“Bob. Single, professional, 42 y.o., 5’9”, 227 pounds (down from 320 pounds since my VSG last year!), likes long walks on the beach and golden retrievers.”
Would you swipe yes or no? I suppose it depends on the circumstances.
Many of my patients have asked me when they should start dating after bariatric surgery. A subset of those patients have asked how and when to tell others that they have undergone a weight loss procedure. The answer is highly personal, and demands an in-depth discussion of the various approaches.
In terms of when to start dating, most of our mental health professionals suggest waiting one year after weight loss surgery. Part of the reason has to do with changing body self-image, but hormonal factors, self-confidence, and potential replacement of food addiction with illicit sexual activity can all factor into the timeline. Additionally, many of our pre-op patients are in toxic relationships in which they feel trapped due to low self-esteem and overt/covert abusiveness. Those relationships can change and even end in the months following weight loss surgery.
Let’s say, for the sake of discussion, that a patient is in a stable place emotionally, and that she or he has developed a relatively consistent daily pattern of dietary and exercise management, and is looking to get back into the dating world. The three most common approaches to discussing bariatric surgery with potential suitors are as follows:
- Shout it from a mountaintop.
- Discuss it when the time is right.
- Keep your nose out of my business.
The shout it from a mountaintop folks are proud of their journey. That doesn’t mean the other patients are not proud; but, the mountaintop people are psyched to talk about the process. They’re excited to share their struggles on social media, and they may be like Bob, and lead with their surgical history right on their dating profile. While having had bariatric surgery is certainly no cause for shame, some potential dates may find the recent weight loss as off-putting. The question is, do you want to attract the type of person who will be put off by your recent weight loss success or not? Some may argue that, since obesity is a disease, it remains in our DNA, making those of us who struggle with our weight a poor choice for family planning. Others may say, “I don’t put that I have diabetes on MY profile, I don’t want to read about YOUR battle with weight.” That type of approach can lead to a very complex argument. Diabetes, by itself, is easier to hide, and far less stigmatized than obesity, in addition to many other factors that are beyond the scope of this article. Nevertheless, the decision to place one’s bariatric surgery history at the forefront of a profile is highly personal.
The people in the, “Discuss it when the time is right,” group seem to make up the largest number in the cohort. In the current era of on-line and app-based dating, people seem to be going on a lot more first dates than in the days of old. If the first date is a meet-up for coffee, no one needs to know that you’ve undergone bariatric surgery. You order your skinny decaf Americano or caffeine-free tea and see if the person across the awkwardly high table from you is worth dinner and a movie. Dates with meals involved can get a bit more complicated, but a simple, “I’m not that hungry,” enables you to have a side salad with some grilled chicken without arousing any suspicion. Once you’ve gotten beyond the vagaries of where you were raised, how many kids are in your family, and how your star sign has caused you to howl at the moon on Tuesday afternoons, you can choose whether or not to delve into deeper topics. If it comes up, and you feel that you’re in a safe place, discuss how your life has changed since undergoing bariatric surgery. If the person across from you rears back his or her head like a T Rex, and scowls at you like Ebenezer Scrooge, ditch them. If that person expresses interest, or even ignorance, have a frank discussion and see if they are worth your time. The people that judge you and look down at you for having undergone a life-saving bariatric procedure don’t deserve the old you or the new you!
“Keep your nose out of my business” people are in a class by themselves. I fully respect a person’s right to confidentiality, but at some point, your significant other is going to need to know about your medical history. Heaven forbid you’re unconscious in a hospital trauma bay somewhere, and the doctor asks your loved one if you’ve had any surgery in the past. Without knowing the answer, those providers can hurt you with medications or interventions that would be contraindicated if you’ve had certain procedures. If the relationship is serious enough that you’re discussing reproduction with your significant other, your bond is strong enough that a chat about your bariatric surgery is appropriate.
Bottom line, bariatric surgery is a highly personal and emotionally charged subject. People have all sorts of pre-conceived notions regarding obesity, surgical intervention, and what they may consider to be, “The easy way out.” When it comes to disclosing a personal history of bariatric surgery to a date, my advice is to treat it like religion or politics—don’t discuss it unless you’re really comfortable with the person, and have already built a foundation of mutual trust and respect.
Let’s get healthy together!
Matt Metz, MD, FACS