9 things no one tells you about weight-loss surgery

Sierra McConnell

When I was 12, my mother took me to my first-ever Weight Watchers meeting. I don’t know how much I weighed back then, but I remember seeing a big "20" on the tag of my denim shorts. At the time, I think I assumed the weight would drop off simply due to regular attendance, but I’ve learned since that's not exactly how it works. For decades, every pound I lost on every diet I tried came back threefold—the last time I went to Weight Watchers, I was 30 years old and 380 pounds, a "32" stamped onto my pants.

More than a million people have had some type of weight-loss surgery since 2011, and after seeing the success some of my friends and family have had with bariatric surgery, I decided to go for it, too. I wrote this article exactly four months out from surgery and down 87 pounds (and my pants say "20" again!). This journey has been a wild one so far, and it's just beginning. While there have been some great moments, I've also experienced some strange surprises along the way. Here's what I've learned post-op.

1. Your tastes and cravings totally change.

Pre-op, I lived on two main food groups: pizza and Chipotle.

Post-op, guess what I can’t even stand the smell of? Pizza and Chipotle.

I know; it's bizarre. No one's really sure how or why it happens, but many people who have weight-loss surgery have extreme changes in which foods they like and crave. Right after surgery, you have to follow a very strict diet. Each surgeon has their own diet guidelines, but mine required one week of only clear liquids, two weeks of "full liquids," which included pudding and Jell-o, two weeks of pureed foods, and then finally onto solids. For the first month after surgery, while I was still deep in the pureed food phase, all I wanted was a big bowl of beef-flavored ramen noodles… and I have never liked beef-flavored ramen noodles.

2. Your posture might get worse ...

This is something I had never heard of, even after months and months of reading weight-loss surgery message boards. I used to pride myself on having really great posture, and now? Woof. My shoulders stay rounded no matter how much I try to straighten up, and sitting at a computer for long stretches of time makes them burn like you wouldn’t believe. After the first 50 pounds, my back hurt so much that I ended up at the chiropractor four times per week for a month trying to get straightened out again. After asking some of these groups I’m in if anyone else had this issue, I was surprised and relieved to find out that, yeah, it’s pretty common.

3. ...and your bottom isn’t going to be happy.

Yup, almost everyone says they feel like they lose all of the padding around their tailbone first. Sitting for a long time, especially on hard surfaces, becomes suddenly, excessively uncomfortable.

4. You're going to go through so much clothing.

On my surgery day, I fit comfortably into a size 30/32 pants and a 5X top. Within three months, I was wearing size 22 jeans, and an XL top was just a little snug. To make matters more… interesting, I started working a job that required business casual clothing, after years of being able to show up for work in leggings, t-shirts, and hoodies.

I've just embraced the fact that for a period of time, I'm going to look like I don't know how to dress myself because everything is always so baggy on me. The pants I bought for my job interview, which fit perfectly, had me looking like Baggin' Saggin' Barry just two weeks later. So if you're ever planning on weight-loss surgery, save some money for a new wardrobe every couple of weeks. Even Goodwill shopping sprees add up after a while.


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5. You might end up feeling kind of left out.

I didn’t realize how much of a normal social life involves going out to eat with people until my surgery. Now I can’t really justify spending my hard-earned money on a meal I can only eat 1/8th of... especially one that doesn’t reheat well. Birthdays feel a little less fun, and I’m generally the odd one out in my office when it comes to going out to lunch. It’s an adjustment, that’s for sure.

6. You’ll be strangely cold.

Another weird body change: I suddenly realized how people can be cold all the time. Gone are the days when everyone else in the office is bundled up, while I’m saying, "What’s wrong with you guys? It’s so comfortable in here!" I get it now, and if you’re considering this surgery, I recommend investing in fingerless gloves and blanket scarves in advance.

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7. The surgery is on your stomach, not your head.

You're probably thinking, "Well, duh," but this bizarre realization is one that many of us have post-op. Food addiction doesn't go away overnight just because you're incapable of eating all of the things you want to eat. For me, it was almost like I didn't know who I was after I couldn't spend all day eating. I still spent all day thinking about eating, at first. More than once, I cried uncontrollably after I realized that I wouldn't ever be able to eat a large stromboli with a dozen-wing chaser again. Sometimes I still get sad wondering if the pizza guy thinks I died.

8. You might hear some unsupportive noise about taking the easy way out...

So many people I know who have had weight-loss surgery tell me stories about folks in their lives who sneer at their choice to have the surgery. I’m grateful that my friends and family have been supportive, but if you opt for this surgery, there’s a good chance you’ll hear some dismissive comments. This is one of those moments in life where you can learn who your true, nonjudgmental friends are.

9. ...but please know that it’s not the easy way out.

I’ll never understand why some people think surgery is easy. First, it’s painful, and not just immediately after surgery. If you eat one bite too much, you’re in pain. If your sleep-addled brain decides in the middle of the night, “Yes, I can totally try sleeping on my stomach even though it’s been a week since they cut through my abdominal muscles and sewed them back together"? Yeah, that’s more than “mild discomfort.” (OK, maybe I’m the only person who attempted that one.)

If you’re struggling with your weight and considering bariatric surgery, your primary care physician can point you in the right direction. Insurance companies are notoriously difficult to work with regarding bariatric procedures, but for me, the headache was worth it. And if someone in your life is undertaking weight-loss surgery, don’t be that bad friend—be supportive.

Dermatologist Thomas Knackstedt at the Cleveland Clinic offers information about how your showering habits can impact your skin and how to combat the issues. Video produced by Cleveland Clinic, Fiza Pirani/AJC.