Is Bariatric Surgery Worth It?

7 Things You May Not Expect Following Surgery

Hispanic woman, friend exercising with resistance bands
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Bariatric surgery is a life-altering experience. No matter which weight loss surgery you choose, the procedure is expensive and will require that you make big changes to your lifestyle. As with any surgery, there are benefits and shortcomings to consider. In some cases, the impact on your life may make you wonder if it is truly worth the cost and risks.

To make the best decision, speak honestly and openly with your surgeon about the pros and cons of weight loss surgery

7 Things to Prepare Yourself For

Life after weight loss surgery isn't always what people expect. In addition to changes in your appetite, you may experience unexpected alterations in your lifestyle, social life, relationships, and emotions. The changes often come as a surprise to people who hoped that the surgery might offer an easy way out of their weight loss predicament.

While a great many people do enjoy an improved quality of life after bariatric surgery, (particularly those debilitated by obesity), the procedure is not for everyone. Here are 7 things you should be prepared for:

Hard Work

Weight loss surgery isn't an alternative to diet and exercise—it is an addition to diet and exercise. In fact, good eating habits and regular exercise become even more important after bariatric surgery.

To optimize the results of your surgery, you will need to spend each day practicing healthy behavior. You have to journal your food intake and measure quantities and types of food you eat to ensure the appropriate dietary and nutritional intake. For some, the commitment is more than anticipated.

New Social Habits

The activities you enjoyed prior to surgery may not be activities that you continue to participate in after surgery.

As you begin to build a new relationship with food, you may not be able to partake in social situations that revolve around food. You would instead learn to schedule social outings around physical activity which some of your friends may not be keen about.

Loss of Relationships

Your changing social habits may frustrate and even alienate the friends you had prior to surgery. You will need to work with your family and friends to accept the new behaviors, and that may be a challenge because most people prefer to keep life the way it was. That includes any bad habits that may have caused weight gain in the first place.

In order to stay on track, people who undergo bariatric surgery will often build entirely new social circles with friends who practice healthier behaviors. This can sometimes result in the loss of old friendships, which can be painful.

Emotional Disappointment

If you expect weight loss surgery to solve social or emotional problems and make life better, you may end up disappointed. Some people who gain weight use food for emotional comfort. This isn't a problem that surgery can solve. If emotional issues are present prior to surgery, they are likely to be present after surgery as well.

Excess Skin

Your weight loss may provide positive results on the scale, but you still may not like what you see in the mirror. Excess skin is a problem for bariatric patients who lose weight. For some, the sight of loose skin is just as bad (or even worse) that the excessive weight.

Solutions for reducing excess skin include exercise and various surgeries such as a lower-body lift (belly, buttocks, hips, and thighs), upper-body lift (breast and back), brachioplasty (upper arms), and medial thigh lift (inner and outer thighs).

Multiple surgeries are sometimes needed. Moreover, the cost of surgery can often be exorbitant with a lower-body lift costing anywhere from $7,000 to $25,000.

Alcohol Abuse

Some patients who undergo surgery, particularly gastric bypass and sleeve gastrectomy, experience alcohol use disorders in the years after surgery. A study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association found that because the procedures alter the way alcohol is processed in the body, some patients may be at higher risk for abuse.

Weight Regain

While the success rates for weight loss surgery continue to improve, some weight regain in the years after bariatric surgery is very common.

According to the American Society for Metabolic and Bariatric Surgery, most weight loss occurs in the first two years following surgery. While weight regain is common after five years, most are able to keep 50 percent of the excess weight off.

Weighing the Pro and Cons

All surgeries have risks and benefits to consider. For some patients, having a bariatric procedure, like gastric bypass, is worth it. For a committed patient, weight loss surgery is an effective tool for losing weight. It has also shown to be effective at reducing the impact of many obesity-related conditions such as type 2 diabetes, sleep apnea, and heart disease

But it is also important to do your homework prior to surgery and have reasonable expectations about what your life will be after the surgery. It often helps to speak with someone knows someone who has had a bariatric procedure to gain unbiased insights. Many surgeons will also give their patients three months or more to prepare for the physical and psychological changes that lie ahead.

If you are considering surgery, learn as much as you can about the procedure itself and the changes you'll have to make to your life. Talk to friends and family, your primary care provider and a board-certified surgeon before making a final decision.

Complications of Gastric Sleeve Surgery
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Article Sources
  • Access to Care. Morbid Obesity and Metabolic and Bariatric Surgery Fact Sheet. American Society for Metabolic & Bariatric Surgery. https://asmbs.org/
  • Joshua B. Alley, M.D., F.A.C.S., Stephen J. Fenton, M.D., F.A.C.S., Michael C. Harnisch, M.D, Donovan N. Tapper, M.D, Jason M. Pfluke, M.D., Richard M. Peterson, M.D., M.P.H., F.A.C.S. "Quality of life after sleeve gastrectomy and adjustable gastric banding." Surgery for Obesity and Related Diseases March 5, 2011.
  • Wendy C. King, PhD; Jia-Yuh Chen, MS; James E. Mitchell, MD; Melissa A. Kalarchian, PhD; Kristine J. Steffen, PharmD, PhD; Scott G. Engel, PhD; Anita P. Courcoulas, MD, MPH; Walter J. Pories, MD; Susan Z. Yanovski, MD. Prevalence of Alcohol Use Disorders Before and After Bariatric Surgery Journal of the American Medical Association June 20, 2012.