For Bariatric Educators
Anxious to do everything right, and to finally find their answer to a lifetime of weight loss struggles, pre-op patients will do all that is asked of them. They attended required classes and support groups, complete psych evals & medical screenings, fill out all the forms, jump through all the hoops, and check off all the boxes. And off to surgery they go.
When post op questions come in like – “When can I have pasta? Or, “Is it ok if I have a diet coke?’ you wonder if they were listening at all!
As a 23-year WLS veteran myself, I remember intending to listen, trying to pay attention and take it all in, but with surgery eminent – my mind was overwhelmed with thoughts of will it hurt? will I survive the surgery? and can I really do this? So, I admit, like many of your patients I suspect, much of the information that I was taught before surgery, well, just didn’t stick.
Having worked with thousands of weight loss surgery patients for over 20 years we at BSCI have come to believe that while pre-op education is important, post op education is essential! Once the pre-op process, education and actual surgery is over, then important lifestyle learning can begin.
We have worked with hundreds of weight loss surgery programs and when we ask about their bariatric patient education programs, most refer to their websites and informational sessions. That is all well and good, but teaching about the different surgical procedure options, the first few months of dietary guidelines, availability of support groups and answers to insurance and financial questions, is not what we mean.
May I invite you to consider a new way of defining patient education. Or more specifically, post op education. Consider what you offer for your post-op patients in the way of long term, lifetime learning opportunities for post op patients. Opportunities beyond access to a dietician, exercise professional or mental health counselor.
Patients know how to lose weight but learning to maintain requires a completely different mindset. They have spent their lifetime following diets. Now they need to learn to think like a thin person, to learn more about the disease of obesity, their own metabolism and how to effectively use their surgical tool to manage their weight throughout the rest of their lives. Provide these resources for your patients after surgery and they will listen.
Consider these questions.
- Besides support groups, what post-op educational programs do you offer your patients?
- Does your bariatric team have the experience & resources necessary to educate and support your patients in long-term bariatric lifestyle learning?
- Are you taking advantage of the many telephonic and eLearning opportunities available for your patients and your staff?
- Do you offer an annual patient educational / celebration event?
We can help with all those things. Since 2000, BSCI has specialized in providing exceptional, long-term, resource-based education and support programs for weight loss surgery patients and the professionals who serve them. We are here to support you as you support your patients.
We can help you enhance your educational offering, expand your outreach and improve long-term outcomes for your patients.
Learn more about resources for patients
Learn more about resources for professionals
Click here to schedule a call with Colleen Cook to visit about your program needs and how we can help.
That was the headline of BSCI’s first brochure, way back in the late 1990’s. You see, as a weight loss surgery patient from 1995, I quickly recognized, that while the surgical care, multi-disciplinary clinical team and support groups were important, there was something more that was needed.
Like most of you, I suspect, I knew how to lose weight. I had spent my life researching diets, preparing for diets, on diets, screwing up diets. I could and did lose hundreds of pounds over and over again. When I went in for my surgical consultation, I recall saying to the doctor, with tears in my eyes, “please help me fix this!” I knew that a surgical intervention was needed, I knew that I would lose weight and fast! But, I also knew that I was responsible for changing my life and implementing habits that would ensure that I was able to maintain.
The first year was unbelievable! I started at 250 pounds and in exactly one year, I had lost exactly half my body weight. At my one-year check up, I was 125 pounds! Wahoo! I was bullet proof and so excited about my new healthy self.
But, once I reached my goal, my focus and my needs changed. I no longer needed classes, consultations about surgery options, possible complications, pre and post op diets, insurance and costs, and what would happen in the hospital. I no longer need support groups where the discussion focused mostly on the newbies.
I knew that there was so much more that I needed to learn about myself, my metabolism, my food addictions. I had to find out what successful long-term WLS patients knew and do what they did. I needed to learn how to think and behave like a thin person. I needed to learn and embrace a bariatric lifestyle.
Yes, weight loss surgery was an essential intervention for me. But it was just the beginning of my commitment to learn and succeed. It was just the beginning of the work and the ups and the downs of learning to use my “tool” to manage my weight. Surgery was good for a start.
Now for the rest of the story. As they say, find a need and fill it. For over 23 years, I and our BSCI Dream Team have created much needed educational and support programs to help patients learn how to live a successful bariatric lifestyle. We have helped tens of thousands of weight loss surgery patients all over the world to embrace a lifetime of learning to manage and maintain their weight.
Wherever you are on your weight loss journey, my advice to you is simple. Be a lifetime learner. Commit the time, resources and focus necessary to learn about yourself, and what it will take for you to manage and maintain your goals. Learn and then learn some more. And as you might expect, here are some resources to get you started!
LEARN the what successful patients know: The Success Habits of Weight Loss Surgery Patients
LEARN how to personalize your own maintenance plan: 5 Day Bariatric R.E.S.E.T.
LEARN how to get back on track and manage set-backs; Back On Track Program
LEARN how to lead, inspire and support others. Support Group Leader Certification
All my best to you for a lifetime of good health and happiness,
Colleen M. Cook, President, Speaker, Author
Through the years, I have been a strong advocate for involving patients in bariatric aftercare programs. Most agree that successful patients bring more patients, but there is also an important role they can play in both support groups and aftercare educational programs. Successful patients bring personal experience, knowledge and lifestyle habits, that when given the opportunity to share, enrich and enhance a programs ability to really connect. In our survey of over 1,000 bariatric patients, we learned that over 64% prefer that a post op bariatric patient lead support groups!
This is an important message to hear and respond to. Involving a well-trained professional team of RD’s, RN’s, exercise and mental health professionals is essential, but what I believe what we are hearing is a desire for fewer lectures and more real-world discussion about and from bariatric patients.
Unfortunately, there are a few concerns and challenges that a bariatric program may face when having non-healthcare professionals teach lessons, lead support groups and run programs. I believe the concern is two-fold. 1. Losing control over the group and 2. Liability issues. Let me share an experience that addresses both.
Years ago, a large bariatric program in Ohio recognized that their patients had been starting support groups in the outlying areas. Lots of them. At first, it felt like losing control, but they smartly decided to embrace the leaders, support their efforts, and provide some structure. They invited as many support group leaders as they could find, into their hospital. The provided a light lunch, networked with them and learned about their groups. They had them sign support group leader agreements which covered a variety of liability and confidentiality concerns. I was brought in to provide training for their bariatric patient support leaders, help establish topic schedules, and implement good communication between the patient support leaders and the hospital.
They continued their hospital-based group, but also provided new patients with a list of smaller, local groups they could attend online in their own area. Now they had a network of support groups, all teaching the same monthly lesson plan, encouraging prospective patients to choose their awesome hospital and welcoming new patients into the fold. The results were exceptional!
In addition to having bariatric patients lead support groups, consider what a great help they can be in planning holiday parties, family summer socials, and patient educational events. There are many patients who have skills and experience as educators, speakers and organizers. And you will not find a more willing group of people willing to give back by paying it forward. Lighten your load, expand your outreach and engage your patients.
To learn more consider our Bariatric eLearning module: Energizing Your Support Group with Patient Volunteers
It is exciting to see support group participants reach out to one another, cultivate new relationships, and truly connect with others in their group. Surely, there are many great benefits from attending – new friends, new fans, new supporters.
However, if you are paying attention, you may find that smaller cliques are starting to form. Cliques might include those who have had a similar procedure, or surgery at the same time. All well and good as long as new group members don’t feel excluded, left out and like they don’t belong. Here are a few tips to help you ‘manage’ your support group as you do your best to ensure that everyone feels apart, wanted and needed.
- Notice newcomers who may be alone. As a busy group leader, you may not have time to notice yourself, but what if you assigned a few of your veteran patients to serve as sort of a welcoming committee? Patients who have been around awhile, who may be losing interest in support group. Give them an opportunity to give back.
- Be deliberate about segmenting your large group. You may find that what they are seeking is more intimate conversation. Many feel more comfortable sharing and asking questions in smaller groups. If your group is large, consider having them meet all together for the first half- then let them know that they will have the opportunity to join smaller discussion groups for the last half. Organize them by topic interest, stage of weight loss, month of surgery, type of procedure, or any number of ways.
- Know your support group members. This takes not only focus, but skill. It’s hard sometimes to remember names let alone a patient’s likes and dislikes. But imagine how united your group would feel if you gave them opportunities to share with one another more than just their weight, their non-scale victories and their questions. Learning to live a bariatric lifestyle is about more than just food. Give them a chance to connect on another level. Feature more lifestyle lesson discussions like relationship changes, fitting in, exchanging habits, paying it forward. Help them be people, not just patients.
- Play fun, interactive getting to know you games. Having a fun, participatory activity during support group, will help all members stay involved and engaged. By organizing teams you will give them the opportunity to mix and mingle with other group members they may not otherwise know.
- And, yep, as you may know we have lesson plans, games and activities ready to go. Check them out: (Digital Support Group Lesson Plans).
From the “Do I have to go?” to the “I can’t wait until next month” attitude, feelings about bariatric support groups are as diverse as the groups themselves. At any one of the thousands of bariatric support group meetings held each month, you will find that those in attendance include:
- Weight-loss surgery investigators seeking information and the “real story”
- Anxious pre-op patients waiting for surgery
- Early post-op patients or “newbies”
- Long-term veteran patients checking in
- Back on trackers seeking to re-lose pounds
- Friends and family members
Each person is there for a different reason, with different needs and doesn’t it make you wonder, “What is it that draws these people together? Why do they come?”
Our experience with thousands of weight-loss surgery patients and hundreds of support groups has provided us some valuable insight into why people attend support groups, how they are benefiting and why those who are not attending should. Here are just a few of the benefits that we identified:
Validation: From my own experience, I recall the weeks prior to my surgery were a time of great trepidation; a time full of questions.
- “Am I doing the right thing?”
- “Will I be ok?”
- “Will I succeed?”
- “Is it worth the risk?”
Many turn to bariatric support group to find not only answers to practical questions, but also for validation for my decision to have weight-loss surgery. While each must find his or her answers to these questions and come to feel good about their choices, support groups can help provide insight, perspective and real world experiences from those who have been there and now are able to share their perspective.
Education: Quality support groups provide more than just social and emotional support. They provide a wonderful opportunity for learning. Some groups provide a more structured agenda, featuring scheduled topic presentations and discussions. Others enjoy participatory activities designed to reinforce key principles of success and help patients learn new how to incorporate them into their own lives.
Many groups often invite guest speakers. Some are bariatric professionals like dietitians, psychologists and fitness instructors. Other guests provide presentations on topics like grooming, dating and cooking. All are designed to educate, inform and provide a well-rounded foundation of knowledge for long-term success.
Motivation: There is a wonderful story told of a young mother wanting to have her little boy learn to play the piano. He was taking lessons and she was just sure that he would become a famous pianist. She made arrangements for him to go to Carnegie Hall to the see the Master Ignacy Paderewski play.
She dressed-up her son in his little suit and took him to the concert. They found their seats, settled down real close to the stage, and the mother turned around and saw a friend of hers and started talking. When she turned back around the little boy was gone, and she panicked immediately. “Where did he go? Oh, no!” Moments later, she noticed her son up on the stage, at the grand piano on Carnegie Hall, playing “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star.” He had just learned the song. The audience was aghast – “Somebody stop him!” “That is awful!” “Somebody get him down from there!”
From the back of the room came the Master Ignacy Paderewski at a dead run, down through the aisle, up onto the stage, and behind the little boy. He began playing an accompanying melody to the little boy’s song and as he did, he encouraged, saying, “Don’t stop, keep going, you’re doing fine.”
As weight-loss surgery patients, we sometimes feel alone and misunderstood in the real world. It is so very important to surround ourselves with people who understand our decision to have weight-loss surgery and what it is like to deal with the many physical, emotional and relationship changes that we experience throughout our journey.
Support groups are a place to find people who provide us with understanding, compassion and encouragement.
Celebration: As pounds come off, health is restored and dreams come true. It is a wonderful thing to have an opportunity to share successes with others. Support groups provide just such a place. Whether formally or informally, comments like these abound: “I am half the woman I used to be!” “I can cross my legs!” “They didn’t even recognize me!”
What an exciting time for weight-loss surgery patients. Support groups provide patients a time to share their success; to have a moment in the sun, to be queen or king of the prom, to graduate, or to receive a personal recognition for their achievement with a pin, photo or certificate.
Re-dedication: The first few years following weight-loss surgery are awesome, but there comes a time when we reach, “the end of invincible.” It is not uncommon for patients to slip back into old habits, regain a few pounds and become discouraged. When and if that happens, support groups become an even more important connection to help stay focused, in control and successful. A monthly weigh-in or check-in at a support group meeting provides an important element of accountability and an opportunity to reconnect and rededicate ones self to long-term goals.
So, how does your support group measure up? How are you providing opportunity for patients to be educated, motivated, celebrated or rededicated? As always, BSCI is here to help. Click here for more information on our Support Group Leader Certification Courses, lesson plans, teaching aids and resources.
My how time flies when things are crazy busy! At BSCI, are busier than ever doing all we can to support you, the bariatric professional, as you work to provide quality support and educational programs for your patients. We know that those who work in the bariatric community are some of the most talented, dedicated, genuine people anywhere. And we are keenly aware of the many hats you wear. You work tirelessly to improve the health and well being of the patients you serve. But, what about you? What about YOUR health and well-being?
For many, support group night comes at the end of an exhausting full day of work. The time and energy it takes to pull together a meeting agenda, lesson topics and activities when your best self has been all but spent, can turn what might be a fun and fulfilling end to you day to a dreaded obligation. We hear you! We have put together some helpful tips for Bariatric Support Group Leaders to help reduce your stress while planning, preparing and facilitating great meetings.
1. Calendar topics in advance. Time spent planning several months or even a year ahead for support group topics, guest speakers and activities will pay off great dividends especially on those crazy busy days. Survey patients for hot topics, reach out to other professionals, vendors and educators and schedule them in. Having a plan will reduce your stress and let your patients know in advance what great meetings they can count on.
2. Involve more patients, more often. Our research has shown clearly that patients want more patient involvement in support groups. You likely have a room filled with willing volunteers to contribute in a big way. Patient volunteers can arrange for room set up, welcome at the door, arrange for spotlight patient presentations, serve on special event committees, and even research and present a lesson topic. While it takes a bit to get organized, set guidelines and communication, involving patients will help them engage, while giving you a helping hand.
3. Invest in Lesson Plans. Since 2000, BSCI has been known for our research based, quality support group lessons. Each has a lesson plan, handout, activity and visual aids. Have a topic in mind that you don’t see? Let us know, we’ll put our heads together and see what we can come up with. Remember, those attending support group come for a variety of reasons. A good facilitator will incorporate a variety of teaching methods to give each participant opportunity to learn, grow and share in their own way. And in doing so, make the meeting exceptional!
4. Use readily available newsletter articles, stories and research. It is likely that you receive a variety of eNewsletters, updates, articles and research notifications every week from various sources within the bariatric community. For an easy and fun support group on the fly, print out several articles, ask patients to read aloud, then discuss by asking questions like: “Is this true for you?” or, “please share your thoughts and experience on this topic.” If the group is large, you could divide up, have each smaller group take a topic, discuss, then share with everyone.
5. End on time then go home! Many patients enjoy the social aspect of support groups and often meetings seem to go on forever and end way too late, especially for busy professionals. First, set your boundaries. Establish a reasonable time to end, and stick to it. (We find that most groups are about 1/1/2 hours). Dismiss everyone and suggest that those who want to continue visiting meet ‘in the lobby, or turn out the lights when they leave. You may want to ask a patient volunteer to arrange for the after support group get together. Finish your meeting on time – then, go home! Go see your family and take care of you! We need you.