Reviewed by:Gregg H. Jossart, MD, FACS
The most important reasons to join a weight loss surgery support group and attend regularly are:
- You will lose more weight! (12% more excess weight loss, on average)
- Support groups are one of the best ways to make the tough times easier
Importantly, you should make sure your support group is regularly scheduled, led by a medical professional, encourages participation from everyone, and maintains a constructive & positive dialogue
Read the sections below for everything you need to know about how to find the right bariatric surgery support group for you.
TABLE OF CONTENTS
Click on any of the topics below to jump directly to that section
- The best guidance comes from those who are intimately familiar with your challenges
- The experienced moderators keep the discussion positive and on-point
The ultimate purpose of support group attendance is to help you achieve and maintain your goal weight in a way that is as physically and mentally healthy as possible.
But what’s the point? Can’t you get all of the support you need from friends and family?
To answer these questions, consider the interactions in other areas of your life. For example, when discussing child care, would you rather talk with another parent or one of your single friends? When venting about something that really frustrates you at work, would you rather the listener be a work colleague or your next door neighbor?
While many patients have partners and family who offer unending support, talking with someone who is intimately familiar with your struggles is essential. Despite its many advantages, weight loss surgery will bring about one of the most challenging times in your life and there will be times when you need encouragement and advice from people who have been in your shoes.
Common areas that bariatric surgery patients choose help from their weight loss surgery support group over help from friends and family include…
- Fear before surgery
- Questions about the future
- Temptations and how to overcome them
- Impatience or frustration regarding how quickly the weight is coming off
- Learning how to interact with the world in your new body
- Overcoming depression relating to your new diet and changes to existing relationships (both in and out of the home)
- Diet and recipe tips
- Relationship advice for at-home and work relationships
In addition to working with others who are sharing your experience, good weight loss support groups are moderated by a bariatric professional who can provide medically accurate advice to questions that come up. Guest speakers ranging from other patients to medical professionals are also common.
- Attendees lose 12% more of their excess weight, on average
- The patients who attend the support group more often tend to lose more weight
Participating in support groups goes well beyond sharing experiences and advice… in addition to the invaluable encouragement and support attendees receive, they also result in more weight loss.
Several studies have shown that regular weight loss support group attendees lose as much as 12% more excess weight than patients who do not attend support groups…
|Studies||# of Patients in study||Results||Year|
|Study A||85||There was a recognized gap of seven percent between the groups at six months postoperative and at one year postoperative, it was 12 percent.||2008|
|Study B||46||Patients who attended support groups had a 10% higher decrease in body mass index than patients who did not attend.||2008|
|Study C||38||Regular attendance at multi-phasic support group meetings improves post-op recovery based upon specific indicators. For example, patients who attend have greater compliance to program-sanctioned diet, exercise and behavior modification guidelines. This trend extends beyond the immediate post-op period for patients who ongoingly attend support groups.||2004|
|Study D||n/a||There was a recognized gap of seven percent between the groups at six months postoperative and at one year postoperative, it was 12 percent.||2008|
|Study E||102||There was no difference in mood between group meeting attenders and nonattenders. There was a statistical trend for more weight loss in group attenders than in nonattenders. For group attenders, the more often patients attended group meetings, the more weight they lost.||1998|
- It is regularly scheduled
- The group is moderated by a medical professional
- Active participation is encouraged from all attendees
- The group is generally optimistic (the challenges should not be all-consuming)
4 Aspects of a Good Support Group
During your search for a support group, the following 4 points are a must…
- Meetings are regularly scheduled (i.e. the first Monday of each month).
- Led (“moderated”) by a medical professional. Common moderators include a dietitian or nutritionist, bariatric nurse or mental health counselor.
- Encourage participation from all participants and not dominated by a small percentage of attendees. Effective moderators are good at getting everyone to share their opinions and experience.
- Geared towards the positive . Talking about problems and challenges will be an important part of your meetings, but negativity should not be the overarching feeling when you walk away. A good moderator is effective at keeping the meeting upbeat and encouraging.
Important Support Group Tip
If you choose to join a group that is not moderated by a medical professional, be very careful about any medical advice you receive.
If the initial group meeting you attend does not have each of the above, move on to a different one.
Other Things to Look (or Ask) For
A good weight loss surgery support group may also have one or more of the following…
- Guest speakers with expertise relating to discussion topics
- Contact information of other group members or a “buddy system” that pairs you up with an individual to call when times get tough.
- Referrals to other groups as you progress. For example, at 2 years after surgery, you may want to focus on your current issues rather than issues related to surgery and recovery.
- Clothing Swaps. You will be shedding the pounds quickly for at least the first year, and buying new clothes to keep up with your weight loss can be time consuming and expensive. Some support groups encourage clothing swaps that allow members to share clothes that no longer fit with other patients.
If a group you find and like does not have the above, consider taking the initiative to get them added.
- Start by asking your surgeon
- You need to ask the right questions before joining (see below)
Weight loss surgery support groups are not “one size fits all.” You’ll need to apply your own preferences to find the one that’s right for you.
In addition to the “must-haves” listed in the previous section, consider the following…
- How many participants?
The bigger the group, the less time each participant will have to discuss their issues and the more anonymous each will be. The smaller the group, the more attention and direct feedback you will receive.
- How specialized?
Some groups have attendees at all stages of their new life while others focus on specific areas such as diet or nutrition or specific timeframes like ‘ more than 6 months after surgery.’ Groups with a broader focus can be good from an educational perspective, but once you learn the ropes you may find that a focused group is more beneficial.
- Do you feel welcomed and comfortable?
The weight loss surgery support group you choose should feel like a warm and inviting place where you can share your troubles and offer advice freely and openly. If the group has most of the above points covered but “just doesn’t feel right,” move on.
Now you know what to look for in a weight loss surgery support group, but how do you actually find them?
Talk with your bariatric surgery team. There is a good chance that your surgeon’s office…
- Coordinates their own groups,
- Works with a hospital that coordinates group meetings or
- Can refer you to one or more unaffiliated bariatric surgery support groups
If you have given your surgeon’s groups a shot and feel that they are not a good fit, try calling other hospitals and other weight loss surgery centers in your area. Even though you were not treated by them, they should be happy to have your attendance.
- Click here to find and contact other local weight loss surgery centers to ask about their support groups
If you are still unable to find a group that feels right after working with all of the hospitals and bariatric surgeons in your area, consider starting your own group. Your surgeon may even allow you to use their facilities and may be willing to include a professional on their staff as your moderator.
Regardless of which in-person group you decide to move forward with, we recommend also finding and using one or more online weight loss surgery support groups.
- You can "Ask the Expert"
- You can read about other patients' experiences with weight loss surgery support groups
Are you struggling with life after weight loss surgery? Do you have any tips that might help other patients?
Please use the form below to share your experiences or ask a question, or scroll down to review submissions from other visitors.
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