If you’re in a constant battle with obesity, you may have given some thought to bariatric surgery. Chances are, you’re also wondering how your diet will change before and after surgery. Here are the facts from a registered dietitian.
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What to do before bariatric surgery
Here are some important things to do to ensure proper nutrition before bariatric surgery:
- Work with a registered dietitian. Your insurance company may require you to see a dietitian or a physician for supervised weight loss before you can be approved for bariatric surgery. To prepare, you’ll want to work with a dietitian who can identify your nutritional needs and provide education. “Research supports a direct relationship between nutrition assessment, dietary guidance and weight loss success,” says dietitian Lauren Sullivan, RD, LD.
- Start with an individualized meal plan. “The pre-surgery meal plan is individualized based on many factors,” says Ms. Sullivan. “Some of the things that might affect your meal plan include whether or not you have other medical conditions, your weight history, laboratory values, your current nutritional intake, how willing you are to make changes and your general knowledge of nutrition.”
- You may need a very low-calorie diet. Most of Ms. Sullivan’s patients follow a supervised Very Low Calorie Diet (VLCD) for two weeks before surgery. “The VLCD meal plan uses protein shakes as a meal replacement, typically four to five times per day,” she says. “The purpose is to help reduce the size of the liver and to reduce abdominal fat immediately prior to surgery.”
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What to do after bariatric surgery
To ensure a healthy outcome, here’s what you need to do after bariatric surgery:
- Make step-by-step dietary adjustments. After your surgery, you will start on a clear liquid diet. Over a period of time, you will progress to full liquids, puréed foods, soft foods, and then regular foods. “Your portion size will be vastly different following the surgery,” says Ms. Sullivan.
- Eat small, frequent meals. “Most patients are able to comfortably consume around three quarters of a cup of food three times a day at meals, plus one or two snacks per day as needed for additional protein,” she says.
- Be mindful of eating protein and staying hydrated. Ms. Sullivan says that protein consumption is critical in helping to maintain lean muscle mass through rapid weight loss. “Fluid consumption is also important,” she says. “Dehydration is the number one reason people are readmitted to the hospital after weight loss surgery, and it’s entirely preventable.”
- Keep portion sizes in check. The size of your stomach after your surgery will limit the volume of food you are able to eat to no more than one cup per meal. “Initially, if you eat more than your stomach can hold, you’ll likely vomit,” Ms. Sullivan says. “If you consume larger amounts of food over a long period of time, your stomach can stretch in size.”
- Avoid nutritional deficiencies by taking supplements. After your weight loss surgery, you will need to take vitamin and mineral supplements for the rest of your life. “Vitamin and mineral deficiencies can be prevented if you take the daily recommended doses after your surgery,” says Ms. Sullivan. Vitamin and mineral deficiencies can lead to conditions such as anemia and bone loss.
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Hair loss is common three to six months after surgery, but it is only temporary. Your hair will regrow with sufficient protein, vitamin and mineral intake.
Ms. Sullivan cautions that weight loss surgery is not the ‘easy way out’ when it comes to weight loss. “It’s a difficult, lifelong process, involving significant lifestyle changes that go far beyond the surgery itself,” she says. “Many patients participate in recipe swaps, fitness groups or other groups that offer support or encouragement.”
By making positive lifestyle changes, patients can experience many long-term health benefits.
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