The Importance of Lifestyle Changes
You will hear it said time after time, bariatric surgery is only a tool. While many believe it is, or wish it were, a quick fix, success with weight loss surgery is highly dependent on committing to important lifestyle changes. The mechanisms of surgery create restriction and in some cases change the digestive tract to limit absorption of calories. This still means that, following surgery, a bariatric patient can sustain themselves on “cheat” foods. Of course, the long term result is that improved health and weight loss success isn’t likely. So what lifestyle changes are important for bariatric patients?
Better understanding nutrition is important for all individuals, especially those trying to lose, or better regulate, their weight. For bariatric patients, prioritizing nutrient-dense foods (lean proteins, leafy greens, low-sugar berries) is vital considering the limited real estate available in the now smaller stomach pouch. With a smaller stomach, you will feel fuller faster during eating. If you don’t use the available space for necessary dietary elements, you may struggle to achieve a balanced diet.
Switching your pattern of eating across the day can be helpful. If you’re already doing this then keep up the good work. Our practice philosophy is three healthy and balanced meals a day, every day. Stay away from snacking between meals as this can result in extra calories, and frequently not the right choices. Some patients find success in preparing their meals ahead of time so they are ready when mealtime comes around. This helps stay on track while remaining intentional and conscious with regards to good food choices.
Because you will intake less food and your capacity to absorb nutrients may be decreased, vitamin supplementation will also be important. Most people struggle to get the daily recommended vitamins and minerals even without a restricted diet, so it is all the more important to adhere to your daily regimen.
Staying hydrated has health benefits for everyone, not just bariatric patients. However, staying hydrated when you can only drink small amounts at a time can be tough. Some patients find timers to be helpful early on in their journey as they acclimate to their new normal. Making sure you keep your body well hydrated has benefits for your metabolism, digestion, skin, brain function, and energy level.
Caffeinated beverage, while they can offer a quick boost, also have a dehydrating effect. Keep this in mind when you are planning for your daily fluid and food intake. If some of the fluids you are consuming are not giving you the full hydrating effect, you may find you fall behind. We recommend eliminating or limiting caffeine intake in the early weeks and months after surgery.
Habits to Incorporate or Eliminate
Some habits and changes we recommend may seem strange, but they aren’t without reason. One example is not drinking during or closely before or after meals. First, introducing fluid to your system takes up space. If you are planning for a meal or snack, filling up on fluids can be painful. Further, adding liquids during eating can make the mixture in your stomach pass more easily, meaning you lose the intended restriction. This is especially true for gastric bypass patients who no longer have a sphincter closing the bottom of the stomach pouch and may experience dumping syndrome as a result. There are helpful timer apps you can use on your phone to remind you to eat on schedule and also when to stop drinking or start drinking appropriately.
A few other habits to break: drinking from straws, using sport top bottles, and carbonation. All of these introduce more air which, for a bariatric patient, can be painful. Without the outer portion of the stomach, the fundus, gas can have trouble collecting and exiting normally. Some patients do not have issues with this, but it may be best to avoid, especially early on after surgery.
From early on in your bariatric journey, even pre-surgery, adding exercise to your routine is important. Not only will regular exercise aid in your weight loss goals, it can also keep you motivated and on track well into the maintenance phase. Whatever type of exercise you find is the best fit for you, including some weight-bearing exercise, is key for building healthy muscle and bone.
Beyond the physical benefits of exercise, the stress release and mental benefits are great as well. Stress is a major trigger for most people, and many turn to comforting foods. Turning to the gym instead can allow you to process and redirect your stress in a productive manner. You can also create a community through working out at a gym or taking classes, which increases your accountability and ultimately helps you meet your goals.
Take Advantage of Resources
As a practice, we provide many resources to support you. It is our goal to help you succeed and thrive. Taking time to invest in support group, either online or in person, can offer you access to others who have been where you are now. We also design our bariatric program to check in on your progress at specific points and monitor your health. Attending your scheduled follow up visits will have huge benefits in keeping you on track. If you have questions, or need advice, our care team always welcomes you to call or schedule an appointment.
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