One question a lot of people have when getting ready for a Gastric sleeve is “how long does it take to recover from gastric sleeve surgery?”
This is a great question and we are going to lay out what to expect so you can be as prepared as possible before having your surgery and starting your new life!
How you approach the recovery process will determine the success of your surgery and weight loss journey!
First, let’s explain what the Gastric Sleeve surgery is:
Gastric Sleeve surgery is the procedure by which a bariatric surgeon will go in and remove approximately 80% of your stomach.
This will drastically reduce the amount of food your stomach can hold at one time, which in turn will make you eat less food and lose weight.
Now, this is not some magic formula that will automatically grant you success, you still have to be willing to put in the consistent work and follow the guidelines laid out by your surgeon and dietitian.
How long does it take to recover from gastric sleeve surgery?
When looking at the recovery process, we like to think about it in three different stages.
Stage 1 recovery will focus on immediately after surgery and up to two weeks. This is where you will focus on letting your incisions heal, and begin adapting to your new post-op life.
Stage 2 will focus on adding in normal activities and finishing out your 4-phase post-op diet.
Stage 3 will focus on long-term weight loss (reaching your goal weight). This will be different for everyone since it will take some people longer than others to reach their goal weight. Once goal weight is reached, you will focus on maintaining for the remainder of your journey.
Stage 1 – First two weeks
Depending on the surgery you had you will likely be required to stay for 1-2 days in the hospital so you can be monitored and make sure no complications arise immediately after surgery.
The first day after your Gastric sleeve you will probably start experiencing a little pain due to the anesthesia wearing off. You will notice that any turning or trunk movement will cause discomfort and mild pain, so it is important to be careful not to move around too much.
One important thing to note, which will probably be told to you by your surgeon, is to try and start walking as soon as possible to help avoid certain complications like deep vein thrombosis (DVT), which can be life-threatening.
You might notice that you feel the most pain and discomfort during the first week of recovery.
This is due to your incision healing and still being tender to any touch or movement. Just make sure not to do anything that could potentially cause severe pain as it could lead to a hernia at or near the incision which could lead to other issues.
Keep your incision clean and dry
You will want to make sure you are monitoring your incision and keeping it clean and dry. This will help avoid infections which can lead to serious issues. Always make sure you wash your hands prior to cleaning your incision. Only use warm soapy water and make sure it is completely dry before replacing with the new clean bandage.
Never soak or scrub your incision and never use anything besides soap and water. (ie. hydrogen peroxide or rubbing alcohol)
- Increasing green or yellow discharge
- A foul odor from the discharge
- The size of the incision has increased (swelling)
- You notice increased redness or hardening near the incision
- The incision is hot to the touch
- You develop a fever
- You have the chills
- You have increased or unusual pain
- Blood has soaked through the dressing
The first couple of weeks are going to be difficult both physically and mentally so it is important to make sure to prepare for this ahead of time so you aren’t caught off guard.
Patients who don’t mentally prepare themselves for the recovery process and know what to expect often experience higher levels of regret and depression which can lead to a more difficult recovery process.
It is always a good idea to have a support person or group to be with you for any help that you will need, especially immediately after. It is also a good idea to have that person with you at the hospital so they can be on the same page with what to expect when you go home.
Another factor to be mindful of is the new diet you will be on immediately following surgery. Your body won’t be used to the drastic decrease in calories, so you can expect to feel bouts of fatigue and possible mood swings as your body is adjusting.
Your dietitian should provide you with a 4-phase diet that will layout exactly how you will be eating during your recovery. The 4-Phase Diet is designed to kickstart weight loss in the safest way possible while you heal after surgery.
Here are some normal activities and the timeline for when you can start them again:
- Driving – you should wait until you are no longer taking pain medication, which is usually a week. You also want to make sure that the seat belt can be worn comfortably without causing issues to your incision. You should receive clear instructions from your surgeon and or medical staff.
- Returning to work – most people will return to work within 1-2 weeks following surgery. Make sure that if your job requires any kind of physical activity that you are not jumping back into anything too soon that could cause you harm while you are healing. Also, note that you will have lower energy than normal so you might have to ease back into a full work schedule. You should receive clear instructions from your surgeon and or medical staff.
- Walking – you can start walking right away! Like we mentioned earlier, walking as soon as possible is very important to help get your blood moving and avoiding any kind of blood clot or other potential complications.
Stage 2: Two weeks – 4 months
Once your body has had a couple of weeks to adjust you will notice that you might start getting some energy back. Also, your incision should not be as tender or painful as before, so you should be able to start doing some light activity again.
This does not mean go out and start running or lifting weights because you are still in the recovery phase, but walking is a great place to start!
Make sure to listen to exactly what your surgeon and dietitian have told you and your recovery process will be much more manageable and pleasant. This will also help you avoid complications and potential setbacks that could slow down the recovery process as well as your overall weight loss journey.
Although your calories will still be low, you will start to increase the amount of food you can eat so you should start to see your energy levels come back up.
During this stage, you will be working through phases 2 and 3 of the 4-phase diet so you will be able to start adding in more foods along the way.
Just make sure not to go to solid foods too soon as this can cause damage to your stomach pouch as it is still healing. It is imperative that you wait until the end of phase 3 before adding solid foods. This will be done in stage 3 of the recovery process.
Stage 3: 5 months and beyond
Starting at the beginning of your fifth month after surgery, you will transition into your final phase of the 4-phase diet, solid foods, also known as the stabilization diet.
This is where you will be able to start eating solid foods as well as continuing your way towards your goal weight. Like mentioned before, this will be different for everyone since no one’s journey is exactly the same.
Your diet will still be low calorie, so don’t think just because you’re in your final phase of the post-op diet means you can start eating anything and everything. Calorie control and high protein are still just as important now as it was in stage 1.
Consistency and determination are key here since this will be by far your longest stage. As you probably already know, the habits you have to establish in regard to diet and exercise are lifelong, but we believe that everyone has the ability to be successful!
Other considerations as you recover from gastric sleeve
The mental side to recovering after gastric sleeve
Yes, bariatric surgery is physical and it will undoubtedly help you reach levels of health that you never thought possible! But, with success and a new lifestyle comes challenges.
Psychological side effects are very common in the bariatric community but they can be managed. Talking to a qualified psychologist prior to surgery as well as after surgery can be huge in managing or even avoiding certain psychological issues.
We urge you, do not brush this off to the side if you are having any psychological issues or have had them in the past.
Your mental health is just as important if not more important than anything else!
You may also notice that not everyone will approve of your new life and decision to have surgery, but this is not their life and they probably can’t understand why you have decided to change.
Finding a support group of people that have also had surgery will help keep your spirits up and help you stay on the right track, even if people want to bring you down.
You may also notice that certain foods and events that you enjoyed prior to surgery may not be feasible or appropriate after surgery. Food cravings will be strong in the beginning, but if you stay the course and follow the proper guidelines you should see these cravings start to fade away.
Keep your follow up appointments with your surgeon, dietitian and nurses
Your success after gastric sleeve or any other bariatric surgery is a long-term journey and it’s important that you keep in touch with your surgical practice.
If you’re having issues the the surgery the surgeon can come up with a revision or conversion plan.
If you’re having issues with your diet your dietitian can help you fine-tune your meal plans
If you’re struggling with an exercise plan your exercise physiologist can come up with a program that works specifically for you.
The point is if you don’t keep your follow up appointments along this journey your team can’t help you. So do yourself a favor and schedule your follow ups ahead of time and keep them. You’ll be much better off in the long run.
Just remember, this is your life, your decision, and your journey so you should do anything and everything possible to make sure you are successful!