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If you're considering weight loss surgery, clinically referred to as “bariatric surgery,” you may be wondering how effective it is. Perhaps you’ve known or heard of people who had a bariatric procedure and lost weight only to regain the pounds they shed. This might make you skeptical about weight loss surgery. Does it really work? Will it work for me?
These are good questions. When it comes to bariatric surgery, “Success is in the user,” says Christian Birkedal, MD, bariatric surgeon at AdventHealth Weight Loss and Bariatric Surgery.
According to Dr. Birkedal, "Bariatric surgery is a tool that sets people up to lose weight. However, they must commit to a lifestyle that will transform the way they look at food, vitamin supplementation and exercise."
Dr. Birkedal says that 85% of the patients that he treats lose weight and keep it off long-term. That translates to about 5 out of 6 patients. If the same patients tried to lose weight through diet and exercise without the extra boost from bariatric surgery, the chance they would lose weight and keep it off would be less than 4%, or 4 in 100 patients.
Why Bariatric Surgery Doesn’t Work for Some
About 1 in 6 patients, or 17%, who have bariatric surgery eventually gain back the weight they lost following their procedures.
Why did they gain back the weight? Dr. Birkedal explains, “they weren’t able to make the lifestyle changes that were essential for success.” He continues, “One common culprit is eating out at restaurants. The food in restaurants tends to be dense in carbohydrates and fats, and the portions are often too large.”
Dr. Birkedal explains that it’s human nature to eat everything on one’s plate, not because our parents told us to, but because it’s a human survival mechanism.
“Our ancestors didn’t always know when their next meal was coming, so they ate as much as they could whenever they could. That’s why people who have bariatric surgery are encouraged to shop for, prepare and serve their own food more often than they might be used to.”
Another lifestyle choice that can interfere with weight loss after bariatric surgery is alcohol consumption. “It’s sabotage in the effort to lose weight because alcohol is pure sugar,” Dr. Birkedal says. “A couple of glasses of wine or beer each night can quickly add up to a pound of weight gain within a week or two.”
Eating for Bariatric Surgery Success
It’s also human nature not to measure our food. Another change people who have bariatric surgery need to make is eating small meals of about ½ cup in size apiece, five times a day.
Not only the meal size, but the nature of the food itself needs monitoring. “Food with lots of sugar, fat and salt tends to taste better to us, but it won’t lead to weight loss,” Dr. Birkedal continues, also mentioning that Americans today tend to eat too many carbohydrate-rich foods.
Dr. Birkedal and the team at AdventHealth Weight Loss and Bariatric Surgery steer patients toward high-protein, low-calorie foods that will keep them satisfied longer between meals. Our registered dietitians meet one-on-one with patients to help them learn how to successfully modify their eating habits.
The Importance of Exercise
When you lose weight, you’ll lose both fat and muscle. However, muscle is good tissue. It makes us stronger and burns calories. Dr. Birkedal explains that muscle strengthening is critical in the first year after surgery. “It helps patients maintain their muscle even as they lose weight,” he says.
Strategies to prevent muscle loss include eating more protein and performing strengthening exercises to maintain muscle.
Helping You Along Your Weight Loss Journey
A big part of our patients’ success depends on the ongoing care they receive after their procedures.
“Patients’ follow-up is essential,” Dr. Birkedal emphasizes. He explains that patients typically meet with him again every three months for the first year after their procedure, and then once or twice per year for life. The frequency is important because it allows the team to intervene quickly if patients begin to show signs that they’re regaining the weight.
During these appointments, patients’ vitamin and mineral levels are measured. This ensures patients receive the right level of dietary supplements. After a gastric bypass procedure, food skips the part of the intestine that best absorbs important minerals like calcium and iron, so patients must take supplements.
There are bariatric multivitamins specifically for people who have had weight loss surgery. Our team helps patients find the right bariatric multivitamin, as well as iron and calcium supplements to ensure optimal nutrition and health.
“We consider our patients’ success our responsibility too,” says Dr. Birkedal. “Our entire team is committed to them long-term. We’re your partners for life.”
World-Class Care Right Here in Central Florida
If you’re considering weight loss surgery, we can answer your questions and help you find the support and expertise you need. Learn more about our bariatrics program and world-class multidisciplinary team here.