“Is there any connection between bariatric surgery and eating disorders? I’ve heard you’re at higher risk for getting an eating disorder if you have weight loss surgery. Is that true?”
First, there’s a lot of information about WLS that is anecdotal—or based on a personal story, not evidence-based research.
As a health professional, I’m obligated to share information that can be backed by science and not opinion.
I checked in with the ASMBS (American Society of Metabolic and Bariatric Surgery) and a leading researcher in the field of eating disorders, to find out what links, if any, there are between WLS and eating disorders.
Here’s what we know so far:
- BED or Binge Eating Disorder is the most common eating disorder for patients with obesity.
- BED is defined as regularly eating a large amount of food in one sitting, (or a two-hour period of time) and feeling a loss of control or inability to stop.
- About 20 % of WLS candidates have BED, that’s a much higher percent than in the general population.
- Post ops who can’t stop binge eating after WLS are at higher risk for complications after surgery.
“Is there some part of bariatric surgery that increases the chances of developing an eating disorder?”
Nutritional changes after WLS may negatively affect mood. How? Not taking vitamin and mineral supplements and/or not eating enough protein can make it impossible for the body to make the brain chemicals that allow us to be happy. If eating brought us relief, joy, comfort or escape before surgery, it’s likely we’ll do what whatever it takes to get that same experience with food after surgery.
“What’s the number of bariatric surgery patients who develop an eating disorder?”
The actual numbers of WLS post ops with eating disorders is unknown and hasn’t been measured. Experts believe only a small minority of patients develop eating disorders.
Those who do exhibit signs of disordered eating, tend to be those who suffered from ED before surgery.
“Can WLS cause you to develop addictions after surgery?”
5-30% of post ops with pre-op addictions develop another addiction after surgery. This is called cross addiction and it can occur after all types of WLS procedures.
Okay, stats aside, now here’s my chance to editorialize.
In my practice, I probe my pre-op surgery candidates hard for signs of current stress or trauma in their lives.
I believe clients who tend to emotional scars before surgery through counseling & developing new coping skills, are less likely to turn to misuse food after surgery.
But what if you’re post op and don’t know if you’ve got a toxic waste dump of painful emotions buried somewhere deep inside?
“I’m a post-op, how do I know if I have an eating disorder?”
Ask yourself the following questions:
- Do you have a history of abuse, neglect or trauma? Go all the way back as far as you can remember.
- Do you have a history of addiction in your family?
- Have you ever considered food your best friend?
- Do you obsess about what you’re going to eat to escape especially hard days?
A great therapist is as important after surgery as before. Run, don’t walk to a trusted professional.
Contact the National Eating Disorders Association to find contacts and help near you at: https://tinyurl.com/hqnsthb .
Reach out to the Obesity Action Coalition for peer and professional support at:
It is NEVER too late to heal. If you’re struggling with weight regain or feel abandoned on a weight plateau without an end in sight, it could be emotional blocks holding you back.
Don’t wait another day.
Until next time, take good care of YOU!