According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than one third of Americans are obese.
Obesity-related diseases such as heart disease, Type 2 diabetes, stroke, and some types of cancer are some of the leading causes of preventable death in the United States. For this reason, thousands of people undergo bariatric surgery each year in an effort to lose weight and decrease their risk for disease. If you are considering weight loss surgery, there are several habits that you should develop now to maximize your success after surgery.
In our fast-paced society, we typically race through meal time so we can move on to our next activity. It is crucial to get in the habit now of allowing ample time to enjoy your meal. Practice eating slowly so that you can recognize your feeling of fullness. Stop eating when you feel comfortably full. Sit down and focus on eating your meal, and avoid distracting activities during mealtime such as watching TV or talking on the phone.
Chewing your food thoroughly is essential after surgery. Since the size of your stomach will be drastically reduced, you must chew your food to an almost liquid consistency before swallowing. Not doing so could result in pain, nausea, and even vomiting after meals. Try cutting your food into smaller pieces and taking smaller bites to avoid overeating. Put down your knife and fork between each bite, taking the time to savor the flavor of your food. Chewing each bite approximately 20 times will ensure that your food is a liquid consistency. Choose moist meats rather than dry meats to help with digestion.
Think before you drink
Proper hydration is necessary after surgery to prevent the side effects of dehydration. Aim for a minimum of 64 fluid ounces of water each day. After surgery, the size of your stomach will be drastically reduced, so it may seem difficult to consume adequate fluids because you will feel full quickly. Get in the habit now of sipping on a water bottle throughout the day. Immediately after surgery, you may only be able to drink 4 to 8 ounces of fluid each hour, so you will need to drink constantly throughout the day to prevent dehydration.
If you enjoy coffee, soda, or alcoholic beverages, now is the time to slowly wean yourself. Caffeine can lead to dehydration after surgery. It can also irritate the lining of your stomach and increase your risk for developing a stomach ulcer. Alcohol can also cause dehydration, and the excess calories may hinder your weight loss efforts. Carbonated beverages, including diet soda, may cause stomach pain after surgery. Water is the best beverage choice. If you need more flavor, try sugar-free beverages such as Crystal Light®, or add slice of fresh fruit to your water. Decaffeinated tea and coffee are also good choices.
Practice sipping water slowly, and avoid using straws as they can introduce air into your stomach. Drinking too quickly or drinking excessive fluid at meal times may cause pain and discomfort after surgery.
Become a savvy food label reader
After surgery, you will want to avoid foods and beverages that are high in sugar, so start looking at food labels now to find foods that are no more than 15 grams of sugar per serving. Consuming high sugar foods may have unpleasant side effects, and the excess calories could hinder your weight loss efforts. Be on the lookout for sugar alcohols found in sugar-free foods such as xylitol, mannitol, and sorbitol. They can cause cramping and abdominal pain.
Select foods are labeled as “light,” “low-fat,” or “fat-free.” High-fat foods can slow down your rate of weight loss and can also have negative gastrointestinal side effects after surgery.
A patient’s perspective
Suzanne H., from Baltimore, Maryland, has successfully maintained a 75-pound weight loss two years after her surgery.
“The best advice I can give to anyone considering surgery is to be prepared by starting good eating habits now. Don’t splurge and think of the time before surgery as your ‘last supper.’ Stock your kitchen with all of the foods that you know you will need after surgery. Explore and purchase protein supplements now, since you will need them for at least six months after your surgery. Start incorporating protein supplements and vitamins into your daily routine.”
The bottom line
Bariatric surgery does not ensure weight loss. It is merely a tool to assist you in losing weight. Successful weight loss requires a lifelong commitment that includes diet, exercise, nutritional supplements, and routine medical and nutritional follow-up to ensure that you stay healthy. If you are considering bariatric surgery, talk with your physician about treatment options.
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Carmen is a registered dietitian who specializes in weight management and nutrition therapy for chronic disease. In addition to nutrition counseling at Johns Hopkins in Baltimore, Carmen teaches undergraduate health and wellness courses and provides corporate wellness seminars on exercise and nutrition.
Carmen Roberts, M.S., R.D., L.D.N., is a registered dietitian, receiving her undergraduate degree in dietetics from James Madison University and her master’s degree in health education and administration from Towson University. She is a certified specialist in adult weight management and teaches cooking classes. Carmen enjoys educating her clients about how nutrition affects the body and its role in overall health and wellness. She also loves volunteering, including as a Girl Scout troop leader.