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An interactive therapy group at Toronto Western Hospital's Bariatric Surgery Program is helping patients take control of their relationship with food after bariatric surgery.
The Mindfulness-Based Eating Awareness Training group offers patients a supportive space to reflect on their eating habits and work through any underlying issues that might interfere with long-term weight loss, such as overeating or emotional eating.
"Emotional eating is a pattern that develops over time," says Dr. Susan Wnuk, a clinical psychologist at Toronto Western who spearheaded the therapy group. "People learn that this is the main tool they have to deal with stress, anxiety and other feelings."
Barb McCutcheon and her partner, Rachelle Desrosiers, both underwent a vertical sleeve gastrectomy last year and took part in the same therapy group this spring.
For eight weeks, they were encouraged to dig deeper into the reasons they choose certain foods, eventually learning how to make more conscious choices and how to enjoy and experience their food in the moment. They took part in eating exercises, meditation and instruction on healthy eating skills.
Barb says working on the emotional and psychological patterns that used to control her eating habits has made all the difference in her recovery.
"I went into mindfulness thinking that I would never be able to enjoy food again – that food was strictly fuel for my body the same way you put gasoline in a tank. I thought that was going to be my life," says Barb, who underwent surgery so that she could have knee replacements to treat her severe arthritis.
Now, she says she can also eat for pleasure using the tools she's learned to stay in control of her eating habits. Her recovery post-surgery has been so successful that she has been able to relay her knee replacements for likely years.
Rachelle says she was overwhelmed with the incredible support that was shown between patients after courageously sharing their stories.
"We're completely immersed in a community of care," she says, reminiscing the countless times patients have stepped up to offer support for group members going through difficult moments in their journey.
Dr. Wnuk says she looks forward to starting a new group this September with the help of the co-authors of the research study, psychometrist Chau Du and nurse practitioner Wei Wang.