Self Compassion - an important factor in long-term success after weight loss surgery

After spending a number of years observing patterns related to the various stages of weight loss surgery (WLS), I began to see a clear relationship between the ability to accept ‘what was’ and a sense of contentment. Despite the increased sense of accomplishment related to the weight lost, the goal posts still kept moving for many of my patients and this lack of satisfaction with life post WLS continued to create anxiety and real distress for WLS recipients. It seemed a curious thing.


Many, many of my patients discussed life in terms of what once was or what could be, and rarely in terms of what was happening right now. I saw this both in the months building up to surgery and in the years after, not so often around the six to twelve months after the surgery timeframe, but it would creep in soon after. I was well aware of the usual experiences associated with surgery but working out why contentment seemed so elusive for those post WLS felt like an important aspect to understand.


I followed this curiosity and went looking for others who may have come across this same phenomenon. My exploration found lots of studies presenting outcomes that demonstrated positive effects from mindfulness, self-compassion, self-acceptance, and authenticity. None of the of researchers were discussing these things in relation to WLS, however the underlying reasons for the studies matched my reasons for looking.


I found getting my head around these concepts a challenge and the reason for this was two things: Firstly here in 2017 there is significant emphasis and value placed on external accomplishments, appearance, and the things we have. Secondly it felt like the words self-compassion and self-acceptance suggested acts of self-indulgence and selfishness. Yet the deeper I looked the further I got pulled in and a whole new world opened up to me.  It turned out that for contentment and great emotional wellbeing the opposite was in fact the truth. A saying by a wise sage said ‘if you are in a dark room, don’t beat the darkness with a stick, rather turn on the light”


When we love only the parts of ourselves we deem to be good or strong or smart, we reject the parts that make us real. This sets us up for unauthenticity. We start hiding what is real and showing off what is sparkly; but our seeming perfection is an illusion, which leads to a sense of shame. The only thing to do with all our imperfections is to accept them with forgiveness and compassion. Many people are able to extend compassion towards others but find it difficult to expand the same compassion toward themself. Having the ability to turn understanding, kindness and love inward has been linked to greater psychological resilience and emotional wellbeing, regardless of our external accomplishments, appearance or things.


Each of these concepts is rooted in learning to develop an understanding of our own individual strengths and limitations without judgement or defensiveness as they currently are. The cultivation of mindful self-compassion leads to acceptance of what is right now, this decreases, anxiety and increases life satisfaction as it actually. These skills take time and practice and for those goal posts to stop moving, self compassion is key to contentment post WLS. If you wish to explore the area of self compassion, we urge you to consider coming to a retreat.


Kate Berridge- Bariatric Coach (Beyond Obesity)