I’m in New Zealand today, where I have been for the past three weeks. It has been a privilege to work with a number of bariatric professionals from different disciplines associated with the Foundations Healthy Living Retreat. During this five-day retreat, a small group of post-operative bariatric patients live together, eat together, exercise together, learn together and share with one another. Various staff members share their expertise about healthy living. Topics include much more than how to eat well and exercise. Participants learn the importance of focusing on personal values in all areas of their lives, discover the importance of positive self-talk, address self-sabotage and learn the importance of living mindfully. Coping skills, communication skills, and boundary setting skills are discussed. The topics of shame and vulnerability are explored, as well. Participants get what all bariatric patients in all corners of the world need following bariatric surgery: the Foundations of Healthy Living. Hmmm… good name for the retreat!
What I think as I look around me are the many “non-coincidences” in my immediate surrounding. I do not believe that my being here, halfway around the world, is a coincidence. To begin with, Dr. David Schroeder, a bariatric surgeon, and his wife, Andrea, are, in many ways, absurdly similar in personality to my husband Steve and myself. David and Steve are both kind, intelligent, rational, left-brain thinkers who are mild-mannered and soft-spoken. Andrea and I, on the other hand, while also kind and intelligent, are passionate, passionate and more passionate. Translated, we are thinkers and DO-ers, we are upfront and direct, and are most definitely whatever the opposite of soft-spoken is. Oh, loud. That’s it!
Andrea and David are passionate about their work in the bariatric field. They are zealous about the physical health of surgical weight loss patients, and are also super passionate about the patients’ psychological health. The Schroeder’s know that the journey of recovering from obesity takes a lifetime and includes the physical and the psychological wellbeing of each person. Andrea created the Foundations of Healthy Living Retreat and they have been hosting the retreats for the past five years.
It is definitely not a coincidence that David reached out to me after reading my first book, Eat It Up! Our professional philosophies are very much in sync. My work, with great help from Steve, is all about addressing the psychological needs of patients while their physical needs are being medically managed. David and Andrea, like Steve and myself, dedicate much more than our careers to providing bariatric patients with education and support. We address the WHOLE person, pre-operatively and after weight loss surgery. We put our hearts and souls into the work we do because we are convinced by the feedback our patients provide that they want and need much more than the surgical procedure can provide in order for them to live healthy lives, both physically and psychologically following bariatric surgery.
Since meeting in 2011, I have learned a great deal by working with both Andrea and David. The Schroeder’s have twice brought me to New Zealand where I have had the opportunity to learn from, and contribute to, the lives and education of their patients and staff.
Andrea and David, as well as every person presenting information at the retreat, address bariatric patients from a whole person perspective. Each participant is treated respectfully and compassionately, as a human being who is much more than a bariatric patient. Their emotional support needs are emphasized, as success following bariatric surgery involves more than dealing with a person’s biological innards.
Is it a coincidence that Andrea and David, in New Zealand, know the same things that Steve and I know in the US? We all know, and work toward, helping patients and bariatric professionals realize that bariatric patients have tremendous emotional and psychological needs that require attention. Behavior modification by itself is not enough when it comes to sustaining weight loss. If it were, well… wouldn’t more people have kept weight off after diets and bariatric surgery?
Is it a coincidence that the bariatric patients I have talked with during individual sessions, along with the participants at the retreats, all from New Zealand, talk about the exact same issues as the bariatric patients I have worked with in the US for the past 15 years? I’m not talking about the physical problems. I’m talking about the lack of self-care this population acknowledges. Not just in their eating and exercise behaviors. These people talk about a great lack of self-value that translates to a lack of proper self-care. The greatest common denominator, aside from the physical co-morbidities of the bariatric patients I have spent time with in both countries boils down to this: I don’t believe I’m good enough. That, my friends, is the definition of shame.
Our bariatric patients need to heal from the shame that draws them back into unhealthy habits. Healing from shame requires much, much more than a bariatric procedure in an operating room, or “theatre,” as they call it in New Zealand. It is not coincidental that bariatric patients across the globe suffer from shame. It is tragic that so few bariatric professionals around the world are willing to provide the full spectrum of care that patients require in order to be able to follow through with behavior modification techniques. Deep shame will eventually extinguish behavior modification efforts.
How long before more bariatric professionals get it? How long before more than a handful of patients get the emotional support and psychological care they need after bariatric surgery? How long before we provide a truly comprehensive program to help our patients eliminate shame and establish self-acceptance?
The shame belongs to the programs and professionals who do not provide a comprehensive program… because those programs simply aren’t good enough. (Along with the Schroeder’s, I will be offering residential retreats through bariatric centers in the near future. For more information, contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.)
I’m grateful for the non-coincidences that have led to meeting Andrea and David Schroeder. I am not surprised to see and hear that the patients in our very distant geographical countries are so very similar. Mostly, I am thrilled to know that there are professionals and patients who know that the Foundations of Healthy Living go way beyond medical care alone!
For now, patients can participate in the GAIN While You Lose 10-week program. This is a great way for patients around the country (and the world) to have access to the same topics discussed in the Foundations of Living Retreat. This class includes an hour and a half “lesson,” taught live but available online or via recorded session, followed by weekly homework to make the information applicable to each person’s life. (http://www.conniestapletonphd.com/online-services/weight-loss-program)
Why aren’t we currently doing retreats in the US? Are you, the patients, willing to pay to attend? Are you willing to take the time and spend the money to invest in yourself? Do you value yourself enough to work on your emotional issues? You’ve most likely been willing to pay hundreds to thousands of dollars for weight loss programs, powders, gimmicks and scams. What about actually finding a way to find self-acceptance, a requirement for being able to follow through with behavior modification tools?
Patients: there is no shame in having problems. It is tragic to me if you know there are problems, but choose not address them. Please seek the help you need! After all: YOUR HEALTH is YOUR RESPONSIBILITY. THIS DAY. EVERY DAY.