The Checklist – Top 10 Ways to Prepare for Bariatric Surgery
From the perspective of a dietitian and her patients
by Melissa Majumdar, MS, RD, LDN, CPT
Bariatric surgery is a great tool to help you manage your weight. But it’s just that – a tool – and takes a lot of hard work and preparation for it to work. The more thought and lifestyle changes you make before surgery, the easier the transition and the better you can hit the ground running with your weight-loss.
1. Start to think about why you eat. Bariatric surgery is not brain surgery, so if you eat for other reasons besides hunger, say stress, boredom, habit, emotion, you’ll still struggle with managing the head hunger. Surgery will change how much you can eat at one time, but it doesn’t force changes with what you eat or why you eat. Start building a safe food environment to help weed out mindless eating. Keep food off the counters, eat without distractions and eat off a plate instead of the package.
2. Keep a list of non-food ways to cope with stress. Losing the ability to eat to cover up an emotion, or even boredom, can feel like the loss of a friend. Start practicing using these methods before surgery so you’ll know which methods work for you. Keep your hands busy, such as with coloring, crocheting, building a mode or get out of the house. Try going for a walk or running an errand. Have a list of support people you can call or meet – family, friend or a fellow bariatric surgery patient. Ask your bariatric surgery team if they have a mentor you can work with.
3. Don’t compare yourself to others. Everyone has their own story and struggles and everyone will overcome it in different ways. Keep in mind that everyone will lose weight at different rates and in different ways. Someone who starts off heavier has more weight to lose. Keep the focus on what you have control of and do the best you can with what you have both before and after surgery.
4. Follow up, follow up, follow up. Losing weight and changing your lifestyle the first year is the “easy” part, keeping the weight off is more challenging. Follow up helps build a strong relationship with your bariatric team and allows you to share challenges. Follow up also provides the opportunity to makes sure you are on track and check blood work for vitamin deficiencies. Bariatric surgery is unique in that you are a patient for LIFE, so go into the process knowing that your team is along for the rollercoaster.
5. Prepare to feel a little left out at dining and social gatherings. You may be surprised to find out how much food plays a role in your social life or in your own personal identity. Start to identify changes that will occur and communicate with key stakeholders – friends, family, significant others. Read more about how to handle social changes with “Refocusing Social Events.”
6. Practice eating on a schedule. After surgery, you’ll need to eat a protein based meal every three to four hours. If you’re not eating this way now, the transition to multiple mini-meals a day is hard to fit in. Map out a schedule of when and what to eat. Food prep is the key for many to stay on track. Bring snacks, balanced meals, fluid and a backup protein shake with you wherever you go.
7. Eat like you’ve already had surgery. In other words, slow down and chew, chew, chew. Digestion is quite different after surgery. Your stomach isn’t mixing and churning the food as much and you have less gastric acid and digestive enzymes mixing with the food. Rely on your teeth to grind the food before you swallow or you’ll regret that bite.
8. Treat your water bottle like it’s you third arm. Dehydration is one of the biggest post-op complications. You won’t be able to drink large amounts of fluid at one time. Instead, you’re sipping ALL day. If you don’t drink for even one hour, it will be difficult to make up for that time. Also, the stomach is prime real estate after surgery so at meal times, protein takes priority. Practice not drinking while you’re eating to get used to your new norm.
9. Keep yourself accountable. Most successful weight losers are tracking something – protein or calories, fluid intake, weight, steps, and/or exercise. Other people weigh or measure all their food or eat off the same plate or container. This helps you both stay honest with yourself and track your progress.
10. Take pictures! The before and after pictures can be very motivating. You don’t always feel or see progress every day, so looking back on where you’ve come from, both physically and mentally, is rewarding. The pics can also keep you focused on not going back to old ways!
At the end of the day, you will get out of bariatric surgery what you put into it. Everything you do to prepare yourself for surgery will give payback after and everything else will give you the opportunity to learn from your mistakes. Enjoy the ride!
About the Author:
Melissa Majumdar, MS, RD, LDN, CPT, has helped patients navigate lifestyle change and achieve their weight loss goals for almost 10 years. She currently works with patients pursuing bariatric surgery at the Center for Metabolic and Bariatric Surgery at Brigham Health in Boston. She is an Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics Media Spokesperson and spends her free time running and cooking with her husband and two children. Follow Melissa on Instagram @melissard_eatfitlive.