What Matters: What’s the magic behind successful bariatric patients?



A fair number of my patients have had or are undergoing bariatric surgery. Disconcertingly, a not insignificant number of them are regaining the weight after surgery. Weight regain will occur in 20% of patients undergoing bariatric surgery after initial weight loss.

When this occurs, not only do we have a patient with an altered gut putting them at risk for nutritional deficiencies if we are not fastidious in our follow-up, but they are discouraged and overweight again.

Dr. Jon O. Ebbert

Dr. Jon O. Ebbert

Add this to the concern that bariatric surgery has been associated with an increase in suicides (2.33-3.63 per 1000 patient-years), and we may have some cause for alarm.

So, what predicts success – and can we facilitate it?

Several factors have been shown to predict successful weight loss after bariatric surgery. An “active coping style” (that is, planning vs. denial) and adherence to follow-up after bariatric surgery have both been shown to be associated with a higher percentage of excess weight loss. Interestingly, psychological burden and motivation have not been associated with weight loss.

In a recent article, Lori Liebl, Ph.D., and her colleagues conducted a qualitative study of the experiences of adults who successfully maintained weight loss after bariatric surgery (J Clin Nurs. 2016 Feb 23. doi: 10.1111/jocn.13129). Success was defined as 50% or more of the excessive weight loss 24 months after bariatric surgery.

The voice of the successful bariatric patient is an interesting and important one. Several themes were identified: 1) taking life back (“I did it for myself”); 2) a new lease on life (“There are things I can do now that I am not exhausted”); 3) the importance of social support; 4) avoiding the negative (terminating unhealthy relationships in which “food is love”); 5) the void (food addiction and sense of loss); 6) fighting food demons; 7) finding the happy weight; and 8) a ripple effect (that is, if you don’t eat it, the rest of family doesn’t, either).

I was left wondering how I can best help my patients using this information.

First, I think the themes can mature our empathy for the struggles that these patients face, and perhaps help us combat bias. Second, I think this knowledge can inform early discussions around what sorts of things need to be lined up for after the procedure, such as social support.

Finally, I think the themes can be universalized and help us counsel patients who may be struggling with weight, but who are otherwise not candidates for bariatric surgery.

Dr. Ebbert is professor of medicine, a general internist at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., and a diplomate of the American Board of Addiction Medicine. The opinions expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views and opinions of the Mayo Clinic. The opinions expressed in this article should not be used to diagnose or treat any medical condition nor should they be used as a substitute for medical advice from a qualified, board-certified practicing clinician. Dr. Ebbert has no relevant financial disclosures about this article.

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