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People who have bariatric surgery for weight loss take big steps towards a healthier life, and shedding pounds after their procedures lowers their risk for obesity-related health conditions. However, they also need to be prepared to make significant lifestyle changes that will make their surgery successful. In fact, having bariatric surgery requires a lot of preparation and planning.
“Patients need to make a real commitment to appropriate diet and exercise before they have a bariatric procedure,” says Christian Birkedal, MD, a bariatric surgeon at AdventHealth Weight Loss and Bariatric Surgery. “I ask my patients, ‘Are you committed enough to have surgery? You need to be able to follow the diet you will need to eat for the rest of your life before your procedure, or you’ll be fighting against your surgery afterward.’”
Bariatric surgery should not be seen as an easy way to lose weight. Rather, it’s a tool for people whose diet and exercise do not work well enough. People who want bariatric success need to prepare for it physically and psychologically.
A New Diet Before a New Life
“It’s important to start eating differently before surgery by eating the same diet you will need to eat after surgery,” Dr. Birkedal advises. This means eating smaller portions and meals with fewer carbohydrates and more protein. Patients should practice this diet, so it’s not new to them as they recover from their bariatric procedure.
Dr. Birkedal often sees patients who eat a disproportional amount of carbohydrates, which give the body an easy source of energy in the form of sugar. Our AdventHealth Weight Loss and Bariatric Surgery physicians help educate patients about the differences between macronutrients — carbohydrates, fats and proteins — so they know how to improve their diets.
When people stop eating high-carbohydrate diets, they often experience withdrawal in the form of cravings, headaches and feeling “blah.” Dr. Birkedal advises patients to take steps to overcome this withdrawal before surgery so that recovery is more comfortable. Replacing carbohydrates with proteins and modest amounts of healthy fats generally results in more energy.
Mom Was Right: Eat Smaller Meals and Chew Your Food
Eating smaller meals can also be tricky when our modern portion sizes have been distorted. However, Dr. Birkedal says that patients’ new stomach sizes will be equal to that of a D-cell battery (for a gastric bypass) or two C batteries lined up (for a sleeve gastrectomy). Going forward, they will need to eat a third or maybe just a quarter of a restaurant-sized portion of food.
Besides eating smaller meals than they’ve been used to, patients need to practice chewing their food much more thoroughly. That’s because, after surgery, the opening between the esophagus (food tube) and stomach will be smaller than the size of a quarter.
These dietary and eating changes constitute a “major mind shift” that Dr. Birkedal says patients should make before moving forward with surgery.
The Need for Real Exercise
Beginning an exercise routine is also an important part of preparing for surgery. Dr. Birkedal says that many people think they get enough exercise simply by walking from their car to their office when that’s not the case. Most of his patients have a limited exercise capacity at first, but this quickly improves as they stretch themselves physically in concentrated efforts that work their muscles and increase their heart rate.
After surgery, exercise will be important for burning calories and building muscle, which burns calories at rest.
“Most weight loss will occur in the first year after bariatric surgery,” says Dr. Birkedal, “after which it becomes very hard to lose weight.” Therefore, it’s important that patients take advantage of that first year as much as possible. Exercise is a big part of that formula, and our team members at AdventHealth Weight Loss and Bariatric Surgery help educate patients on how to start exercising safely.
Gaining a New Mindset to Set Yourself Up for Success
Our AdventHealth Weight Loss and Bariatric Surgery teams also recommend that patients see a psychologist or mental health professional for counseling before surgery to help redefine their relationship with food. Emotional eating, or using food and calories as an outlet for depression, stress or anxiety, is common, and people who have bariatric surgery will need to find new, healthier coping mechanisms.
Dr. Birkedal also says that he sees many people who eat mindlessly, or simply because they are watching a movie rather than because they are hungry.
“It’s important to find ways to diffuse this by focusing on what you’re eating and savoring it. Don’t eat while seated in front of a TV,” he advises. By being more mindful of what they are eating, people are less likely to overeat.
If you are interested in learning more about whether bariatric surgery is right for you, schedule a consultation at AdventHealth Weight Loss and Bariatric Surgery and get started now.