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Back to reality after bariatric surgery.

(I feel like I must lead this piece with a disclaimer – I am a bariatric patient that shares my story and experiences with all my imperfections. The fact that I am sharing, does not mean I do everything right all the time. It means I am struggling and when I struggle, I work hard not to go into guilt and shame. One of the tools for me to not go into bashing myself up, is reaching into community. When you reach into community, you find similar and different experiences. You find delightfully imperfect humans, also on their journey. And this journey is freaking real. And long. And short. And easy. And difficult. All at the same time.)

Facing the fear of weight regain

Your bariatric team will tell you a hundred times during the process: "surgery is just a tool. If you don’t change your habits, you will regain the weight." Four and a half years post-surgery, I realise that that regain fear will probably never leave me.

But, it is not unique to bariatric patients or obese people who lost weight in any way. When I chat with my “I’ve-always-been-skinny” friends, I realise that managing your health and weight is a reality for everyone. So take the label off. You have the fear and risks because you are human. I’m just a normal person, that needs to eat a healthy diet and live a healthy lifestyle. That is the first MINDSHIFT when you settle into the real life after stabilising.

Facing anxiety during weight loss

I experienced significant anxiety during the first year with the weight just falling off. One of my triggers was being treated as a “poppie”. I subconsciously found comfort in being overweight in certain circumstances. It served me in a way. The fat bias was a comfort zone. People labelled me lazy, or slow, or whatever else sits in those biases, and then I could surprise and wow them, because I am not. As the layers melted off, so did my protection methods. Being seen was real. And once I dealt with how different people treated me, another reality dawned: now I have to socialise differently.

New guidelines to navigate social gatherings

Reality also meant integrating my social life with the new guidelines. I quickly figured out how to do a weekend away with friends, a girl’s night, or an office party. I have these basic rules that have served me well:

  1. Always have a glass in your hand. I always have a glass of water and a glass of non-alcoholic drinks that look like alcohol in colour. I find that sugar-free ice tea, water with mint or lemon in, or ginger ale – with ice, which takes out the gas mostly, works well. You look socially engaged if you have a glass to sip on. I usually have two glasses. Water and a drink. It makes it easy to decline offers of more drinks, as you already have two.

  2. Use a wine glass for water and non-alcoholic drinks. It fits in and looks like you are having a drink.

  3. Appoint yourself as the bar lady if it is a house party. Pour your own and others’ drinks. If your partner is with you and pouring your drinks, ensure you are on the same page. That way, you control exactly how much alcohol you take.

  4. Ask people not to pour you a drink before your drink is finished. The waiter topping up your wine while still drinking doesn’t allow you to control your intake. Finish one glass, then refill, it so you can know how much you consume.

  5. If you are at a shooter kind of party, only have non-acholic drinks, and have half a shooter every second round. It’s not ideal, but it is a way to participate without overindulgence. Have a limit and communicate the limit. My limit is 3 and usually works well. That means it is the only alcohol I will have for the evening; I’m part of the vibe and can handle it, as I take it with loads of water and other liquids sip by sip.

  6. Eat before you go to the party. Have a protein-filled snack before you go, and take a snack platter with veg sticks, biltong, and nuts that you can snack on (see the blog with snack ideas and recipes by Nicola Drabble). Don’t drink on an empty stomach! I have a habit of carrying nuts or biltong in my bag, and if chips are the only snack there, I will put my snack in a glass and have it.

  7. Be honest with your friends and family. My friends and family know that one drink for me is like four drinks for them. Educating honestly and sharing that you can participate in a specific way or not participate at all give people a clear indication of what is good for you and your boundaries. Don’t hesitate to communicate honestly.

Have fun!

Here’s the bottom line: Have fun. Don’t focus on the rules. Make the decisions beforehand, and don’t allow yourself to negotiate. Then, stick to them, and focus on the fun. If you are having a jol, dancing, laughing, telling stories, and connecting with your people, they won’t notice what you eat or drink. They will see you shine and enjoy a good time with you. Often, our behaviour and fixation put us outside the circle. HAVE FUN.

Enjoy your new body and allow yourself the experience. It is real, and you deserve to live life to the fullest, while having the best time of your life.

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