Taking the journey of weight loss surgery (WLS) is a rewarding gift thousands of people choose to take. One of the most enjoyable aspects of my role as a Bariatric Registered Dietitian is hearing patient success stories. I often have patients report post-surgery they have an overall increase in energy levels and are able to run and play with their children again. Simply put: they’re living without pain.
The period from the first year to 1-1/2 years after surgery is considered the “Active Weight Loss Period.” You often don’t hear the bariatric community discuss keeping the weight off or what we call weight maintenance. From my experience working with bariatric surgery patients, there are 10 tips that promote keeping the weight off; enjoying a lifestyle centered on health and wellness.
10 Keys to Success After Bariatric Surgery
1. Surround yourself with a circle of support
Bariatric surgery is more common than you think. According to the American Society for Metabolic and Bariatric Surgery (ASMBS), approximately 196,000 bariatric procedures were performed in the year 2015 and is rising.
Your support system can come from a variety of sources: attend your local support group, plan regular outings with peers who have had surgery and are doing well, and most importantly to follow-up regularly with your bariatric clinic. Support groups are an opportunity to develop personal relationships with other bariatric patients while staying on track. I encourage my patients to have a meal with other successful patients so they can observe food choices, portions and eating behaviors.
2. Get moving
I see post-operative patients daily in our clinic ranging from a few months out of surgery to 10+ years post-op. A patient who is doing well in weight maintenance is most likely doing some form of exercise. Exercise is motivating! Patients who put time and effort into their workouts are less likely to make unhealthy food choices. It’s a domino effect. Always receive medical clearance from your physician before starting an exercise routine.
When choosing an activity, find something you enjoy. Think about activities such as Zumba, hiking, water aerobics, yoga or walking. Consider using the “buddy system.” Having a friend or family member attend organized exercise with you increases accountability and can keep you motivated. Some find fitness trackers are a great way to evoke a healthy competitive spirit. Set a goal and aim for our National Health Initiative’s 10,000 step per day goal. Lastly, work activity into everyday life. Take the stairs, park further way, or a lunchtime stroll in the park. Exercise does not have to be in the gym!
3. Know your body’s signals
One of the best parts about bariatric surgery is its ability to provide a tool for restriction. We spend a lot of time in our clinic discussing what these signals look like. The body’s sign of fullness is the best place to start. I ask all of my bariatric patients to be mindful of what “full” feels like post-operative. Most patients describe bariatric fullness as the sensation of a slight pressure right below the sternum.
Being in tune with your body’s sensation of fullness with help determine appropriate food portions, especially the first year post-op. It’s also important to determine your body’s sign of overfilling; and, food coming up the throat, pain or uncomfortable pressure. Often, negative sensations after eating are not food-related but more behavioral in nature. Working with your dietitian on the appropriate behavior changes to make pre and post-operative is key to improved food tolerance.
4. The three P’s to meal prep: Plan/Purchase/Prepare
- Plan – Plan bariatric-friendly meals for the week to stay on track. A written or electronic meal plan works. I have my patients choose two bariatric-friendly dinner meals each week. Leftovers can serve as lunch for the next day. When going out to eat for a special occasion, glance at restaurant menus beforehand to make your shortlist. When traveling, always carry snacks with protein. Consider using small packs of nuts, protein bars, protein shakes or packs of tuna. Lastly, many of my patients have started experimenting with mail-order meal
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