Often times, those contemplating surgery interpret others’ inquiries about their decision as being filled with judgment when it is not. Many are quick to interpret these questions as hostile, when they are usually of a curious nature. While there are certainly plenty of naturally thin people who believe that anyone suffering from obesity must be a contemptuous glutton, the majority of Americans understand that the rules for weight gain and obesity are not equivalent from one person to the next. Rather than assuming that all questions about your surgery require a defensive stance, feel free to share your struggles with others and your hopes for what the surgery will do to improve your life. The war against obesity and weight loss surgery discrimination must be fought one opinion at a time and an open, honest approach to your decision and experiences is our best weapon against weight based bias.
Often times, when a person who also suffers from obesity questions your decision, there curiosity is driven by their own thoughts about the surgery. The decision to undergo weight loss surgery is often a multi-year process and the person asking the questions may only be six months behind you in their decision making process. If you feel comfortable, be open and honest. This can be a very emotionally complex conversation with many layers of feelings.
If you are similar sized or smaller than the person you are having the discussion with, the implications of your decision are clear – if you need surgery then so do they. This fact can be quite unpleasant for some to face. If the conversation feels uncomfortable, don’t immediately assume that their resistance comes from a judgment against you. It’s much more likely their negative emotions come from their feelings about their own weight problems. Be understanding and resist any instincts to engage in an argument. Remember, you are making this decision for you and not for others. As you start to lose weight after surgery, you can be sure that others are watching and you shouldn’t be surprised when someone who you initially thought was judgmental about your decision approaches you with questions about your experience in their quest to learn more about how they can more successfully battle their own weight problems.
If you are talking to someone about your decision who weighs slightly less, there can also be many layers to your conversation. Many people who struggle with their weight look at others who are bigger as a rationalization that they don’t have a problem because they’re not as big as someone else. When you announce your decision to have surgery, they may immediately feel threatened because you have unwittingly given them an excuse for confronting their own weight problems. They know that within a few months, you will weigh less than them and they will no longer be able to excuse away their own weight problems. Again, be open, honest about your struggles and positive about your hopes for the impact the surgery will have on your life.
Deciding who to tell about your decision is very personal and varies tremendously from person to person. Some people immediately announce their decision on facebook or other social media and are quick to tell anyone who asks about their weight loss about their surgery. Others tell absolutely no one. I’ve even had a few patients who didn’t tell their spouse – I was instructed to explain that they were having surgery for their heartburn. While I don’t recommend this secretive approach, the decision about how to share your weight loss surgery experience is yours and yours alone to make.
Not everyone will agree with your choice, but this is to be expected. Some will be concerned for your safety, while others may offer resistance for reasons that are more about them than you. Others will support you wholeheartedly and wish you nothing but the best. It is likely you will have to deal with the entire spectrum of approval. Just remember, you are making this decision for you, not for them.