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How Weight Loss Surgery Affects Your Mental Health

Lose 100 pounds, and your whole body changes — including your brain, your hormones, your gut bacteria and other elements connected to mental health. When you look better, exercise regularly and are physically healthier overall, you are likely to be less anxious and more comfortable around other people.

Having bariatric surgery can lead to improved mental health. On the flip side, your strict new diet could set off a food fear similar to what anorexics battle. It can also trigger depression.

The medical community keeps learning more about how various parts of your body interact, and how that might affect mental health. If you understand the basics, you can take steps to avoid post-op mental illness.

Understand the Gut-Brain Axis

In the most basic terms, bariatric surgery is an operation on your stomach-intestinal area, aka your gut. In the last couple of years, scientists have zoomed in on the “gut-brain axis.” They’ve long known that micro-organisms live in the human digestive tract. Most are beneficial, but some are harmful. These bacteria can affect your body in many different ways — including your brain. That means an unhealthy gut can lead to mental health challenges, including depression and anxiety.

Researchers are still studying this, but they’ve learned enough already to help bariatric patients stay mentally sound. For example, in one study mice that ingested a gut bacteria called campylobacter jejuni became anxious. That might be the case for humans too, especially since gut health affects hormones. Hormones also are related to anxiety and depression.

The opposite is also true: Your brain can affect your gut health, or “microbiome.” What you eat can affect your microbiome and your brain can affect your microbiome as well.

The best way to keep your microbiome — and your brain — healthy is to eat wholesome natural foods, including fermented choices. Whole foods can help the good bacteria grow. Avoid highly processed foods. They can help bad bacteria flourish.

Bariatric Surgery and Eating Disorders

Most bariatric patients feel joy at shedding excess pounds after weight-loss surgery and have improved mental health overall. A small percentage might develop, or continue to have, mental health struggles aside from depression and anxiety.

  • Anorexia. Anorexics eat way too little, which affects their ability to stay healthy.
  • Bulimia. Bulimics force themselves to overeat and then expel food after eating, such as by vomiting.
  • Body dysmorphia. Body dysmorphia isn’t really an eating disorder. It involves seeing a small flaw in one’s body, real or imagined, as a huge obstacle.
  • Effects of weight bias. It’s a sad fact that some people hold a bias against those they consider obese. While you will likely experience less weight bias once you slim down, you might struggle to shake the emotional harm this bias has caused.

How To Stay Mentally Healthy After Weight-Loss Surgery

Most data shows bariatric patients become slimmer and healthier, and also happier and less anxious. In addition, most bariatric surgeons require patients to have a licensed practitioner perform a mental health assessment before agreeing to perform surgery; the goal is to make sure you’re mentally healthy before beginning the process. Still, it pays to take easy, positive steps to keep your spirits high — in addition to shunning processed foods. We know these tips make a difference.

  • Set realistic expectations. You won’t morph into an A-list head-turner overnight. You also won’t keep all the weight off if you eat unhealthy foods and stop exercising. Envision the true new you: thinner, choosing foods and portions carefully, and moving your body regularly.
  • Do not define yourself by your weight. You are not “Jesse who lost 100 pounds.” You are so much more than only your weight, weight loss, job, hobbies, family relations or friends. You are all of that and way more. Learn to accept and love the whole package.
  • Exercise regularly. Spend at least 200 minutes walking, jogging, on weight machines, on the yoga mat, dancing, cycling, rowing … whatever physical movement appeals to you. Studies prove again and again that exercise releases endorphins and dramatically improves mental health.
  • Maintain a good support system. You need people. Surround yourself with family, friends, colleagues or bariatric support group peers — whoever boosts you up instead of taking you down.
  • Seek help when you need it. If you start feeling out of control, seek help immediately. Do not wait until symptoms get worse. Call a mentor, a loved one, a mental health counselor or even your internist.

Weight-loss surgery generally leads to improved mental health, but some patients suffer depression, anxiety or other mental health challenges afterward. Work toward mental health by understanding the gut-brain axis, eating natural foods, exercising, having realistic expectations and building a supportive community. Then go out and enjoy the new you.

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