Bariatric surgery is a tool to help you lose weight. It is not automatic, and your post-surgery behavior will play a large part in your long term outcome. It is your responsibility to choose healthy foods to fuel your body properly, remain active and exercise regularly, and make any psychological adjustments. There is no way to know exactly how much weight each person will lose, but following the recommended diet plan and lifestyle changes will help with successful weight loss and long term maintenance.
Examples of lifestyle changes required after bariatric surgery:
- Avoid high fat foods like sausage, cream sauces, and too much cheese
- Take recommended vitamin & mineral supplements daily
- Chew food thoroughly and slowly, taking 30 minutes to consume each meal
- Listen to your body and stop at the first signs/feelings of fullness
- Always eat your protein first, then vegetables and fruit if still hungry
- Avoid carbonated beverages, alcohol, and excess caffeine
- Exercise for 30 minutes a day, doing a combination of weight bearing and cardio exercise to build and maintain muscle mass
- Avoid mindless or distracted eating and excessive snacking
Adapting to your changing body and your relationship with food can take many months and does not happen overnight. In order to maintain the weight loss, new methods of coping with life stress that do not involve eating will need to be learned and will take time. Suggestions for stress management are journaling, exercising, meditating, volunteering to help others, speaking with a therapist, or art/craft type of activities. Don’t be afraid to try new things, you never know what you may find joy in! It is strongly encouraged to begin working on these things prior to having surgery. Be prepared to have emotional ups and downs as the weeks and months go by, both before and after surgery.
Besides the dietary changes, having a strong support system (family/friends/co-workers) is also important for long term success. Having your family on board and understanding your journey towards a healthier you will make it much easier to follow the lifestyle necessary for maintenance. Get the whole family involved with regular physical activity and learning how to prepare healthy meals. If you feel you don’t have enough social support, joining our monthly bariatric surgery support groups can be a great way to connect with others that are going through the process of bariatric surgery or have already had bariatric surgery. Also, consider taking fitness classes or join a walking group where you may develop new friendships with likeminded people. It can be a lot harder to maintain weight loss when you feel you are doing it alone.
Over time you will be able to eat a wider variety of foods and in slightly larger amounts than you can during the initial few months post-operatively. Many people look forward to being able to go out to eat again at their favorite restaurants. Just because you have had bariatric surgery and are trying to lose weight or maintain your weight, does not mean you can never go out to eat. It is possible to maintain your weight loss and still enjoy eating some meals out. As always, you want to continue making those healthy food choices that have helped you lose weight along the way. If you start going out to eat and are choosing unhealthy foods like French fries and nachos, of course this is not going to help you keep the weight off.
Tips for Dining Out After Surgery
- Research the menu ahead of time and look for lean sources of protein like chicken, turkey, seafood, or tofu that is not breaded or fried
- Choose something that comes with a vegetable, or get a side salad or broth based soup to go with your protein of choice
- Remember that restaurant portions are typically very large, so you may need to share a meal or take half of it home for another time
- Don’t be afraid or embarrassed to ask the waiter if you can do a special off menu order (example: baked fish with lemon and steamed broccoli) most restaurants should be able to accommodate simple requests
- Avoid high fat cream sauces and dressings or ask for them on the side and use sparingly
- Part of the joy of dining out comes from who you are with, the environment/ambiance, and getting a night off from cooking so enjoy these aspects rather than focusing on the food you cannot tolerate
Successful weight loss is a positive step toward a healthier future. You can look forward to increased energy levels, improved mobility and physical activity, reduction in comorbidities and/or medication use, a more positive self-image and confidence, and much more. However, in order to achieve and maintain these things, you have to put the work in making choices that bring you closer to optimal health, every day.