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How to Remain Successful Post Bariatric Surgery

We are all aware that bariatric surgery is not just a “get it done and be done” situation. It is a lifelong commitment to healthier habits. It is a journey to wellness and understanding ourselves better.

But, sometimes we just want to believe that the surgery is going to fix all of our problems.  I wish it would but it isn’t going to.  It will give you the kickstart you need to start losing weight and possibly to even get to your goal weight but what happens then?  Is it over?  Do we just never have to worry about our health or about weight gain ever again?

Let’s look at the timeline. How long is it from the time you make the decision to have bariatric surgery until your actual surgery.  Many of you who have worked with me as your patient coordinator will say that you had surgery anywhere from two weeks to six months after we first made contact.  A lot will depend on your personal timeline, family events, work, and your financial situation.

We all have our pre. op date in our mind and we anxiously get physically, mentally and emotionally prepared for our “start date”.  The journey begins and from there we are deep into the actual pre. op diet, surgery and post surgery progression stages.  The weight is coming off, we are recovering and we are feeling stronger and happier each day.

The “pink cloud” is that very special place where no matter what we do, we lose weight.  What a rollercoaster of emotions!  Finally, we are seeing results and it is all worth it.  The honeymoon doesn’t last forever. It lasts until the first weight loss stall occurs and we panic because the scale stops moving and we are only a 1/4 of the way to our goal.

With determination, and follow through, the scale begins to move again, only this time it is a bit slower.  It is no longer showing us the losses of a pound a day. Some days it moves and other days it doesn’t.  Our weight loss is slowing down and we are seeing losses of 1 to 2 lbs each week now.  As long as it is moving in the right direction, we are still happy and on track.

What happens when it is a year after surgery and the scale stops moving – whether we are at our goal weight or not.  How is our diet? Are we still strictly adhering to our post-operative bariatric guidelines?  Are we happy at our current weight and are we ready for maintenance?

As you can see from the above scenario, the bariatric journey doesn’t just stop after one year.  It changes, but it continues.  This is why I always talk about the lifelong journey that we need to commit to.  There will be good months and there will be bad months but if we never want to go back to our pre-surgery weight, we need to be vigilant and to learn to break old bad habits and create new and healthy ones.  We are in this for the long haul.

There are a few things which I see very successful bariatric clients do.  I want to share these with you.  I think we can all learn from them and possibly add these ideas to our new and healthy lifestyle.  It is a constant learning experience. 

I want you to weigh yourself on a regular basis.  If you ignore the scale, you could be in for a surprise.  I want you to know your current weight and give yourself a five pound buffer.  If you gain 5, then it’s not great but if you go above those 5, you need to have a serious look at your diet and make some changes.  It is much easier losing five pounds, over fifty pounds.  Take the easier road and stay on top of the scale.

Eat real food and avoid the processed and refined stuff.  That crunchy, yummy, easy to eat, processed stuff is considered “slider foods”.  They are easy to eat and easy for your tummy to digest but this is the fastest way to have a re-gain.  The foods which are not so easy to eat, like meat, chicken, and seafood, are the ones which will keep you fuller for longer periods of time.  Eating real food will also not raise blood sugars and insulin levels like the processed foods will.  When blood sugars are high and insulin levels are high, it is very difficult to lose weight and you will more than likely have a weight loss surgery stall or a re-gain.  

When you have a bariatric set-back, just keep on moving forward.  This is not the time to let one little set-back keep you from reaching your goals.  Don’t allow a small problem to balloon into a big issue.  Jump back on the horse.  If you have a bad food day (or 3), tomorrow is a new day.  Make a meal plan.  Do a meal prep.  Get organized and get right back on track.  Don’t beat yourself up.  Life happens sometimes.  Just roll with it and admit to the flaw and then get ready for your next healthy meal.  

Practice mindful eating.  Really sit down and take the time to enjoy your meals.  Think about the flavor, colors and textures.  Take the time to chew your food properly.  Listen to your fullness signals.  Put your fork down between bites.  Turn off the television and put your phone away.  Sometimes we are so busy when we are eating that we actually forget that we ate.  The pleasure was robbed from us.  Try to break this habit and replace it with mindfulness.  It will help us a great deal to appreciate our food.

Make a food log once a month.  In the beginning you will get into the habit of logging your meals and snacks but once you are accustomed to your new eating habits, a lot of us tend to let this go.   Try to take the time each month to make a 4 day food log.  This will enable you to see the quantities and types of foods you are consuming.  Once we see it all laid out on paper, it takes on a new meaning.  Sometimes we believe that we are not eating anything that is not a part of a perfect post op diet but when we add it up, it shows us a different story.  This is a great way to be accountable to ourselves.

Meal prep – yes you really need to do this.  Failing to plan is planning to fail.  If you don’t have time to sit down and do a real food prep, make sure to take the time to plan your meals for one or two days in advance.  Being hungry is the worst time to make food decisions.  I personally plan my meals from Monday morning until Friday afternoon, and then I give myself some space for Friday evening and Saturday to eat something different and off my plan.  Sunday is a healthy day whether I plan it or not but Monday to Friday, I know what I am doing as far as my food plan goes.  I am not going to be at a stop light with 7 fast food places glaring at me.  Nope, I am not doing it.   Now, you don’t have to follow my schedule.  But find a schedule that works for you.  Trust me, when you take control of this part, it falls into place and you won’t know what to do without your food planning and prepping.

Last but not least – exercise.  There are a lot more pointers I could give to help you to remain successful after your bariatric surgery but one of the main tips is this one.  You need to make exercise a regular part of your life.  Not just for your physical health and to maintain your weight loss goals, but also for your mental health.  When I say exercise, I don’t mean going to a gym or taking an exercise class (unless that is your thing).  Exercise can be so much more.  It can be taking a brisk walk, taking a dance class, riding your bike, gardening, deep cleaning your home.  Move more.  Stay active.  If you cannot walk for an hour, because you don’t have time, then walk for 20 minutes.  Just make sure to do what you enjoy because if you enjoy it,  you will continue doing it.

I hope you enjoyed reading some of my suggestions and I want you to always remain successful after your bariatric surgery.  If you haven’t reached your goals yet, don’t give up.  Today is a new day and tomorrow we can all do better.

I salute you on your journey to health and wellness.

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About the Author: Sheri Burke is a Registered Holistic Nutritionist and Bariatric Surgery Coordinator at International Patient Facilitators in Tijuana and Cancun, Mexico. She has worked with bariatric surgery clients for over 10 years and especially enjoys providing nutritional guidance to pre and post bariatric clients.  In her free time, she enjoys spending time with her husband and two teens and cooking up a nutritional storm in the kitchen.

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