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Mentally Preparing for Weight Loss Surgery

Getting your mind in the right place before undertaking any weight loss plan is a good idea but it is especially important when considering a surgical weight loss procedure.  Awhile ago, I interviewed Dr. Dawn Reese for one of my podcasts.  We’ve transcribed the recording to post for you today.

Dr. Clark:  “Dr. Reese, tell us a little bit about your background and how you got involved with me.”

Dr. Reese:  “Thanks for having me back. I love being here. I love talking with you. We’ve been together now about 10 years. I met you in the hospital and we talked about doing this. I have a PhD in clinical psychology. My specialty is behavioral health (health psychology). I try to help people live healthier lives and do more with their lives then what they want. When you and I first met we talked about what you wanted to do with these surgeries and medical weight loss program. That was right up my alley. We can help people live healthier and take better care of themselves. This is what we need to talk about today when getting ready for surgery or a medical program.”

Dr. Clark: “We have to change our mindset. What do we need to work most on when we start contemplating a weight loss plan or having surgery?”

Dr. Reese: “People have to take care of themselves first. That’s the biggest thing with all of this. That’s the umbrella that we’re going to put everything else under. You have to start taking care of yourself first and start thinking about yourself first. One of your goals for weight loss is to change your mindset. How are you going to view yourself differently? How are you going to view yourself as a priority?”

Dr. Clark: “That priority and that mindset are very important. Eighty five percent of my surgical clients are women. They’re often worried about taking care of everyone else first.  They put themselves on the backburner. We need to start planning for shifting that mindset before surgery. Make yourself a priority.”

Dr. Reese: “We start people having a mind shift (fake it til you make it).  For example, you start using the smaller plate. Join the gym. I had a patient come in to my office and tell me he was going to join the gym after surgery. I told him we were going to start tomorrow. You start doing these things now and behaving as if you’ve started your medical or surgical weight loss. Think about how you’re going to plan and cook differently. Get mentally and behaviorally prepared.”

Dr. Clark: “A huge part of this is planning. You alluded to this when talking about the person going to the gym. You need to start implementing that plan even if you’re not able to do much at the gym. Get comfortable with walking in the gym and walking by the class you would like to do. Watch it for a couple minutes. Setting that time aside makes it much more likely that it’s going to happen afterwards. We want to develop skillsets before and after surgery. It could be eating skills or activity skills.”

Dr. Reese:  “Planning is going to be key. How are you going to live your life differently? What are you going to change every day in your life so that you make yourself a priority? Make a list of what your goals are for that day. Preparing people around you is important. If you’re the cook of the family, how is that going to change? Mentally prepare on how this is going to impact other people and how that will make you feel. We have a joke in psychology:  it doesn’t take 20 days to create a habit. It takes a little longer than that. Getting mentally prepared and behaviorally implementing it is so very important. For anything, planning is the key.”

Dr. Clark: “If my norm is getting together with my best friend on Friday nights and going to a movie, that might also include getting a big bucket of popcorn or other snacks. That’s a great part of life. We want to keep doing it, but we have to change some of the aspects. It isn’t that simple to make that change.”

Dr. Reese: “What you’re talking about is really important in terms of mentally rehearsing.  You can imagine yourself at the movies but not having that popcorn.  How is that going to look? How is that going to feel? When we are preparing athletes for an event, we have them imagine themselves in their role.  If you’re an offensive lineman in football we have you imagine doing what you’ll be doing on the field before you even go on the field. That’s a great thing we can do here. How is it going to be Friday night at the movies? What is that going to look like? Mentally rehearsing is wonderful.”

Dr. Clark: “You have to mentally walk yourself through daily situations. Most of us have a routine we go through. I have a routine. I get up in the morning and shower and shave. I can literally write it out. What I find is that if my routine gets thrown off, my whole day starts to fall apart. I might have just told a patient who just had surgery to change their routine. You then have to think about how that will change everything else in your day. A lot of times people don’t think about a disruption or change in schedule. Then, when their routine changes (which causes stress) they revert back to old comfort levels. What does a person do?”

Dr. Reese: “You’re absolutely right. It’s stressful when we don’t have a normal routine. When people get stressed, we’re going to fall back into old patterns. We go back to things that are comfortable to us. We have to start planning. We need to think about what it is that we’re going to do even if we get stressed. How can I not fall back into that pattern and admit to ourselves that it happens? It’s not bad. It’s not good. It’s not anything. It’s just what happens. It’s not a failure. If you plan for it, you’re less likely to fall back into old patterns. You’re more likely to be able to get a new routine going.”

Dr. Clark: “You want to practice these things ahead of time so you’re ready for surgery. It sounds good and you have your plan in place. However, sometimes things don’t work out quite like we want them to. What you do is discuss how to handle things at this point. A major part of what you do is help people figure some of this out. What do we do? How do we change? It really still goes back to the mindset. This is a lot of what you do, right?”

Dr. Reese: “Absolutely! We want you to be successful. If you’re going to start a behavior change, especially weight loss, we don’t want you to be a failure.”

Dr. Clark: “The big message here is changing that mindset. We want to plan for it and practice it ahead of time. It doesn’t matter whether we’re talking about having surgery or starting on your weight loss plan. Things have to change. Change will never occur if you don’t actually change. You can’t wait for change to happen to you. You’ve got to be an active part of all this. Typically the change that happens to us is usually not a good change. We would like to be an active participant. We really want you to think about that message.”

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