How To Keep the Weight Off After Bariatric Surgery
It’s exciting to see the numbers on the scale drop after bariatric surgery. But you might have a nagging worry: Will the weight stay off? This is a common concern, and understandably so. Bariatric surgery is a life-changing decision.
Fortunately, with the right mindset and healthy habits, you can reap the health benefits of weight-loss surgery for the rest of your life.
Just the Beginning
The pounds fall off quickly in the first year after bariatric surgery because the stomach is tight and your calorie intake is very limited.
Patients who have been frustrated by unsuccessful weight-loss attempts in the past often are strongly motivated by the rapid weight loss, encouraging them to watch portion sizes and get daily exercise.
But the surgery and immediate weight loss that follow are only the beginning of a lifelong commitment to maintaining weight and should be a springboard for establishing long-term habits to keep the weight off.
Even before you have surgery, you must learn to eat right, exercise and adopt a healthier attitude toward food. Patients who are already prepared for what they’ll face in the months and years after bariatric surgery are the most successful in losing weight and keeping it off.
Eventually the initial weight loss slows or stops. About two years later, the stomach starts to relax and stretch out, allowing you to eat more. It’s also when your motivation may dip, making it tougher to stick to a healthy-eating plan. At this point, it’s important to tap into already-established healthy habits to avoid weight gain.
To maintain your weight loss, follow these guidelines:
- Eat smaller meals. Pureed foods are on the menu immediately following bariatric surgery and you’ll gradually work up to solid foods. At about eight weeks post-surgery, you will start eating several small meals a day, with each meal consisting of a half-cup to one cup of food. You may start with six small meals a day, then shift to four, then eventually fall into a more common three-meals-a-day routine. Recognizing fullness, and knowing how to stop eating before you are full, is a physical and mindset shift that you’ll have to learn in the weeks following surgery.
- Reduce caloric intake. Once you’ve reached eight weeks post-surgery, you should aim to eat between 900 and 1,000 calories a day, with at least 65 to 75 grams of protein. This recommendation may vary based on what you and your physician decide. Many patients find success with portion-control plates that measure out the approximate amounts of fruits, vegetables, protein and grains needed for each meal.
- Incorporate daily exercise. An increase in energy and motivation to exercise is common for bariatric patients. You should speak with your bariatric surgeon to develop a plan, but generally speaking, the goal is 30 minutes per day of moderate exercise for post-surgery bariatric patients. Don’t be afraid to experiment with your exercise to find activities that get you excited.
- Prioritize sleep. While you’re changing your wellness habits for the better, add sleep to the list. The National Sleep Foundation recommends 7 to 9 hours of sleep daily for adults. Obesity is a known sleep interrupter, but as you start to lose weight, sleep problems such as sleep apnea subside. Give your body the rest it needs to rest and recover from your new exercise routine and the changes your body is undergoing.
- Reduce stress. Your body naturally produces more cortisol when you’re stressed. That’s a problem because it can lead to weight gain, particularly in the stomach. Learn new coping mechanisms — such as meditation, spending time in nature and deep breathing – to keep your stress levels low and boost bariatric weight loss maintenance.
Support System Is Key
You should also consider joining a support group to help you stay on track. Being around like-minded people, at varying points in their own weight-loss efforts, offers a support system that has more depth than well-meaning friends, family members and colleagues. Support groups specific to weight-loss surgery can benefit patients in addressing issues such as negative body image, returning to work and weight-loss maintenance.
Beyond Weight Loss
The way you look after surgery is a boost to your self-esteem, but there are many significant health benefits in this journey, too. Bariatric surgery is a scientifically backed way to improve health conditions such as diabetes, sleep apnea, heart disease and respiratory problems.
And while it is a long-term commitment, bariatric surgery can give you a fresh start to a healthy weight that can be maintained for a lifetime.
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