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​Life After Surgery

​What to Expect After Surgery

Weight loss surgery can result in profound life changes both physically and emotionally. Learn more about what to expect by exploring the information below.

Diet

The modifications made to your gastrointestinal tract will require permanent changes in your eating habits. Post-surgery dietary guidelines vary by surgeon and type of procedure. What is most important is that you adhere strictly to your surgeon's recommended guidelines. Here are some of the most common ones:

  • Ensure you chew thoroughly when you start eating solid food, particularly steaks or other meat.
  • Don't drink fluids while eating. They will make you feel full before you have consumed enough food.
  • Avoid desserts and other items with sugar listed as one of the first three ingredients.
  • Avoid carbonated drinks, high-calorie nutritional supplements, milk shakes, high-fat foods and foods with high fiber content.
  • Avoid alcohol.
  • Limit snacking between meals.

Activity Level

Your ability to resume pre-surgery levels of activity will vary according to your physical condition, the nature of the activity and the type of weight loss surgery you had. Many patients return to full pre-surgery levels of activity within six weeks of their procedure.

Birth Control and Pregnancy

It is strongly advised that women of childbearing age use the most effective forms of birth control during the first 16 to 24 months after weight loss surgery. The added demands pregnancy places on the body and the potential for fetal damage make birth control an important requirement.

Long-Term Follow-Up

Although the short-term effects of weight loss surgery are well understood, there are still questions to be answered about the long-term effects on nutrition and body systems. Nutritional deficiencies that occur over the course of many years will need to be studied. Over time, you will need periodic evaluations for anemia (low red blood cell count) as well as proper levels of vitamin B12, folate and iron.

Follow-up tests will initially be conducted every three to six months, or as needed, and then every one to two years.

Nutritional Supplementation

Regardless of which type of surgery you choose, vitamin and mineral deficiencies can occur. These are quickly corrected using over-the-counter supplements. You should expect to take a combination of vitamins and minerals for life. There are a number of bariatric vitamins on the market. Your dietitian will work closely with you to ensure that you find an optimal combination of vitamins and minerals to maintain your health.

Be aware that due to the small nature of your stomach pouch, large, solid pills are usually difficult to tolerate. Chewable or liquid supplements are easy to digest and may prevent possible problems.

Emotional Challenges after Bariatric Surgery

Preaparing for weight-loss surgery is a very exciting time. Many patients anticipate the resolution of debilitating health problems, look forward to increased mobility and celebrate the emergence of a brand new body. However, weight loss surgery can also present unexpected emotional challenges and problems with spouses, partners, family and friends.

With careful preparation and thoughtful consideration, you can avoid experiencing many of the emotional challenges that often impact post-surgical bariatric patients. Now is the time to cement your support system with people who want to see you succeed. It's also important to heighten your awareness about problematic behaviors and interpersonal issues that can occur after surgery.

Transfer Addiction

Food serves as a source of pleasure, comfort and control in our lives. Many people also turn to food in order to fill emotional voids, especially in times of turmoil. This dependence on food can be an addictive behavior. After weight-loss surgery, when food is no longer an available coping mechanism, many transfer this addiction to other unhealthy options, such as alcohol or drugs. If you think you are an emotional eater and feel yourself slipping into unhealthy consumption patterns with alcohol or drugs (including prescription drugs), you should consult with your primary care provider or a mental health professional for evaluation.

Body Image Distortion

Bariatric patients can suffer from the same body image disorder (body dysmorphia) as patients who suffer from anorexia. This disorder usually develops as a coping mechanism during the years of weight gain. For example, prior to weight-loss surgery, many patients are able to convince themselves that they really aren't "that big." After weight-loss surgery, the opposite can occur: once patients lose the weight they may still see themselves as "fat" even though they are now down to an appropriate size. Patients can become overly judgmental of their new bodies, focusing on all of the imperfections, and they have to learn to accept themselves as a thinner person. In some cases, a severe fear of regaining weight can lead to the development of anorexia if not addressed by a professional counselor.

Emotional Instability

Emotional ups and downs are very common during the rapid weight loss phase after surgery. One biological cause of emotional instability in women is the release of female hormones into the body's system. These hormones are stored in the fat tissue, and as the fat stores are used, these hormones are released into the bloodstream, sometimes causing emotional highs and lows.

Both men and women may experience ups and downs after surgery while they get used to their new bodies, new diet regimes and how the world responds to the "new" them. Developing a strong support system and attending monthly support group meetings will help patients manage these emotions.

Interpersonal Relationship Challenges

Each of us has an established role within our family and circle of friends. Many patients who have undergone weight-loss surgery are surprised to find that their roles within these groups change. For example, a person who was previously withdrawn and insecure may become more outgoing and confident, the life the party.

You may experience a wide range of reactions from friends and family as you begin to lose weight after surgery. Most reactions will be positive and supportive, but you may also experience negativity from people close to you. Jealousy can lead friends or family to try sabotaging your success. An example of sabotaging behavior would be keeping foods in the house you are not allowed to have or making you feel guilty for not eating that slice of birthday cake. If your relationships with family and friends are healthy, you will be able to work through these struggles with proper communication, but if you are in an abusive, unhealthy or unhappy relationship you may face significant emotional challenges.

Learn more about how support groups can help you with short- and long-term needs after weight loss surgery.