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My Bariatric Veterans vs New-Bees – Bariatric Edition

Raise your hands, my bariatric veterans! 
Those are my clients who are two years, four years, and twenty years post-op now. How different is your journey today as opposed to all the bariatric new-bees? I want to hear from you.
Bariatric new-bees, let’s listen to our veterans because there is so much that they can teach us.
We put so much focus on having bariatric surgery and we put so little focus on what is to come with the passing years. It’s such a build-up to our surgery date. We are focusing on the right protein shakes, the perfect water container, the best online app to log our daily intake, the best plates to keep our meals tiny, food scales to be sure we are not overeating, food journals to keep us accountable, and the list goes on.
Our beautiful new-bees worry about vitamins, hair loss, acid reflux, skin sagging, getting in enough protein, changing their diet to work with their new lifestyle, finding an exercise regimen that works for them.
Our gorgeous veterans have different issues to worry about. Their hair has grown back. They’ve had plastic surgery to remove the excess skin or they’ve just learned to live with it and not worry about it. They have a good vitamin regimen. Their worries revolve more around maintenance, re-gain, and how to get back on track.
We put so much thought, and time, and energy into what comes before surgery, during surgery, and after surgery … but do we allow our minds to fast forward to five years down the road? We are so anxious to get into the operating room, to have surgery, and to get the darn weight off. I understand. There are nerves and excitement. We are a giant ball of energy just ready for this next move in our lives.
New-bees, let’s chat about the future and what that looks like. Let’s talk about the traps we can fall into. Let’s look to our veterans to guide us. They can teach us so much. They can help us to learn what we can do long term to maintain our results.
I spend a lot of my time with new clients, getting them ready for surgery. They are such motivated individuals. They are going to do everything by the book because they have it set in their minds that they didn’t pay all this money and go through bariatric surgery to not get their ideal results. They are on a mission and they are not going to stop until they get to exactly where they want to be. I am excited together with every one of them because I know what the future is holding for them and if you’ve worked with me during your pre-op stage, you will remember my words, “get ready to amaze yourself”. Because that’s the reality. Amazing things happen during the first year post-op.
Even year two can be full of unexpected surprises – pregnancy announcements, plastic surgery announcements, 5K races, size 8 jeans, boots that fit the calves, seatbelts that buckle on the airplane, bodies that fit into roller coaster rides, legs that cross …. there are so many exciting things that are happening at this stage. It’s where we find all the NSV moments. It’s fun. It’s exciting. It’s exhilarating. We’ve got our groove back!
Year three approaches and we are no longer bariatric new-bees. We’ve come. We’ve conquered. We did exactly what we set out to do. Our whole weight loss journey is no longer our “be all and end all”. Life starts to take over. We have new babies. We have new jobs. We decide to go back to school. There are divorces. There are engagements and marriages. We lose loved ones. Life goes on.
You know what else goes on …. fast food, restaurants, going to bed late, sedentary lifestyles, stress. We start to move back towards our “old” lifestyle choices. We no longer weigh our food. We no longer journal for accountability. We stop worrying about our carbohydrate count. We skip the gym. We don’t use the food app.
My beautiful bariatric veterans look for a “reset”, or a way to “go back to basics”. The translation for this is “I’ve gained 10 or 20 pounds back and I need to find a way to get it off”. They try the liquid diet and that doesn’t work. They try going back to what they did for the first few months post-op and that doesn’t work.
Why doesn’t it work? Well, to start with, the restriction is not going to be the same as it was in the very beginning. The bariatric pouch was not meant to be the size of an egg for the rest of your life. It is meant to be very restrictive for the first year or so. We are supposed to use that restriction, in the beginning, to get the weight off quickly. While the weight is coming off quickly, we are meant to make lifestyle changes. This is the time to get an exercise program in place. We start experimenting in our kitchen to re-make our favorite recipes more healthily. 
A liquid diet is just that, a liquid diet. It is not a lifestyle change. It is supposed to be a “quick fix” but I don’t think I have ever seen it work for any considerable amount of time.
If we go back to bad habits, we will not be successful long term. That’s it. This is not a secret in the bariatric community. The further we stray from our new, healthy lifestyle, the closer we are to regaining the weight.
Why sugar-coat it? It’s the truth and I don’t want to tip-toe around it. My bariatric veterans will tell you the same thing. If they’ve had a regain, they will never tell you that the bariatric pouch failed them and they will always tell you that they, themselves, failed their bariatric pouch. 
Now, does that mean that it’s all over for them? Of course not, but, they are going to have to work harder than the bariatric new-bee to lose the weight again. It is a bit harder and this time they are going to HAVE to put the lifestyle changes into place. They cannot rely on pure restriction to get them where they want to be. 
If any bariatric patient tells you that they regained some weight, and then lost it again, I want you to stand up, applaud them, and tell them how proud you are of them. They worked super hard to get the weight off.
Now, there are bariatric new-bees who continue to eat chicken nuggets with fries and ice cream and they manage to get to their goal weight. Good for them. But, guess what … they are going to regain the weight. I have seen it many times over and I don’t care what they tell you. They may be okay for a year or two but their weight is coming back on again shortly.
The only way to have long term success with bariatric surgery is to make lifestyle changes. I want you to sit down today and make a list. Close your eyes and go back to month 1 post-op. What were you doing at that stage? How dedicated were you? How motivated were you? How can you find that again? It’s not the liquid diet that was the key to your success. It was all those little changes that you made that got you to your goal.
Can you find that again? Can you dig deep and come up with a lifestyle plan? Can you drink more water? Sleep better? Get more exercise? Eat the right foods? Stay away from restaurants and fast food? Journal? Food log? Find ways to deal with daily stressors? 
This is where the magic happens. 
If you are a bariatric new-bee, ask questions to our bariatric veterans. They would love to lend you a hand on your journey. 
Healthy Hugs, 
Sheri Burke RHN

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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