Bariatric Surgery: Who did you tell/not tell about it?
July 24, 2017 8:29 AM   Subscribe

I'm having a vertical sleeve gastrectomy on August 18th. I'm trying to navigate who I want to tell/need to tell about this. Did you have bariatric surgery? What was you personal matrix like of who you told/who you didn't tell? How did you go about it?

I want to have a support system and I want to make sure I don't create situations or weirdness by being secretive, but I also don't feel the need to discuss my personal decisions in agonizing detail with every family member or friend or co-worker or neighbor, to personally address each person's misconceptions, alternative ideas, or what have you.

Who did you include in the loop? How did you tell them?

So far, I've kept it small. I spoke with a couple who have both struggled with (and even written extensively about) obesity. I told my close friend/co-worker I have lunch with every day, because it would be weird to stop going to lunch forever without comment. My mom knows. I tested the waters telling a friend/fellow neighborhood parent I trust yesterday. That went okay. I told my boss because I wanted her to understand why I had a dozen doctor's appointments in a short span and why I would need time off.

But I still don't know if I feel like telling my siblings. My older brother and his wife are thin running enthusiasts and while they're A+ human beings, we don't talk much and I don't see much reason to bring them in on something this far out of their wheelhouse. I don't want to get beat up with platitudes from my other sister-in-law who's determined to meme, hashtag, Blue Apron, and pinterest her way to fitness. I don't want my youngest brother's wife (who is very heavy as well) to feel any kind of secondary pressure or judgment. Ditto my favorite aunt.

And you can probably imagine that I give zero fucks what the average person at my office thinks.

But I also know there's value in some people knowing, in some people being in my corner for this. And maybe I'm kidding myself to think it could entirely escape notice if I drop 50-100 pounds in the next six months while developing a penchant for broth. People are going to notice I'm dropping a bunch of weight and I will have to say something, right?

What did you do?
posted by DirtyOldTown to Health & Fitness (17 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
Almost forgot an important one: my kid. I'm planning on tell him when I start the pre-surgical diet. I want him to know what I'm doing but I don't want him to worry about it any longer than necessary. How did you handle it with your kids?
posted by DirtyOldTown at 8:31 AM on July 24, 2017

I haven't had this happen, but yes, I want to nth that people will absolutely, 100% notice if you have bariatric surgery - the weight is dropped so fast that your body doesn't really adjust in the same way at first. So they're going to find out, the question is whether you want to manage that telling or not.
posted by corb at 8:32 AM on July 24, 2017 [4 favorites]

I probably should have left this open to a more general audience. As long as the reply represents thoughts on how I might approach this rather than whether I should have the surgery (which I super duper promise you is all talked out and settled IRL), that is fine, too.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 8:52 AM on July 24, 2017

I had gastric bypass last September, and I tell everyone about it. There's such a stigma against it, especially in the weight loss/fitness community, and I like to do my part to try to erase the stigma as much as possible.

That being said, I can absolutely understand why you wouldn't want to publicly broadcast it. People are going to notice, though. I went from a size 32 to a 20 in the first couple of months, and I'm at a 16 now. Plus I don't eat nearly as much as my coworkers and frequently skip out on office cake/cookies/whatever else. If I didn't mention it, they'd know something was up. Just have a generic "Oh, I'm on a diet" or something prepared when the inevitable questions come.

Good luck with your surgery!
posted by heysierra at 9:00 AM on July 24, 2017 [2 favorites]

I don't have experience with this procedure specifically, but I do have experience with surgery and lifestyle changes and choices in general. I think this is in the same neighborhood as a slightly embarrassing but necessary surgery: you don't need to tell many people about it at all. You don't need to lie about it, but you don't need to tell the whole story, either.

If it comes up, you can simply say "I had some surgery, I'm recovering well." Regarding weight loss, a generic statement might be "I've made some major lifestyle changes", or "I've changed the way I eat." (Both of which are true, without getting into all the details.)

It sounds like you have a great rationale for those you have told and those you don't want to tell. (If it directly affects them in some way, or if you think they will be helpful or supportive.) This sounds like a great rationale to use moving forward.

Good on you for doing this. Good luck with everything.
posted by Cranialtorque at 9:00 AM on July 24, 2017 [3 favorites]

I don't think you have any obligation to tell your siblings, but I think you should consider whether you want to try to keep it a secret from them. They'll definitely notice, and they may ask your mom (or someone else) what's up. Are they comfortable covering for you? And you especially don't want to put your kid in a position where he feels like he has to cover for you or where he gets the impression that there's anything shameful about your medical stuff.

I guess that my impulse is not to tell people like your siblings, who you don't want to tell or don't think would be supportive, but also not to make a big effort to keep it a secret. If the topic comes up, let them know that you appreciate their support and understand their curiosity, but you find the whole topic kind of boring and don't want to dwell on it.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 9:09 AM on July 24, 2017 [6 favorites]

I had a gastric bypass in April, and have told everyone. I told folks at work to explain my absence, since I needed three weeks off. I told friends to count on their support, and because it's a big change, and that's what friends are for. My family's been super-supportive, too. I figure one way to erase the stigma is to talk about it. It's NOT the easy way out. It's just another weapon to use in the battle for health. So far I'm down 50 lbs, and am off my arthritis meds, PCOS meds and C-PAP machine. Best thing I've ever done! Feel free to MeMail if you have any questions.
posted by jhope71 at 9:10 AM on July 24, 2017 [8 favorites]

My wife had a R-n-Y about 7 years ago now. She lost ~175 lbs. and has kept almost all of it off. When people asked about her weight loss (and boy howdy they did), she was not shy about telling them all of the things she did at part of her weight-loss plan, from therapy, to seeing a nutritionist, to pre-surgery diet and exercise, to surgery. She feels like it is important to be honest, so that people 1) don't see bariatric surgery as "giving up" and 2) so that they understand that surgery isn't "easy".

As far as telling your family? I mean, if you are in any kind of contact with them, you are going to have to either tell them, or lie about how you have lost so much weight. Sure, as Cranialtorque says, you can truthfully say "lifestyle/diet changes" to acquaintances, but I don't think your close family members will just let the conversation end there. I guess it is up to you what to do at that point, but I don't think I'd want to lie to my siblings like that (and keep in mind that you will have to ask your Mom and other clued in people to lie on your behalf).

It's not easy, the minefield of talking to people about weight loss - some people will react poorly, some people will pester you for every detail about what you can and can't eat, some people will made shitty digs at you, but most people will be pretty cool about it. My wife is also really committed to being a forthcoming and honest source of information to friends/family/coworkers who are beginning their own bariatric surgery investigations. She feels it is important to put her own successful experiences out there to combat the fact that you often only hear about the negative cases in popular media. It's up to you if you want to talk about your experience like that, but a lot of people will ask about it.
posted by Rock Steady at 9:12 AM on July 24, 2017 [4 favorites]

Oh yeah, kids. Our daughter was about 8 or 9 when my wife had the surgery, and we talked about it a lot going in to the surgery, as the lifestyle changes started several months out, and we wanted her to be prepared and not surprised, as well as feel like she was involved in such a major decision for our family. It worked out really well, and she was one of my wife's best caretakers in the immediate recovery, and one of her best cheerleaders over the medium/long term.
posted by Rock Steady at 9:15 AM on July 24, 2017 [1 favorite]

I know several people who've had it at the friend/ colleague level. If they bring it up I say "oh you are? Cool, hope it all goes well!" or "good luck and let me know if you need me to water your plants" or something similarly bland that does not involve any comment on their appearance or offer an opinion. I really think 99% of folks will offer a similarly bland platitude and be happy for you basically.

The one close friend who did it didn't tell anyone till afterwards and I did and continue to worry about her as she is a heavy drinker. But I pretty much keep that to myself too as it's not like I can influence her much anyway.
posted by fshgrl at 9:25 AM on July 24, 2017 [1 favorite]

People are going to notice, though. I went from a size 32 to a 20 in the first couple of months, and I'm at a 16 now.

My coworker kept treatment (for a different medical condition) under wraps and it led to a lot of coworkers worrying that she had cancer. You may want to tell a couple friends at work, and give them permission to answer the "Hey, you're friends with DirtyOldTown; is everything ok?" questions.
posted by Blue Jello Elf at 9:28 AM on July 24, 2017 [9 favorites]

Aside from your child, it's no one's business. You may choose to share the information because you want to de-stigmatize it, or so others will be encouraged, or not. Once you tell people, you can't take back the information, so maybe start with being out of work for medical reasons, and then see how you feel. People love to speculate and may ask; this is a good time to practice saying That's awfully personal and I'd prefer not to discuss it. I tend to be very open, but people have no right to your personal info and are often jackasses about knowing it or not knowing it.
posted by theora55 at 11:38 AM on July 24, 2017 [3 favorites]

My stepdad's post-surgery eating habits were so far from the range of what I'd consider normal eating that I'd suggest that if you're eating around other people, your choices are definitely more between disclosing or people worrying than between disclosing and people thinking everything's totally normal. Among other things, if your procedure is anything like his was, you are probably going to need the support of the people around you to stick to those changes even if they seem weird. You need to not have people pushing food at you that you can't have or trying to suggest you eat just a little more because they're worried about you.
posted by Sequence at 11:50 AM on July 24, 2017 [6 favorites]

My colleague had it a few years back. He told pretty much everyone. This made sense for him. First, he was an important part of a fairly workaholic organization: the downtime from the surgery, and especially from any complications, was going to need to be explained. Second, he wasn't a sad junk-food inhaler type dude, he was a food lover and entertained a lot: the lifestyle change needed to be made clear. And, finally, as people noted above: the weight-loss is very conspicuously fast.

As for stigma, any sustainable weight-loss involves permanent, visible lifestyle changes. People are going to find out and for the most part you want them to have some investment as well.
posted by MattD at 11:54 AM on July 24, 2017 [1 favorite]

I had gastric sleeve almost two years ago. I told everyone in my small office, mainly because I knew that I would be going back to work quickly, and felt I needed the moral support. Plus I was the department head and I didn't want them to think I was slacking, when really I just didn't feel well. The first two or three weeks are the hardest.

I also told my adult children but left it to them to tell my grandchildren. As far as other people, I don't bring it up unless they ask, and people will ask. I figure that's it's been such a benefit in my life that being open about it might help someone else that might be considering it. It is very hard to make such a big lifestyle change and I'm proud of accomplishing it. I know at least four people who have had it since I did. I'm also off blood pressure, diabetes, and thyroid medication.

But in the end, it's your body and your decision who to tell or not.
posted by tamitang at 12:50 PM on July 24, 2017 [2 favorites]

Your weight isn't anybody's business, even though people do judge and comment all the time. But of course, tell whomever you feel comfortable telling. Two relatives of mine have had bariatric surgery -- one has kept the weight of for years, and the other hasn't. Many uninformed people don't know how much effort and self-discipline is involved before the surgery and forever after, and they can be very judgmental. If you're not comfortable with family and friends talking behind your back about your surgery and results, keep it to yourself.
posted by wryly at 2:44 PM on July 24, 2017

If anyone's curious, I had the surgery Friday, August 18th. I was out of the hospital the next day and back to work the very next Tuesday. It wasn't that painful, I recovered quickly, and I'm doing well. I'm glad I didn't bother telling my co-workers. Between that and the two week liquid pre-op diet, I've lost 45 pounds so far and none of these miserable pukes have noticed anyway.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 2:28 PM on September 7, 2017 [7 favorites]

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