The journey to weight loss through bariatric surgery is a life-changing experience. Individuals who have struggled with their weight and accompanying health issues for years suddenly find themselves living a new, healthier lifestyle in a lighter body. That process could also trigger a rollercoaster of emotions. 

For anyone considering weight loss surgery, it is crucial to understand its potential emotional and psychological impact. 

Before surgery

Individuals who are living with the disease of obesity often experience shame, self-esteem issues, and conditions such as depression or anxiety. They know all too well the social stigma of being overweight, which can also lead to other issues, including emotional eating, relationship issues, substance use disorders, or even thoughts of suicide.

On top of that, the decision to undergo weight loss surgery comes with a whole new set of emotions -- anticipation, fear of the unknown, and concerns about the future. For patients, it is crucial to acknowledge and accept these emotions as a natural part of the weight loss surgery journey. 

Preparing for surgery

Preparing for weight loss surgery is essential to ensure an individual is physically and psychologically ready for this major life change. In addition to an evaluation and pre-surgical testing, patients will also meet with registered dietitians for nutrition counseling, attend pre-surgery counseling sessions, and participate in support groups. This helps patients understand the psychological aspects of the journey and be better prepared to navigate the emotional challenges that may arise after surgery. 

It is also important to remember that emotional well-being is not based solely on physical appearance and weight. Perhaps of greatest importance is a focus on overall health of both body and mind, with self-acceptance being one key priority. 

Finally, patients need to be prepared not only for the procedure, but also for the changes to their lifestyle and nutritional habits that are required for success. It’s important to be emotionally and mentally ready for this major life change. 

After surgery

The post-surgery period may bring unexpected emotional challenges. As the numbers on the scale drop and health improves, patients may find themselves:

  • coping with body image issues.
  • adjusting to a new lifestyle.
  • navigating changes in relationships. 

It’s important to have self-compassion and ask for help when needed. A support system can help patients manage all the emotional aspects of weight loss surgery. Family and friends are great for encouragement and listening to concerns. The bariatric support group can provide understanding, insight, and a shared knowledge of the experience. Professional guidance is also available through behavioral therapists who are part of the bariatric surgery team. 

This strong support system can help with emotional challenges, and just as importantly, celebrate the victories and milestones along the way. Remember that it is okay to ask for help.

Tips for success

If you are undergoing bariatric surgery for weight loss, we want to share ways to achieve the best outcome. 

  • Embrace this journey as one of self-discovery. Take time to uncover your inner self and address any unresolved issues you may discover in the process. See it as an opportunity for personal growth and be sure to seek professional counseling if needed. 
  • Celebrate your accomplishments. While seeing your success on the scale is one possible way to measure your progress, it is just as important to celebrate non-scale victories too. Recognize what else you have gained through this surgery – improved energy, more self-confidence, and better overall well-being. Congratulate yourself for the strength it took for you to embark on this journey, and the emotional resilience you’ve achieved.
  • Develop healthy coping mechanisms. Before your surgery, you may have turned to food when you were happy, or sad, or stressed. Now that your lifestyle is a healthier one, your coping strategies should be too! Activities like journaling, meditation, yoga, or other hobbies, can contribute to emotional well-being.
  • Don’t forget the exercise. Keep your body moving. It’s good for your physical and emotional health. Your heart and brain will thank you too. 

For more information on bariatric surgery for weight loss and how we can help you, visit our website

Kristy Dalrymple, PhD

Dr. Kristy Dalrymple is a licensed clinical psychologist, associate director of the outpatient psychiatry practice at Rhode Island Hospital, and director of adult psychology at Rhode Island and The Miriam hospitals.