Department of Global Public Health and Primary Care
PhD Research

Losing weight can bring challenges!

Recent results from the Department of Global Public Health and Primary Care (IGS) show that bariatric surgery patients need more than just physical follow-up.

weight loss
Bariatric surgery is a life-changing event. Patients who undergo significant and relatively sudden weight loss experience numerous challenges.

Main content

Researcher and physiotherapist, Eli Natvik completed her PhD October 2015. Natvik’s work was part of research ongoing at the Phenomenological Studies in Health Sciences research group at IGS.  This group’s research addresses problems related to the experiences of both patients/clients and health care providers. The researchers aim to provide results that will be highly relevant for clinical practice and will therefore impact how health professionals understand, meet and take care of patients.


Challenges after surgery

Bariatric surgery is a life-changing event. Patients who undergo significant and relatively sudden weight loss experience numerous challenges. Natvik explored with the long-term experiences of patients who had undergone bariatric surgery at least 5 years previously. Her study group involved 20 patients – 13 men and 7 women. While no one from the group regretted the surgery, there were feelings of ambivalence. Natvik’s results showed that some post-surgery challenges included significant changes in one’s identity as well as one’s relationship to food. She and her research team argue that this information is important for the health service protocols for such patients.


Re-defining oneself

To lose a significant amount of weight relatively quickly is to invite attention. The issue of “re-defining” oneself was particularly presented in the article, “Totally Changed, Yet Still the Same” (see link below). This study included both women and men, and both groups told stories relating to their identity. For instance, they felt they had a changed “visibility, and that the ways that others related to them had changed. While they may have longed for increased recognition, there are difficulties in managing it.


Food as an integral part of socialisation

Much that is related to food is also very tightly bound to social traditions and social relationships. Natvik et al. found that the eating habits of people who undergo bariatric surgery and their relationship to food changes significantly. They eat less. They may develop food intolerances. Their tastes may change. They also experience stress if it seems as though they might be beginning to regain their lost weight.


Dealing with ambiguity

Natvik’s work highlighted that bariatric surgery involves long periods of uncertainty. Patients begin by reflecting a long time before deciding to undergo the surgery. They had perhaps not expected that they must also be prepared for a long period of introspection during the period after surgery when there are new uncertainties including: possible risks and side effects, changing identity, changing relationship to food. In addition, Natvik’s work showed that men in particular did not expect it to take such a long time to overcome the physical weakness following surgery and rapid weight loss, and this was challenging.

Natvik’s work concluded that for such a life-changing event, patients who undergo bariatric surgery should be given psychological support in addition to physical and nutritional follow-up.


Press release about Natvik’s PhD (in Norwegian)


Natvik’s results also received extensive coverage in the Norwegian press.