What Does Weight Loss Surgery Feel Like – 10 Before, During & After Sensations to Expect as a Bariatric Surgery Patient

What does weight loss surgery feel like? 10 sensations to expect during and after.

Almost all bariatric (weight loss) surgery patients ask the same question at some point in their journey:

“Does weight loss surgery hurt?”

You may have wondered the same thing if you’ve ever considered weight loss surgery.

After all, you read the term surgery and instantly think of cutting.

However, today’s bariatric surgery advancements mean very little cutting.

Most bariatric surgeries require incisions that are about an inch long. A laparoscopic camera is inserted into these tiny cuts. The bariatric surgeon can conduct the surgery inside your abdomen without heavy cutting. Even though the incisions are tiny, you’ll be under anesthesia so that you won’t feel a thing.

You are unlikely to feel much of anything during the surgery, especially if you take the time to choose a reputable bariatric surgeon.

When asked about the discomfort associated with bariatric surgery, Elizabeth Wolinsky, who underwent both lap-band and gastric bypass surgery, told Women’s Health Magazine, “I thought [it] would be a lot more painful and a lot longer recovery period.”

She added, “While the recovery was longer, it wasn’t more painful. As far as surgeries I’ve had, it was pretty easy.”

While you may be worried about the pain that you can expect from a weight loss procedure, you can take comfort in the fact that many advancements have been made to ensure your bariatric procedure is as comfortable and pain-free as possible.

What follows are ten other feelings you will likely experience from your initial consultation to the day of surgery and beyond (to recovery).

That’s when you will begin losing the excess weight and feeling wonderful about life in your new, slimmer body.

Let’s start with a few weeks or months before your consultation. That is typically when you begin to feel the first sensation ripping through your body.

Before Weight Loss Surgery

1. Anxiety

A glass of water and a tomato next to a measuring tape.

One aspect of becoming a bariatric surgery patient is that you must undergo certain lifestyle changes if you want the results you expect.

It’s normal to assume the worst automatically.

You may suspect you will be forced to live on rabbit food and water for the rest of your life.

However, the changes required for life beyond weight loss surgery are not that drastic.

Instead, there is a focus on health, so the changes you can expect consist of smaller meal portions, healthier foods, chewing slower, and enjoying your meals instead of rapidly chewing them down.

If you think you’ll miss food desperately following surgery and that all of the required lifestyle changes are impossible to commit to, you might want to read Tonya Killmon’s story.

Tonya underwent a vertical sleeve gastrectomy, which limits her stomach volume, allowing her to hold very little food. This, in turn, makes you eat less and consume fewer calories, resulting in rapid and long-term weight loss.

When asked if she misses being able to eat like she used to, Tonya told the Daily Press that, before surgery, she never realized how much she turned to food for comfort or boredom.

“Since my surgery, I have viewed food completely differently! My life no longer revolves around a desire to eat for comfort but a desire to eat for health and sustenance. I realize how much better I feel when I fuel my body with healthy food. It’s truly given me a new view of life and a much-needed lifestyle change!” said Tonya.

Though she does claim that she isn’t perfect and that her cravings are not something she can turn off, she added, “I now have the motivation and will to just say no.”

The anxiety you feel may also revolve around finances.

For instance, it’s a common misconception that bariatric surgery is cosmetic and thus not covered by insurance.

You should know, however, that while extreme weight loss is sure to transform your appearance, the most important benefits of the surgery affect your health and are not simply cosmetic.

That means that insurance will cover some or all of the tab in some cases.

The presence of other conditions that are aggravated by obesity, like high blood pressure or diabetes, can increase the likelihood that your insurance company will cover the weight loss procedure.

Your anxiety about upcoming lifestyle changes and finances can be mitigated by discussing them with your bariatric surgeon.

Your surgeon can answer your questions based on experience and facts, not conjecture.

For instance, to alleviate your anxiety about the future, you may ask how much weight you can be expected to lose.

When asked that question, your bariatric surgeon may tell you that people who opt for the sleeve gastrectomy, which is just one procedure available, go on to lose 40%-80% of their excess weight (individual results may vary).

2. Fear of Weight Loss Surgery

Do a Google search for true bariatric patient stories. You will find every level of story, including horror stories, amazing life-changing stories, and everything.

Though there are far more positive stories on the internet around bariatric surgery, we as humans tend to focus on the scary ones. These are the true accounts (supposedly) that tend to keep us awake at night.

As you read these stories, you may focus on potential side effects that are on the list besides bariatric surgery on various websites, like internal bleeding, malnutrition, and weight regain.

Bariatric surgery is indeed an actual surgery. Even though it is minimally invasive and involves tiny incisions and a laparoscopic camera, complications can occur.

However, The American Society for Metabolic and Bariatric Surgery (ASMBS) reports that the chances of having a major complication during or after weight loss surgery is around 4.3%.

That is an incredibly low statistic.

Here is what that statistic doesn’t tell you. The complications associated with staying obese are far more dangerous than a bariatric procedure, where all the stops are pulled to ensure your safety.

In other words, the risks of weight loss surgery are infinitesimally low compared to doing nothing.

The risks of staying obese include diabetes, stroke, heart disease, and early death. Obesity can also make the symptoms of illnesses like COVID-19 more severe.

Once you put things like that into perspective, any fear you may feel begins to melt away especially when you begin to focus on all the positive changes you will surely experience as a bariatric surgery patient.

You may also fear making a mistake by opting for surgery.

This common fear revolves around bariatrics that you are somehow cheating by signing up for surgery.

And that you haven’t tried enough to lose weight before opting for a bariatric procedure.

This is called “resistance,” essentially your mind trying to talk you out of improving your life.

Here’s another way to frame it: You cannot become a bariatric surgery patient without trying every method possible to lose weight. Weight loss surgery is reserved for those patients who cannot lose weight any other way.

If your surgeon cleared you for surgery, you have been given a tool to finally do what you’ve wanted for some time – lose the excess weight to get more out of life.

That’s not cheating; choosing health and a longer, happier life!

3. A Whirlwind of Emotions

A doctor is checking a patient's blood pressure.

If the anxiety and fear don’t deter you, your next step is to schedule a consultation with a qualified bariatric surgeon.

If the consultation goes well and you are cleared for surgery, you may experience a rollercoaster of emotions.

You will have all this information coming in and may sometimes feel overwhelmed.

For instance, right after your initial exam and testing, you will be asked to complete a special program that educates you about the surgery and the required lifestyle changes.

These include dietary and exercise changes that make extreme weight loss possible.

Why is Gastric Sleeve the Best Bariatric Surgery for the Majority of Patients with Obesity?

Even if you conducted research beforehand, you will probably learn much more about weight loss surgery and what is involved than you ever thought you would.

However, all of this is good, and if you can manage the overload for a little while, you will soon see that all the learning was well worth it.

All the programs, education, and meetings with your surgeon prepare you for a successful weight loss procedure.

As the day of the procedure looms, your anxiety may increase, but again, discuss your feelings with your surgeon.

Your surgeon will likely encourage you to relax, particularly the evening before surgery.

That’s because your life is about to change for the better. Your weight loss journey is all downhill from here.

During the Weight Loss Procedure

4. Nothing

Operating Weight Loss Surgery

That’s right. You won’t feel a thing during the surgery because you will be administered an anesthetic that renders you unconscious.

You may be thinking, but what about after you wake up?

After Weight Loss Surgery

5. Slight Discomfort

Like any surgery, you may feel some discomfort upon waking. For instance, you may feel extra soreness at the incision points along your abdomen.

This soreness is completely normal. Your surgeon can help with any pain you feel using over-the-counter or prescription medications.

As with any surgery, you may feel icky as you recover, but this is your body undergoing the healing process. Keep your eyes on the prize, which is your smaller waist. All the new clothes you will get to wear when your weight loss results are finally realized.

6. Physical Changes after Weight Loss Surgery

Depending on your surgery type, your body has been altered in some way.

Because of these alterations, you may experience a range of physical changes.

For instance, 85% of patients who undergo Roux-en-Y Gastric Bypass (RNYGB) surgery experience extreme bouts of diarrhea, according to the ASMBS. They call this condition the dumping syndrome.

Dumping syndrome doesn’t just arise out of nowhere, however. It usually comes about due to poor food choices on the part of the patient.

Eating refined sugars, fried foods, dairy, and some fats can cause mild-to-severe dumping syndrome symptoms.

Mild symptoms include sweating and flushing, and you may feel slightly lightheaded.

Moderate symptoms may include nausea and active audible bowel sounds. You may also have loose stool, complications, and embarrassing gas.

More severe symptoms can include cramping and the desire to lie down until the symptoms have subsided.

Other potential side effects of surgery include constipation, wound infections, blood clots, and leaks at the surgical site.

But once again, we only have to look at the ASMBS statistic that says that less than 5% of bariatric patients experience serious complications due to surgery.

Talk to your surgeon about your risk of side effects for an earnest and fact-based answer.

Other changes in your body are related to hormone fluctuations that occur due to bariatric surgery.

These hormones regulate hunger and satiety (feeling full).

For instance, after surgery, though you may want to eat, you may not feel very hungry.

Your doctor will put you on a liquid diet for a short while. Therefore, you can obtain the nutrients your body needs and ensure you don’t have cravings as your body continues to heal.

Your food cravings may change as your body adjusts to the alterations made by surgery. For instance, some patients find that their sense of smell changes, and they no longer crave fried foods, bacon, dairy, bread, and rice.

A bowl of vegetables and a measuring tape.

Instead, your body will begin to crave healthier foods, which are the ones that give you the most fuel for a zestful life.

To help aid in your nutrition, your surgeon may recommend certain vitamins and supplements that help your body absorb the nutrients you aren’t getting from food, such as iron, vitamin B12, folate, Vitamin D, and calcium.

7. A Mental Shift

Weight loss surgery is no easy fix. It will still be challenging to shed the maximum amount of weight.

To aid you in your weight loss journey, your surgeon will give you guidelines for adopting the lifestyle changes necessary for long-term weight loss.

These lifestyle changes help you commit to better nutrition and regular exercise, such as the 150 minutes per week that the US Department of Health and Human Services recommends.

While you will have help in these areas, you still need to find the mental fortitude necessary to make your body move, commit to healthier eating, and continue convincing yourself of the entire purpose of all this: to get the most out of life!

In addition to being forced to find your mental toughness, you may struggle with a range of negative emotions following surgery. Not everyone experiences these bad feelings, but some do, so they are worth mentioning.

The “After” images of post-bariatric patients often depict them smiling and overjoyed for the camera. A woman may beam with delight as she holds up a pair of oversized jeans that no longer fit her as she displays her narrower waist.

That elation is a common result of surgery, yet you can experience some negative emotions after undergoing weight loss surgery, such as depression.

Feeling down in any way may be an incongruent reaction to weight loss surgery. Why would you be depressed if you can shed most of your excess weight?

A Yale University study in the Obesity Journal claimed that 13% of patients reported an increase in the Beck Depression Inventory six to 12 months after gastric bypass surgery.

What Do Studies Suggest?

Notice that was for surgeries like gastric bypass, not necessarily for procedures like sleeve gastrectomy, which is considered the safer and premier weight loss method for the morbidly obese.

The Beck Depression Inventory is a numerical rating that measures self-esteem, social functioning, and eating disorder behavior.

While it is true that most bariatric patients experience an overall life improvement after surgery, for a small percentage of people, depression can worsen.

The reason why depression occurs is speculative without the input of a mental health professional.

However, it would be best to consider that you are about to change your life quickly. You are having weight loss surgery to improve your life and become healthier.

But others around you may suddenly pay attention to you, which can stress your life.

Co-workers may wonder what kind of work you have done. Family members may be concerned if you are being healthy about your weight loss. And everyone may start to marvel at your new figure, asking how you did it.

For some bariatric patients, this newfound spotlight on their very being can manifest into overeating, alcohol abuse, or drug abuse.

Others may experience a range of other negative emotions, like rage.

Are these negative emotions guaranteed? Not.

You can mitigate or alleviate any negative emotions you feel during your recovery by working with your surgeon. Your surgeon can point you to qualified counselors and other professionals. They can teach you coping mechanisms that don’t involve eating or turning to other substances for solace.

You can stay on track while keeping your mental fortitude strong enough to continue on your weight loss journey for as long as it takes to be successful.

8. Relief

A man in a living room looking at his stomach.

After the first month, your life will return to normal. The weight will fall off, and your medical problems (if you had any) should be much easier to control.

You will be able to eat regular foods, just in smaller portions.

As the weight comes off, you will begin to feel lighter. Also, you will have far more energy to move around.

Instead of hiding away from the world, you may suddenly desire to experience all life offers.

It sounds cliché to say that weight loss surgery gives you a new lease on life. But that’s just what it feels like. You have a new body, and the world is wide open.

What will you choose to do once the weight has been discarded? What if you have an entire world to discover with renewed energy and a suddenly increased zest for life?

9. Determination

As your doctor will remind you before the procedure, weight loss surgery is only a tool. It is not a fix-all for losing a significant amount of excess weight.

Your doctor will help you shed the pounds. He keeps them off by putting you in contact with qualified dieticians and fitness experts.

Adopting new diet and exercise habits may seem impossible at the beginning of your weight loss journey. Lifestyle changes are difficult; there are no two ways around it.

But as the weight comes off, you will be more driven than ever to drop it and keep it off for good.

A woman in a bikini and a woman in a bikini.

You will find yourself wanting to eat right. Also, you want to exercise to see an even slimmer you in the mirror.

How much exercise should you do as you continue healing?

The Obesity Action Coalition recommends that patients cleared by their bariatric surgeon introduce physical activity into their daily routines, working up to 60 minutes of exercise six days a week. That level of intensity is necessary, the coalition says, for promoting post-surgery weight loss success.

You often see patients joining gyms and going through fitness boot camps or mud runs after surgery. That’s because they are so eager to achieve their weight loss goals.

Also, post-surgery patients now have the energy and physical capabilities to push their bodies to the limit. And they have a great time doing it!

10. Self-Love

Choosing health over obesity is the ultimate form of self love.

The most amazing thing about bariatric surgery is that most patients learn to love themselves again.

And if you ask most patients if they could go back in time and do it all over again, most would do so in a heartbeat.

To them, the mild anxiety, fear, discomfort, and any other negative sensations they felt pale compared to the vast improvements to their quality of life.

95% of bariatric patients say their life has improved because of surgery.

Post-bariatric patients now report more desire to be active. Those who did take medications now take fewer. And those with associated conditions, like diabetes and hypertension, find that their conditions have diminished or have gone into remission entirely.

Is the road easy? No. Once again, bariatric surgery is a tool for losing excessive weight, not a magic wand.

But bariatric surgery is an excellent choice if you want to be healthier instead of obese.

Guard Against All the Negative Feelings by Choosing Your Surgeon Wisely

You now know the sensations you may experience as you prepare for, undergo, and recover from weight loss surgery.

Remember, however, that no two patients are alike, and everyone’s bariatric surgery experience is unique.

You can alleviate negative emotions and ensure a more positive experience, despite any discomfort, by choosing a surgeon you know you can trust.

Like most looking for a weight loss surgeon, you have searched Google, scoured the bariatric surgeon review sites, and read all the patient testimonials.

But you may not know exactly what you are looking for.

Be sure to search for a bariatric surgeon with a proven track record. Also, he should have an entire collection of five-star patient reviews. Those reviews have come from patients who have finally been able to live life to the fullest.

It might also help to choose a doctor like Dr. Moeinolmolki of Healthy Life Bariatrics in Los Angeles, California.

Dr. Moein is an expert in both bariatrics and post-surgery body contouring. It means you can achieve your weight loss and body shape objectives afterward, all under one roof.

Start your weight loss journey and tame any negative feelings by scheduling a virtual consultation with Dr. Moein today by calling (310) 861-7844.

Dr. Babak Moeinolmolki
July 11, 2020
Dr. Babak Moeinolmolki
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