The Meaning of Health Beyond Weight Loss Surgery

Health has been defined by a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity.1 This definition stands as a pivotal remark to highlight the importance of holistic approaches that should be encouraged for all patients to adopt, following weight loss surgery.  

Weight loss surgery is becoming more of a common tool when it comes to tackling overweight and obesity. Its success in offering 50-80% of excess weight within a 12-month time frame is what’s making gastric sleeves and bypasses rise in their popularity. 

There is no doubt that these procedures are highly effective in reducing cm’s from waistlines and seeing those numbers go down on the scale. However, we need to be looking at the bigger picture than scale based wins. The decision to undergo such procedures is usually prompted by the ongoing attempts and re-attempts of dieting over many years. These constant efforts and toxic culture of yoyo dieting are what ignites emotional and physical distress over time, which can negatively impact our food choices and behaviours creating bad habits. 

Following weight loss surgery, there will be moments of stalls and standstills which will often re-ignite these stressors that create opportunities for bad habits to return, and so the cycle may continue. It is important to realise that these plateaus are a normal part of weight loss. Surgery is an investment, it’s a journey that must be endured to get to your destination. It is about creating sustainable habits for long term change. 

Providing and encouraging a holistic approach after weight loss surgery takes the stress away from the scales and is about addressing and improving health behaviours, to improve overall mental, physical and emotional health. In doing so, this assists with positively improving your relationship with food and body image and therefore creating better habits for yourself. 

Some examples to apply and create holistic approaches may include: 

  • Getting proper exercise: Focus on moving your body with good intentions. Perhaps try thinking to yourself, “I want to work out because I can,” “I want to work out to feel strong,” and “I want to work out to gain more energy.” 
  • Eating nutritious foods. Focus on variety. Prioritise your lean protein, incorporate different coloured fruit and vegetables, and ensure you are drinking 1.5L – 2L total fluid per day. 
  • Practising good sleep hygiene: Aim for 8 hours of sleep per day, reduce your screen time before bed, and set your phone far away from your bed where you are not tempted to look at it. 
  • Practising mindfulness: This could mean that you set time out for yourself, take yourself for a coffee, read a book, run a bath, or catch up with a friend. Do something for you! 
  • Create a non-scale victory: Have a goal that isn’t weight-based. For example: can you finally bend down to tie your shoelaces? has your joint pain gone away? do you require a seatbelt extension anymore? 

Taking the focus off from the scales and weight is an important aspect of improving your overall health and successfully creating long term healthy habits for yourself. To help with this remember to focus on balance by moving your body, focusing on nutritious foods and focusing on non-scale based wins. 

Isabella Maimone, WLSA Accredited Practising Dietitian