart, Sarah (2010, Fall) Obesity: The Link between Your Weight and Your Family.

Nutt, A. (2008, January 16). Psychological Impact of Lap Band Surgery. Retrieved December 6, 2010, from Ezine articles, Psychological Impact of Lap Band Surgery

Smith, Michael (2009, August 30) Weight Loss Surgery Health: Weight Loss Surgery Effects From Head to Toe. Retrieved December 6, 2010, from WebMD