Support Group Sages: St. Vincent Carmel

Thank you to everyone at the St.Vincent Carmel support group for such a wonderful evening last week. Before I summarize my personal takeaways from the group, I want to thank Linda Rodriguez, the group leader, for all she does for patients at our center. I’ve worked with Linda for many years. She is a wise, caring woman who goes far beyond her job description to help patients achieve success in their weight management journeys. I overheard a patient who was leaving group tell Linda she was the “soul” of St. Vincent Bariatrics. She is right! Thanks Linda for all that you have done for me and continue to do for our patients.

I also want to congratulate all of those who have recently begun or are continuing their commitments to a healthier life. I asked each person to finish the following sentence as they introduced themselves to the rest of the group:

                When it comes to bariatric surgery, I am feeling…

Most said they were feeling “great” or “hopeful.” Others said they were grateful. Some of our pre-op attendees expressed excitement, but admitted they were nervous. But two honest, not so positive responses, stood out to me. One gentleman said he felt “challenged” because of his recent life-changing surgery. Another lady softly stated she was “overwhelmed.” These two responses lead me to my first of 5 lessons I learned from my time with this inspiring group of folks.

1.       Everyone will struggle at some point after bariatric surgery. Whether it’s in the first two months or five years later, everyone will encounter challenges that make continuing healthy behaviors difficult. Whatever you do, don’t give up. Stay committed to the process, seek out help from those who care, and resist the tendency to let shame, guilt, or negative people cause you to spiral back into your old lifestyle.

2.       What we do to prepare for surgery makes a difference. I work with many patients before surgery. For those with certain insurance requirements, we meet regularly for six consecutive months because you MUST attend to get approved. Interestingly, those who were most engaged before surgery (asking questions, keeping a complete food journal, and increasing physical activity) are seeking support after surgery—when support group attendance is OPTIONAL. When I saw your faces in group, I was excited. Some of you I barely recognized due to your transformation! Way to go, guys!

3.       Our attitudes about our choices matter. We discussed whether “testing the waters” was a good idea after surgery. What I learned from the group is that our attitude determines whether a deviation from the plan is a one-time thing or the start of a slippery slope. Only you can truly answer the question “Is it a bad idea to have a bite?” Some considerations are, “Why do I want it?” and “What is likely to happen if I eat it?”

4.       If we glorify those foods we think we “can’t have” we are setting up ourselves to cycle back and forth between feelings of deprivation, disappointment, and guilt. Despite clear recommendations after surgery (the yellow sheets), patients can do whatever they choose. Choice is important psychologically. Feeling like you have chosen to stick with the recommendations, rather than thinking the recommendations have been imposed upon you, is a healthy and sustainable perspective.

5.       Several participants mentioned that food has become fuel. When food is fuel it doesn’t mean it can’t be enjoyable, it simply means the main reason we eat is to supply our bodies with what they need. It also prepares us to use our fuel in the most purposeful ways—physical activity, using our energy for enjoyable hobbies, to help others, etc.

It was wonderful seeing each and everyone of you. For those of you who bought my book, or had me sign books you had already purchased, thank you!