The Value of Support Groups for Bariatric Patients - Rational Foods
The Value of Support Groups for Bariatric Patients

The Value of Support Groups for Bariatric Patients

October 30, 2018

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A growing body of evidence tells us that bariatric patients’ support networks can make or break their success. The takeaway for registered dietitians: If your clients don’t have the right support mechanisms in place, they may be setting themselves up to fail.

Here’s a closer look at why support systems matter so much for bariatric patients, along with tips for helping them find the right support.

Why Bariatric Surgery Support Matters

According to the Bariatric Surgery Source, access to “good weight loss surgery support groups” leads to an average of 12 percent more excess weight loss. Not only that, but the more frequently patients attend support groups, the more weight they tend to lose.

Indeed, bariatric support groups serve a number of functions, including providing the “real story” for people considering weight loss surgery, answering the questions of pre-op patients, supporting post-op “newbies” and helping long-term post-op patients remain on track.

Additionally, bariatric support groups can also be useful for friends and family members of bariatric patients looking to understand and support their loved ones’ new lifestyles and eating behaviors.

What Makes a Support Group “Good”?

All of which begs the question: What makes a “good” support group? Much of it comes down to personal experience. Experienced moderators and participants who are familiar with the challenges faced by bariatric patients are able to keep discussions focused, relevant and positive.

But being experienced is just part of what makes an effective moderator. A medical background can also be helpful, while an optimistic attitude is vital. Groups with regularly scheduled meetings, meanwhile, are also most likely to help post-op patients be consistent in their efforts.

Finding a Bariatric Support Group

As more people are turning to bariatric surgery, more resources are emerging to suit their needs. Some bariatric surgery centers coordinate their own groups, so this is a smart place to start. If not, the surgical team may be able to refer post-op patients to support group meetings at local hospitals, community centers, churches or other locations.

Before your patients join a group, however, it’s also critical to ask the right questions — beginning with the size of the group. While neither small nor large groups are inherently better, each has their own unique advantages and disadvantages. For example, while large groups tend to have a more anonymous feel, smaller groups offer the potential of more direct interactions and feedback.

Furthermore, while some groups are broader in nature, others are more specialized, based on everything from the type of surgery to the recovery stage. Again, while a group with a more general focus may best for some post-op patients, a focused group may be preferable for others.

Lastly is the matter of “feel.” It’s important for post-op patients to feel comfortable, welcome and safe while participating in support groups. If the fit doesn’t feel right, bariatric patients should be encouraged to explore other options.

The Online Option

What if your post-op patients can’t find a bariatric surgery support group in a convenient location or at an accessible time? They’re not without options, thanks to a preponderance of internet forums and social media pages populated by bariatric patients sharing everything from their experiences to their advice to favorite recipes.

Think online support groups don’t work? Think again. Research shows that they can be a valuable resource for people trying to lose weight — either on their own or as a complement to in-person meetings. Ultimately, there are many pieces to the weight loss puzzle for bariatric patients, and the profound value of weight loss surgery support groups should not be underestimated.

Writes Colleen Cook for the Obesity Action Coalition of her personal experiences with support groups following weight loss surgery, “As weight-loss surgery patients, we sometimes feel alone and misunderstood in the real world. It is so very important to surround ourselves with people who understand our decision to have weight-loss surgery and what it is like to deal with the many physical, emotional and relationship changes that we experience throughout our journey … Support groups are a place to find people who provide us with understanding, compassion and encouragement.”