How to Talk About Weight Loss Surgery
One of the things I lived through myself, and many people message me about is how to talk about their desire to have surgery.
"How do I tell so-and-so that I want to have surgery?"
"I've been looking into bariatric surgery, but my (parents/husband/girlfriend/friends) have made comments before that makes me think they won't support me."
"I mentioned weight loss surgery to my doctor, and they won't support it."
"How are you so open about having surgery?"
I have lived these questions in my own experience - and will break down the key lessons I learned from each one.
When I started looking into weight loss surgery, I did so in secret for almost a year. I took online seminars, I started secret social media accounts so I could follow people on Tumblr, Instagram, Youtube - without my friends and family knowing. I was incredibly ashamed for considering it, and figured there was no way I would actually get to have the surgery.
It wasn't until the beginning of spring in 2015 that I (once again, secretly) took an online seminar for my local clinic, and realized my insurance would cover my surgery. I ended up opening up to my parents first, armed with as much research and anecdotes possible to convince them this was the right decision. I came into the conversation as "this is what I am doing, and this is why." My parents were nervous - this was a major surgery. But my knowledge and research gave them peace of mind, and they supported me.
What I learned: Arm yourself with knowledge. Be confident in your choice. If you have gone deep enough in your research that you see this as a clear path for you to change your life - walk into into these conversations as someone who is informing others that this is what you are doing.
Appearing wishy-washy, asking for permission, not showing confidence - most people will experience push back. Not because your loved ones don't value you, or think you are wrong - but surgery is a huge, life changing step. It can be a scary idea for those close to you, and if you aren't sure it is something you can commit to - it is easier to question if this is the right step for you.
I didn't tell my then-boyfriend Anthony for almost a month. My (now husband) is the type of person who never really had issues with his weight, or health concerns - he was the type who only went to the doctor when he broke a bone or something was very wrong. When I would go to the doctor for any (and all) issues (grew up with a nurse for a mom - that's just what you did!) Anthony would scoff and ask me if I really needed to see a doctor for that cold, that ache - and to figure it out/tough it out.
I had convinced myself there was no way he would support me, because he would see this as a cop out - something I should be able to tough out and figure out by myself.
My mom was the one who said - this isn't really a secret you can have from your significant other. If he didn't support you getting healthy - was that really a healthy relationship?
Yeah. He ended up being amazing, and supportive. Scared and overwhelmed, but he learned with me, asked questions, and tried to prepare to be the best supporter I could ask for.
What I learned: Don't create stories in your head. I made a lot of assumptions about the person I loved that were rooted in my fear of him rejecting me - not his actual actions. When you know this is a path you want to go down, being open with the people who matter the most to you will help you find support much easier than assuming the worst.
And if they end up not being supportive - that is their prerogative. It may happen that some people drift from your life because of this choice and your new lifestyle. While difficult, as my mom told me - if they aren't willing to support you getting healthy - is that really a relationship you feel the need to maintain?
Extreme weight loss will drastically change your life, and that may not align with some people in your life currently. Similarly if an alcoholic decides to give up drinking - there are probably people in his life that will not understand or support it. Luckily, with a new lifestyle, that person will find new people, new connections - that support them.
I did "lose" a couple friends when my life changed so drastically. I have also gained an insane amount of friends because my life, my goals - aligned with a different crowd.
I went straight to a bariatric clinic when I decided I wanted to pursue surgery, as I had just moved and didn't have a general practitioner, so I didn't have to deal directly with my doctor saying to not pursue surgery. I did have an experience with an urgent care doctor though.
When I had just started my process to get an appointment with the clinic (my parents knew I wanted surgery, but I hadn't told Anthony yet) I had an incident at work. I got incredibly light headed, nauseous, and shaky. It was super scary since it came out of no where, and my employer told me to go get checked out.
When I arrived at urgent care, I spoke to the doctor right when he walked in about my fears of my blood pressure and blood sugar. I told him I knew I needed to get my weight under control, and I was very scared of becoming diabetic.
He jumped in and told me I was most likely just dehydrated which led to low blood pressure - but then gave me a lecture on my need to lose weight. And went on to say, "and don't bother looking at weight loss surgery. They have so many issues - just lose your weight the right way."
Oof. That cut deep. I didn't tell him I was currently starting the process - with his own hospitals program - to have surgery. But I remember being so angry. I was taught growing up by my mom, a nurse at the same hospital, to always advocate for myself because I knew my body better than any doctor who saw me for less than 15 minutes in a clinic.
What I learned: Not all doctors will agree with your choice. Not all medical professionals will agree. Weight loss surgery is still very misunderstood by those who do not have a background working with patients, as is obesity in general. There is a reason bariatrics is a specialty program, so it is vital to advocate for yourself and get a second opinion.
Having this interaction with my urgent care doctor, it lit yet another fire under me to succeed at surgery - I was sick of so many people saying people only failed at weight loss surgery. So I would succeed to prove them wrong.
I decided to go public with my weight loss journey on my hospital bed, about 20 minutes before I was wheeled back to have most of my stomach taken out of me. I wasn't going to - I was going to only have my family and close friends know.
Something came over me that made me realize - I was fortunate enough to have a highly supportive group around me. It was the first time in my life that I was going to lose weight and have accountability to so many people around me. It really sunk it that this wasn't another diet that I signed up for to "see how it went." This was going to be the rest of my life, in one way or another. So I announced it to the world.
What I learned: That split second decision to share a selfie of me on that hospital bed changed my life forever. Sharing my story taught me to come to terms with my weight and my life choices that got me there. It gave me the support of thousands online, and even more people in my personal life that I never thought to tell. It helped me work out a lot of issues by being honest and introspective to a captive audience. I lost my weight, I found employment at a fitness studio. I changed my career again to work with bariatric patients around the world. None of this would have happened in the same way if I hadn't gone public.
Sharing publicly was right for me and my journey. That is why you are reading this right now. It isn't right for everyone - that is something you have to decide for yourself. But being open has held me accountable to this lifestyle more than anything else I have ever found in my 27 years of trying to manage my weight in a healthy way.
No matter who you are trying to talk to, in the end it is about being sure of yourself. If you are ready to take the big step to have surgery and permanently change your body to work on having a healthier life - then speak with confidence. Find people who love you to open up to, and find your voice on this sensitive topic.
You never know who will step forward to support you, or who you may inspire in the process.