Life After Weight-Loss Surgery: Does My Body Really Look Like That?

Life After Weight-Loss Surgery: Does My Body Really Look Like That?

My boyfriend and I recently took a nice trip out of the country and I was able to get some much-needed rest and relaxation. We did a lot of sightseeing, met up with some friends, and just enjoyed our time together. I was focused on getting in some exercise and minding my food intake, as I've put on a few pounds in the last year and have been somewhat concerned about it. I've noticed my clothing fitting a bit tighter and my midsection becoming softer, and I've lamented to my boyfriend about how I've been feeling down not only about the weight gain, but about all of the things I know have contributed to it.

Okay, I'll be honest—I've been absolutely terrified about it. I know quite a few people who have had the same exact surgery I had, and I've noticed that, like me, a few are putting weight back on. I know there is a certain "bounce back" to be expected in the 10- to 15-pound range, but anything more than 20 pounds, for me, is cause for reflection and perhaps lifestyle modification. Twenty can easily become 40, then 60, and before you know it, you're right back to where you began if not worse off. This is all-too-common an outcome for WLS patients who aren't proactively making permanent lifestyle changes and staying focused on maintaining the healthiest practices post-surgery.

body image
Image: Charlotte Astrid via Flickr

As we passed by windows and mirrors, I found myself pausing and thinking, "You look a lot slimmer than you did back home," and I even expressed that to him, joking that maybe Canadians preferred warped mirrors. He said, "No, you look just how you are and how I see you." I caught myself, because I thought I'd gotten better with this. Clearly, I have not.

My therapist said I have been dealing with Body Dysmorphic Disorder. In a nutshell, the image of myself that I see reflected is not accurately aligned with how I actually look. This is a condition often associated with people who suffer from Bulimia or Anorexia Nervosa. People who have dealt with depression and/or anxiety in the past are more susceptible to developing this condition after significant weight loss, especially if the loss was rapid.

Anyone who has weight loss surgery is urged to become involved in some type of therapy related to processing the mental and physical changes and adjustments, so I've been engaging the help of a professional. One of the treatments was, believe it or not, daily selfies. In my bathroom, I have professional photos that I took when I was in the high 300-pound range as a reminder of where I was. I was encouraged to take daily pictures or myself so I could visualize the changes and accept them as real, so I signed up for Instagram a while back, and have been doing just that. I was certain that it was all balanced out, but I realized that, in seeing the number creep higher on the scale, my visual perception was becoming distorted again.

Sometimes, it takes other people commenting to snap me out of whatever fixation I have on my physical changes. I don't really care for comments like, "You're disappearing!!" or "You're getting soooo skinny!!" made in complimentary ways. Those comments make me feel like shit, actually. I'm not sure why anyone would think telling someone s/he is disappearing is a compliment and I'm really tired of us equating "skinny" with an aesthetic ideal. It also makes me really self-conscious about my weight and how it appears on my frame... too conscious. I've had to tell people to not "compliment" me like that because I know the effect it has on me and I'm still working on the transition and being comfortable with how massive weight loss has changed my whole life.

You're not always made aware of some of the psychological changes you go through when you lose an entire person (in weight). It varies by person and for people who lose weight slowly over time, I imagine there is more time to adjust, as the changes are gradual. When you have rapid weight loss, however, as with weight loss surgery or other medical conditions, your mind takes longer to catch up to the newness of your body, and having a distorted view of yourself is one of those side effects you might experience.

It took me two years to stop going into plus-size stores, even though I lost 100 pounds in the first six months. I still order the wrong sizes online. I get nervous about trying things on in "straight size" stores, even though I've been wearing new sizes for almost three years now. I look longingly at items I want to buy, telling myself I can't fit them when I actually can. I'm still working on this and working on how I see myself, trying to make sure that who I see is who I am—inside and out.

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