If you’re worried about weight gain after bariatric surgery, this article will show you the exact habits to form to avoid regain and plateaus for good.
Bariatric surgery works as a wonderful tool for improving your health. Let’s emphasis that bariatric surgery is, in fact, a tool to help treat obesity – not a cure. There’s more involved with preventing weight regain after bariatric surgery and it’s for this reason that bariatric surgery is unlike any other surgery out there.
What I mean by this is that generally speaking, if the surgeon does a good job with the repair, the surgery is a success. However, with bariatric surgery, the surgery itself is merely a starting point.
It’s ultimately up to you to learn how to use your tool (the surgery) to develop and maintain healthy habits and take care of yourself as your “new life” begins.
This might leave you feeling overwhelmed and unsure where to start on this brand new journey. Maybe you stress about “failing” in these changes. But don’t worry—even if you are completely new to healthy living and exercising, you can make the necessary shift.
Take it One Step at a Time
As daunting as it may seem, basic nutrition is a relatively easy concept to put into practice. Like anything, the more you familiarize yourself, the easier it becomes.
The key is to incorporate habits each day that will set you up for a lifetime of success. These changes will help you make health and fitness an enjoyable part of your life! Use these tips to get you started.
Most people go about developing new habits in the wrong way. They go “all in” and adopt a sprinting mentality, instead of a “marathon” mentality. When you break big goals down into smaller, bite-sized chunks they build upon themselves automatically over time.
For example: If your goal is to lose 150 lbs after surgery, that’s a big goal. You can’t really accomplish that in a months time, but you can easily lose 1-2 pounds per week. At this rate, after 6 months you will have lost nearly 50 lbs.
Which leads us into our first tip…
Set Realistic Expectations
First, it’s important to understand that getting started might feel awkward and a little uncomfortable as you begin your new health routine. And that’s completely normal.
Any new habit is going to feel tough at the beginning. Knowing this beforehand will help you push through any struggles and know that the road to success is not straight and narrow—and that’s okay.
Have you ever seen the amazing “12 week transformations” where people lose 100 lbs in 12 weeks? This is an example of an unrealistic expectation and a horribly deceptive marketing attempt.
Steady weight loss over a period of weeks, months and years is what we are after. Do not feel like this is a sprint to your goal weight. While it needs to be accomplished timely – you should still be enjoying yourself along the way.
Start by reverse engineering your plan. So start with a goal in mind, let’s say you want to run a 5k. If you register for a 5k that is 3 months away, you know you have 3 months to prepare and now you can adjust your training schedule to meet that goal.
Now, if you’re not in “running shape” and you decide to run a 5k tomorrow with the expectations of breezing through the race, we’d say that’s not a “realistic expectation…”
Enjoy the Journey
Also, recognize that you aren’t trying to do health and fitness at an extreme level. In fact, that’s not necessary for a healthy lifestyle. There’s actually evidence that chronic training for extreme marathon and endurance athletes can actually lead to lasting heart issues.
You must set achievable goals that last a lifetime and don’t leave you discouraged and/or injured.
Let yourself enjoy this journey as you navigate any roadblocks or challenges and celebrate the victories both big and small. Trust the path and know that you can make this new healthy lifestyle into a flourishing habit.
Truly listen and learn from your dietitian and exercise physiologist at your bariatric surgical office. They will give you the tools and information you need to embrace this new chapter when difficult challenges present themselves.
Eating Well After Weight Loss Surgery
If you are unsure about which foods need to make up the majority of your bariatric diet then there’s a fun opportunity to discover healthy foods you enjoy. Especially after surgery, you’ll want to focus on high to moderate protein, low carbohydrates, and low to moderate healthy fats.
Eating fully nutritious foods after bariatric surgery will help you feel more energized and help you maintain sustained weight loss.
If you aren’t sure exactly what that means, here are some recommended choices for each macronutrient :
- Lean meats like seafood, chicken and lean beef
- Cottage cheese
- Non-fat milks
- Vegetables and fruits
- Hot cereal
- Chicken noodle soup with saltine crackers
- Mashed potatoes
- Whole Wheat and Whole Grain Bread or rice
Healthy fat sources:
- Healthy oils, like olive oil or coconut oil
For more guidelines on nutrition, see our post on calories and energy balance.
Other Healthy Living Tips
As more time passes post-bariatric surgery, you’ll be able to expand the consistency and variety of healthier foods into your diet. The Internet is a great place to look for healthy recipes, which let you explore different foods and their combinations. Just make sure they are in line with your doctor’s dietary recommendations for after surgery.
Don’t get discouraged if you don’t like something you try; consider it an experiment and give your body time to acclimate to the different food tastes and textures.
Also, get in the habit of drinking water often. It’s recommended that you should drink at least 64 ounces of water every day after bariatric surgery. You can purchase a reusable glass water bottle and carry it with you as a reminder. Staying hydrated makes you feel more energized, reduces food cravings, and can help you recognize when you’re actually hungry.
Eat for Volume
A great little “trick” is to drink a glass of water prior to your meal. This will add volume to your stomach even before a single calorie is consumed. Research actually shows that the total volume of foods consumed is what determines fullness, not the caloric density.
This study showed that subjects who consumed a yogurt-based shake whipped with air were significantly more satiated compared to the group with a shake prepared without the added air. The calories and ingredients were identical, the only difference was the volume in the stomach was greater due to the volume created by the added air.
This is why it’s a good idea to “fill up” on fruits and vegetables. You can simply eat a large volume and feel satisfied with little caloric consequences.
Exercise for Bariatric Patients
It’s nothing new to say that engaging in regular exercise is an important part of a healthy lifestyle. Exercise burns calories, lowers stress and helps you build lean muscle that’s used for doing everyday tasks and fun activities. But for those who have undergone weight loss surgery, the benefits are perhaps even more astounding.
Studies have shown consistent exercise after bariatric surgery has amazing physical and mental benefits. In fact, exercising consistently can even improve obesity-related health problems much sooner than a low level of exercising.
Some of the physical improvements from exercise can include:
- Faster weight loss
- Stronger muscles, heart, lungs, and bones
- A decrease in abdominal fat
- Lower blood pressure
- Better insulin control
- Reduced heart disease risk
- Lower triglycerides
- Increase life expectancy
- Reduced risk of cancer
- Improved control over blood sugar
- More HDL (good) cholesterol and less LDL (bad) cholesterol
- More energy!
And some of the mental benefits from exercise include:
- Improved mental sharpness
- Better mood and self-esteem
- Improved motivation and reduced stress
- Enhanced immune system
- Increased libido
Your exercise plan should be consistent and progress more as time goes on, which means you want to find something that is enjoyable for you. If you don’t enjoy a certain form of exercise, try something different—just find ways to stay active and continue working out.
Of course, we recommend you consult with your doctor prior to engaging in any new physical activity.
There are three main areas to focus on with fitness after bariatric surgery: endurance, strength, and flexibility.
Endurance (Cardio) Exercises
Endurance exercises increase your heart rate and breathing for an extended period, keeping your lungs and heart healthy.
Walking is a great endurance exercise because it’s easy to do just about anywhere. Start with 10-15 minutes of walking a day after surgery and slowly work up to 20 to 30 sessions. If you need to at first, spread out this time throughout the day instead of all at once. For example, do three 10-minute walks at different times during one day.
It’s recommended that all adults should engage in 150 minutes of moderate intensity cardiovascular exercise per week, so ~21 minutes per day.
After you’ve started endurance and flexibility exercises, it’s time to add in some strength training. Strength exercises help build lean muscle and burn more calories. Some great tools for strength training include:
- An exercise ball: Great for low-impact exercises to work your abs, lower back, and sides. Plus, you can sit on a medicine ball while doing others sedentary tasks like sitting at your desk or watching TV.
- Free weights: Start by using one- to five-pound dumbbells. Work towards doing three sets of 15-20 repetitions per exercise, like arm curls or arm lifts. As that gets easier, you can slowly increase the weight.
- Bodyweight Exercises: Air squats, walking/static lunges. Start with a couple of sets just short of failure. In order to maintain independence we have to be able to handle ourselves in space. Maintaining muscle and lean body mass is extremely important in your lower body
- Yoga: While Yoga is often grouped into “flexibility” exercises it’s actually great for building strength too! That means you can use it for multiple benefits.
The goal is to incorporate each area of fitness into your weekly routine. You don’t have to do them all each day; rather, find the best combination during the week that works for you.
“the best exercise program is the one that you will stick with over the long term.”
It couldn’t be truer. How much are those walking lunges going to help if you don’t do them? No need to go crazy and jump right in to a 5-7 day per week exercise program. This is almost guaranteed to lead burnout and lackluster results.
Start by walking one day per week, doing some light stretching afterward. Build up to a couple of bouts of walking per week until you feel like you have acclimated and begin your strength training regimen. Again, once per week until you’ve built up your strength to handle more volume.
IMPORTANT: This isn’t a sprint – this is a change in your routine and a change in your life. Change doesn’t welcome quick movements so take your time, build these habits and continue to progress.
Also, keep these tips in mind when engaging in any form of exercise:
- Always warm-up and cool down. Do some light movement that mimics your workout for 5-10 minutes before, then cool down with the same light movements and stretching afterward. This will bring the best results from your workout while preventing cramps and lessening sore muscles.
- Begin slowly. Give yourself time to ease into a regular exercise routine, especially soon after surgery, and don’t push yourself too hard. Otherwise, you could get injured and be unable to exercise for a good while—or trying to workout too aggressively will discourage you because it’s too difficult to start with.
- Wear appropriate shoes. Make sure they are meant for exercising and feel comfortable when you move in them. This will prevent unnecessary discomfort or possible injuries.
- Monitor your heart rate. Check your pulse periodically during your exercise. You can use this chart from the American Heart Association to determine the average maximum heart rate for your age. You want to try and keep your heart rate within 50-85% of your maximum heart rate.
These exercises are all about stretching and breathing. Flexibility exercises increase the flow of blood to your muscles and improve your coordination. Besides how good you can feel afterward, stretching also reduces soreness and can help improve chronic problems like lower back pain.
Yoga is a wonderful flexibility exercise that also helps build muscle and reduce stress. Taking a beginner’s yoga class—in a studio or at home (there are some great yoga DVDs and free yoga videos on YouTube available)—is a great idea.
When you stretch on your own, hold each pose for at least 10 seconds—and always remember to breathe.
Beginning a new healthy lifestyle can seem like a lot if you are new to it, so above all: be kind to yourself and trust that you can do it.
It might take some time for these new habits to feel normal, but with enough consistency, they will. Just keep going and be proud of yourself for each positive change you make every day.
The Bottom Line:
Change is required for your bariatric surgery to give you the results you need. There’s no way around this, your goals won’t reach themselves.
However, this doesn’t mean that you’re expected to walk out of the operating room with a newly found love for exercising, affinity for steamed vegetables or disdain for your life-long guilty pleasures.
Change takes time, but it’s worth it. Personal growth is something that only you can enjoy, and you should be enjoying your personal growth.
What are your tips and tricks to post-bariatric success? Tell us about them in the comments below!
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