Psychological resilience has been found to be a crucial factor in facilitating long-term, optimal outcomes for bariatric surgery patients. Resilience is the process of adapting well in the face of adversity or major sources of stress.
It is now widely accepted that bariatric surgery is the most effective obesity treatment, typically resulting in substantial weight loss, significant health improvements and better quality of life. However, studies have shown that decreased compliance to recommended lifestyle habits can occur. This may be partially due to a lack of psychological skills that are required over the long-term, when the effects of surgery (on appetite, hunger and desire for food) decrease.
We also know that stress biases the brain towards old habits over intentional actions. Life events happen and our brains can return to past associations and familiar habits, such as turning to food for comfort. Sources of stress can include family and relationship problems or workplace and financial stressors.
Additionally, our brains respond more strongly to negative events. We experience them more personally and we feel them more deeply. Some people’s brains are biased towards pain, loss and the emotional toll of their mistakes. This can cause depressive symptoms, which are often accompanied by impulsiveness and poor coping skills. They can also include feeling fatigued and unmotivated, which can derail our newly-acquired positive habits.
Research has shown that mindfulness and acceptance-based skills can help people to tolerate uncomfortable psychological experiences and maintain healthy behaviour-change over the long term. Cultivating self-awareness keeps us in tune with our psychological needs and helps us to regulate our emotions. Practicing self-care habits, enlisting the support of family and friends, exercise and meditation have also been found to be helpful in coping with adversity.
I often tell my patients that bariatric surgery will help them to change their relationship with food, but that it is also a wonderful opportunity to improve their relationship with themselves. Nurturing a more positive inner dialoguehas been shown to foster better psychological health. However, patients are often at a loss about how to do this, particularly when they have been hearing a harsh, critical inner-voice for so many years.
Western Surgical Health will soon be promoting a workshop that I will be running to help our patients handle psychological challenges and equip patients with the necessary tools to stay on track with healthy lifestyle habits. Further details will be announced soon …
Psychologist Western Surgical Health