Getting surgery is always a big deal. Besides making sure your body is healthy enough for the procedure, your emotional state is just as vital for a successful surgery and the weight loss to follow.
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Getting mentally prepared for your bariatric surgery is crucial to help get you on your way to achieving a healthier weight. Here are five tips that bariatric and metabolic nurse specialist Karen Schulz, CNS, recommends you begin with:
1. Start with realistic expectations
First, it’s important to set some realistic post-surgery expectations. You won’t wake up thin after bariatric surgery. 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.
Don’t get discouraged if you don’t see the same results that someone else had. Everybody is different and lifestyle changes and diet habits play a big role in weight loss success.
The type of surgery you had also plays a role in how much weight loss you can expect.
“You can expect to take at least six months to lose half of your excess weight,” says Schulz. “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. Follow your doctor’s recommendations on physical activity and gradually add more once you feel safe and comfortable doing so. Having a clear idea of the process ahead can help you stay on track and not give up.
2. Don’t try to do it alone
If you are thinking about surgery, support is everything.
Seek out your primary care provider and a family member or friend to help you set long-term goals, stay motivated and keep track of your weight loss milestones. Take advantage of your bariatric program’s multidisciplinary team to help develop your plan and keep you on track.
“Having that support goes a long way in keeping you on the right path,” says Schulz. “Not to mention, you’ll also have someone to vent to in case you’re having an off day.”
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.
- Consider joining a virtual support group
- Review resources available to you to help you achieve a healthy weight.
- Work with to start a medical weight loss program.
3. Recognize a food addiction and the importance of physical activity
If you have a food addiction, you’ll need to address that before surgery. A mental health care provider is often helpful to help you identify what role food is playing in your life and help you develop health alternatives. 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.
“You have to be at the point where you want to change, feel better and have other activities take the place of eating,” Schulz says.
Learning to manage food is imperative after surgery to maintain weight loss because:
- 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 important — grazing on junk food will sabotage your ability to lose pounds.
By working with a registered dietitian, you’ll be able to start making adjustments to your daily diet. They’ll also help create an individualized meal plan that will prep you for your bariatric surgery.
Sometimes we’re discouraged by how much exercise it takes to burn calories.
“Saying no to a large order of fast food french fries is about the same as walking five miles,” she says. “However, exercise is much more than a calorie burner. It helps manage blood sugar, decreases the risk of heart disease, helps with concentration, reduces the risk of Alzheimer’s disease, helps with sleep and improves mood.”
When our mood and sleep improve, our eating often does as well. You can increase your strength and muscular endurance without buying expensive equipment. She recommends sit-to-stand repetitions from your favorite chair, pushups by pressing up and down from your kitchen counter and making dumbbells out of empty milk jugs. Fill the jug with water or sand and do arm curls and bent-over rows.
4. Seek help for depression
Bariatric surgery is about 80% effective, but it takes time and focus to keep weight off. It’s important that your emotional energy is working to support your efforts.
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.
Talk to your doctor or counselor for help in developing and maintaining a positive attitude about the process. They’re there to help in every way they can to make sure you’re on the path toward a healthy lifestyle.
5. Understand the risks of other addictions
Alcohol tobacco and drug 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.
Tobacco use increases the risk of surgical complications, respiratory problems and ulcers. Patients who return to smoking after surgery can also develop a post-surgical stomach irritation. If you’re having a difficult time quitting smoking, talk to your doctor about setting up a plan to stop.
Bariatric surgery can be life-changing — in a good way
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:
- Improved cardiovascular health.
- Long-term remission for type 2 diabetes.
- Improved blood pressure.
- Relief from depression.
- Elimination of obstructive sleep apnea.
- Relief from joint pain
- Improved fertility.
- Alleviation of other medical conditions such as pregnancy complications, cancer gallbladder disease and more.
Always keep in mind that 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,” 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.”