By Vincenza Garcia, RD, CDN
Realistic expectations are key to weight-loss success
If you are considering bariatric surgery, a physical exam will help make sure your body is healthy enough for the procedure. But physical health isn’t the only requirement. Your emotional state is just as vital for a successful surgery and the weight loss to follow, says bariatric and metabolic nurse specialist Karen Schulz, CNS. You may need to tackle a few issues to make sure you’re mentally prepared for surgery, Ms. Schulz says.
Here are five tips to help get you started on the path to achieving a healthier weight.
Start with realistic expectations
- You won’t wake up thin after bariatric surgery.
- Don’t try to go it alone
In fact, you may leave the hospital weighing more because of accumulated fluid. Keep in mind that your surgery is not the immediate answer to weight loss, rather, it’s an internal tool — in the form of a smaller stomach — that will help you on your weight-loss journey. You can expect to take at least six months to lose half of your excess weight. Then you may hit a plateau. It will likely take another year for you to achieve your weight loss goal. Know that your weight loss will be a journey that will take some time and effort. Having a clear idea of the process ahead can help you stay on track and not give up.
If you are thinking about surgery, it’s important to have support. Seek out your primary care provider, and also possibly a family member or a friend to help you set long-term goals. Recruit someone to help track your weight-loss milestones and help you stay motivated. The idea of bariatric surgery is a daunting prospect for many people, so it may help for you to start with baby steps. Rather than trying to learn and do everything at once, look at your options and pick one or two resources. Some possible first steps include:
- Watch online seminars on the topic.
- Investigate and consider joining a support group.
- Work with your doctor to start a medical weight-loss program.
If you have a food addiction, you’ll need to address that before surgery. Having a smaller stomach through bariatric surgery is not going to fill the emotional needs that eating meets. Many people use food to deal with daily stress. However, this is a short-term way to manage your problems — and creates further issues down the road. Knowing this and broadening your perspective may help you to realize the value of limiting your consumption and making healthier food choices, Ms. Schulz says. “You have to be at the point where you want to change, feel better and have other activities take the place of eating,” she says. For many it takes a desire to focus on the longer term goals for their lives rather than the food they are eating at the next meal. Others are motivated by the daily pain and illness that often accompanies excess weight.
- Your food intake will be sharply restricted, particularly for the first few months.
- You have to eat slowly — a small meal should take at least 20 minutes to consume.
- A healthy diet is imperative — grazing on junk food will sabotage your ability to lose pounds.
Learning to manage food is imperative after surgery to maintain weight loss because:
- Bariatric surgery is about 80 percent effective, but it takes time and focus to keep weight off. It is important that your emotional energy is working to support your efforts, Ms. Schulz says.
- After surgery, your body is recovering and eating is physically restricted. If you suffer from depression, it’s even harder to stay on track, particularly if you struggle with food addiction.
- Work with your doctor or a counselor to develop and maintain a positive attitude about the process.
- Understand the risks of other addictions
Alcohol and tobacco addictions also can undermine your efforts to lose weight — with or without surgery. Alcohol is high in calories and reduces your inhibitions, which makes you more susceptible to overeating. You also will feel its intoxicating effects more quickly after surgery — one drink can put you over the legal blood alcohol limit to drive, Ms. Schulz says. Tobacco use increases the risk of surgical complications, respiratory problems and ulcers — patients who return to smoking after surgery can develop a post-surgical stomach irritation or ulcer.
Bariatric surgery can change your life for the better and is a powerful tool that can provide sustained relief for overweight people.
The benefits of sustained weight loss through bariatric surgery can include:
- Long-term remission for type 2 diabetes
- Improved cardiovascular health
- Relief from depression
- Elimination of obstructive sleep apnea
- Relief from joint pain
- Improved fertility
- Alleviation of other medical conditions, such as metabolic syndrome, pregnancy complications, gallbladder disease and more
But bariatric surgery is the beginning — rather than the end — of your weight-loss journey, so you’ll still have plenty of work ahead of you. “You need to have constant awareness of the behaviors and choices we teach patients that work with their new stomach,” Ms. Schulz says. “It’s like going to church every Sunday — you have to keep it at the top of your mind for the rest of your life.”