Skinny Daily Post

Invincible.

Many weight loss surgery (WLS) programs require that patients attend lifelong support groups. Unfortunately, most post-ops stop going to support groups after 12-18 months. Some stop even earlier. I suspect it’s largely because the farther out from surgery someone is, the less interest they have in what I call the mechanics: who can eat what, making sure they drink water, exercise.

There was a support group the other night. I was the ‘oldest’ person there, at a little more than 3 years postop. A couple of people were about a year out. Everyone else was 6-12 months [there was another support group for newbies].

The main topic of conversation was FOOD, of course, mostly who could eat what, or not. And tolerances, and water intake, and other mechanics. A couple of people said that they could not exercise because they had bad knees or bad feet or whatever. Now, while I understand that many people have all different kinds of barriers to exercising, I also know that there are ways around them. A person has to be interested in looking for them, but these people seemed to have decided that they didn’t have to make the effort.

But everyone missed what I think is a key point, which is that most of us got into this mess through emotional eating, and if we don’t deal with these issues, we’re not going to maintain our weight loss with some degree of contentment and happiness.

There were signs of resentment in some people, and others had ‘poor me’ attitudes. No one was bringing up issues about why they had urges to binge, or why they felt so deprived that they couldn’t eat whatever they wanted whenever they wanted. No one raised the oh-so-common issue of needing to deal with people differently. No one admitted to needing to be assertive but not having the skills.

As we get farther out from the surgery, many of us figure out what to eat and when. Others may learn this, but don’t eat wisely. Still others never learn, and are stunned when they regain their weight. They haven’t spent the ‘honeymoon period’ learning, often for the first time, how to live without being emotionally dependent on food.

And, as I say over and over and over again, I’ve never met an overweight person who put themselves first in their priority list. People who become heavy enough for the surgery generally have no idea how to take care of themselves. They often don’t even recognize emotions because they’ve spent their lives literally swallowing them with food.

A formal, functional support group could go a long way in helping us on this otherwise individual journey, but mostly, if you’re not interested in bite-by-bite descriptions of someone’s day, there’s almost no place to go other than a private therapist [not a bad thing at all, just that there’s little choice out there]. Some people are going to mainstream diet programs, with some very good results. Maybe that’s because after a certain point, the issues are the same for people who’ve had WLS and those who are doing it the old-fashioned way.

This self-care thing isn’t easy. I may write about it at SDP, and talk about it to anyone who will listen, whether it’s in a casual conversation or a formal lecture, but I certainly don’t have this all wrapped up in a neat little package. I’m very much a work in progress, as are we all.

We all gotta find that path.

13 thoughts on “Where do we go from here?

  1. Debbi says:

    You bring up some valid points regarding self-help group dynamics. I’ve participated in OA meetings in the past, and found similar excuses and attitudes. I would think the points you brought up here could be raised in any group — food for thought, so to speak — and am wondering why you didn’t? Confrontation, while unpleasant, can be a motivating catalyst for change … and can even change the group. I’m also recovering in AA, and when I find a meeting changing in a way that doesn’t support me and/or others, I remind myself that I’m a member of the group, and that I have the power and responsibility to make it better.

  2. jane says:

    Debbi – you are absolutely right. and, in fact, i’ve been discussing these issues ALL WEEKEND with the organizers of these meetings. So far, the response has been that the others are at a different place than I am. And that’s fine, but these same organizers are among those who are upset that long-term postops don’t come to meetings. One of the main reasons they want us is so that we can get up and speak at preop meetings as a marketing tool. While I don’t mind doing that, I expect that, in exchange, they expand the coverage of their postop support to address other issues.

    it’s all a long process, and one way or the other it’ll come out OK.

  3. Ivorygorgon says:

    Your post really resonated with me today. While I think some programs really try to address these issues (Weight Watchers for one) I think they fall short. I am doing WW online right now because I simply cannot face the meetings where all we/they talk about is how many points are in this or that. I know WW tries, and I have to give them credit, but really, I have never been to a meeting where I really felt we got down and dirty about our compulsive eating issues. Thanks for the affirming post.

  4. Suzanne says:

    Hi Jane,

    It’s great that you’re working with the meeting organizers to bring up these important issues! In addition to post-op, it seems that the reasons for WHY we eat or how WLS candidates have gotten to be where they are need to be addressed and understood, and even worked on pre-op.

    At Weight Watchers meetings I got tired of all the food talk after a while. The leader was great and would always try to steer the conversation off onto exercise, how to deal with stress, what people were up to that week, etc., and would be met with blank looks. Everyone just wanted to talk about food – but it’s that food obsession, whether it’s how much pizza (or how many pizzas) I ate during my binge, or how many light Twinkies I can eat in a day’s worth of points, that is our biggest problem.

    At OA I found that people specifically did not talk about food, but that everything was phrased in anti-food ways…as in, I’m doing well because I didn’t binge this week. I know that OA is about food addiction so I understand that part, but how about “I tried joining a gym for the first time”?? I never heard that!

    But – *sigh of relief* – through hypnosis, I’m finally finding that I can override the food obsessions and re-program my brain (or have it reprogrammed for me) so that I can focus on finding out what I really can and want to do, rather than always telling myself what I can’t eat or what I can’t do. Am I perfect? No way – just consistently doing well. This has been the most positive change EVER for me…it’s like a long-overdue mental tune-up!

    – Suzanne

  5. jonquil says:

    Jane, I think you should write a book about this. You’re uniquely qualified to tell the WLS story, you’ve already got lots of research and contacts, you’re a fine writer, and you’re very compassionate. Put in a lot of interviews with experts and some profiles of successful WLS people, and I think you’d have a best seller on your hands– I’d buy it!

  6. Amanda says:

    I stopped going to the meetings because they were horrible: sitting on our asses for two hours talking about food. Or worse, sitting n a restaurant eating and talking about food. Why, for goodness’ sake, can’t they have meetings at a gym? or while exercising? or floating in the pool lifting weights, for those with bad knees? Why can’t they split post-ops (and pre-ops, for that matter) up according to ability/progress instead of herding us all into an assembly room to talk, talk, talk?

    They place such emphasis on after-care, but I don’t believe that fitness/exercise was adressed nearly enough pre-op or during the year and a half that I weent to the post-op support meetings. A fitness counselor should be just as important as a nutritionist and a psychologist, and should be much more involved throughout the post-op support.

    Exercise is the key to successful WLS, not the circumstantially enhanced starvation.

  7. Kelly says:

    My job recommended a really good program, Living Lean, that uses cognitive-behavioral techniques to work on emotional eating issues. It’s internat based, and kind of pricey if you don’t have a discount (work managed to negotiate it to be way cheaper), but it has worked wonders for me. I haven’t eaten sweets in over 3 weeks and feel deprived extremely rarely. I had success on WW before, but like many people I never learned to deal with the underlying issues, so when I encountered a crisis in my life I put the weight back on. I feel much more prepared for success in the long haul now.

  8. Marisa says:

    Suzanne, I am curious about the hypnosis – someone else recently recommended the wendi.com hypnosis CDs. Did you use a CD-based program, or did you go to a live hypnotist?

  9. Steph says:

    I’m interested in hypnosis too… I’d love to hear more about it.

  10. Mary Knuth says:

    Hi Jane,
    I come to this site very often. I have lost 75pds. on the W.W. program. And now I am a leader for W.W. I find coming to this site and reading your articles very helpful. Especially the comments coming from the other readers of this particular article today. I truly believe after reading reader comments will help me even more with my members in my classrooms. Weight Watchers is an excellent program and I am trying my best to make sure I can give my members my best. Thank you for giving your time to those of us who continue to work on losing weight and maintaining it for a healthy lifetime. Mary

  11. L says:

    Jane – I love your writing, too, and agree that you should think about writing a book.
    I especially appreciate your observation that “…after a certain point, the issues are the same for people who’ve had WLS and those who are doing it the old-fashioned way.” I’ve believed that all along. I’ve always thought that anyone trying to lose weight has more in common with someone else trying to lose weight than there are differences, regardless of the method.
    In groups like OA they have a term, “terminal uniqueness” – thinking that no one else has EVER been through what I’m going through, felt what I’m feeling. It’s such a descriptive term, because it rationalizes cutting off from the very things that can help, at the time we need it most.
    I get tired of my support group meetings sometimes, too. But I know they’re my real-world lifeline. So I try to find something worth keeping from every one, and let the rest go. We all need to hear different tings at different times, so hopefully everyone else is doing the same.
    Your column spoke to me today. Thanks, and I wish you much continued success.

  12. Suzanne says:

    Hi –

    I always thought Weight Watchers should open their own fitness centers. Why not a WW gym?? Then they could hold meetings there, sell their products, etc…marketing extravaganza! I’m sure a lot of people would feel better working out alongside other members who are going through the same process, rather than already-buff gymsters! Not that there’s anything wrong with the already-buff people (I hope to be one of them someday)…just that the comfort level for others might be greater at a WW-specific gym.

    As far as the hypnosis goes – my first try at it was with Wendi’s Zen of Thin CDs last summer. I ended up returning them because I ALWAYS fell asleep during them and felt discouraged because I wasn’t seeing any results. I take this as something wrong with me though, not with Wendi’s CDs. This was just my experience, and I’m sure her stuff works – many people seem to have had success with it and she seems to have so many different CDs addressing all kinds of issues!

    So, I ended up going to a local hypnosis center and signing up for a fairly lengthy program, so I could deal with all my “issues” as they come up – self esteem/confidence/respect, stress, negativity, motivation to exercise, goal-setting, quieting down the food obsessions, etc. It’s been great so far – this is my 4th week and I love it. My program combines meetings with hypnotists as well as pre-recorded sessions on specific issues. It’s a lot more expensive than Wendi’s CDs but I felt I really needed to do something drastically different from all my failed prior attempts!

    – Suzanne

  13. mary jean says:

    This was a great post. I am losing weight “the old fashoined way” but I really agree that the issues facing any one who loses a large amount of weight is are pretty similar regardless of the method. It has been a benefit to me to get help from a number of sources. For WHAT to eat, I get help from “Eat Right 4 Your Type”. For how much to eat and to track my exercise, I use WW. For the emotional stuff, I depend upon OA. All those years that I thought I had to do it alone and I never knew there was a world of help available to me if I only asked for it.

    Mary Jean

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