No matter what bariatric procedure you undergo, you will need to commit to a lifestyle change that includes improved diet. Depending on the procedure and your situation, you may require additional vitamin and mineral supplementation to ensure you do not develop long-term nutritional deficiencies. Post-surgery, dietary guidelines will be tailored to your situation.
This diet can vary between patient – even within our practice – based on your medical history and what your surgeon thinks is best for you. As such, you may hear of other patients who have a different diet to follow. It is important to remember that every bariatric surgical procedure is different, and the dietary guidelines are based on the individual.
What is most important is that you adhere to your surgeon’s recommendations. Here are some of the generally accepted dietary guidelines that a weight loss surgery patient may encounter:
- How you eat will make a difference. A few weeks after surgery, you will be able to consume solid foods. At this point, it is imperative that you chew thoroughly. Any steak or meat chunks must be ground or chewed thoroughly to avoid problems.
- Avoid drinking fluids 45 minutes before and after eating. The added volume can cause satiety before you have consumed enough nutrition, therefore increasing the chances of nutritional problems. Further, gastric bypass patients may experience dumping syndrome, an uncomfortable condition involving the rapid emptying of stomach contents into the intestine.
- Sugary desserts are a no-no. If the dessert lists sugar as one of the first three ingredients, it’s best to avoid it.
- We want you to stay hydrated, but drink the right drinks. Carbonated drinks, many liquid nutritional supplements, milk shakes, high-fat foods and foods with high fiber content should all be avoided.
- Try not to drink alcohol. Alcohol provides no nutrition and plenty of empty calories. Further, gastric bypass patients may become inebriated sooner than they expect.
- Snacking and grazing can add hundreds of calories to your daily diet – avoid it.
- Smoking can cause gastric pouch issues – even chewing tobacco is not recommended.
- Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs or NSAIDs such as aspirin, ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin), naproxen (Aleve), etc., can injure the stomach pouch.
Try not to consider your long-term eating changes as a “diet” per se. Rather, you are now consuming food in moderation and eliminating foods that provide neither nutrition nor satiety. What you will find is that your long-term diet is sustainable and does allow for some creativity in tastes and flavors. Many bariatric patients find their stride within a couple months after surgery. They learn how to cook, order in a restaurant and motivate themselves in a healthy and sustainable manner.
Guide to Natural and Artificial Sweeteners After Surgery
Several years ago, zero-calorie natural and artificial sweeteners were considered a staple for those having undergone bariatric surgery. Recent research has brought new scrutiny on these compounds that include saccharin, sucralose, aspartame, neotame, acesulfame, and stevia.
All of the above are approved by the FDA, and these compounds are found in many of our everyday items including yogurt, vitamins, gum, ice creams and frozen yogurts, toothpaste, cereals and snacks, sodas, iced teas/coffees and alcoholic drinks, cakes, cookies and other bakery items, salad dressings, and much, much more … so they must be safe … right?
As low-calorie sweeteners become ubiquitous, new research is making it ever more apparent that excessive intake of any added sweetener, regardless of caloric content, can cause severe negative health effects over the long-term. While there is no definitive consensus on why this happens or what exactly strikes a good balance (moderation), there is plenty we do know.
What We Know About Sugar
Refined, added sugar is a bad carb, plain and simple. As a simple carb, sugar offers no nutrition and represents empty calories. Unfortunately, the modern palette has gotten used to added sugars and it’s getting harder to find anything without some, or lots, of sugar added.
Sugar occurring naturally in many of the most nutritious foods we consume is not so bad (although we still need to limit consumption). The problem is, we no longer find those naturally sweetened foods as palatable and we don’t eat enough of them.
The result has been an epidemic of added sugar consumption the likes of which we have never seen before. Diabetes and obesity, two diseases linked, at least in part, to sugar consumption, are skyrocketing and our options for getting it under control are shrinking. Until recently, artificial sweeteners were the supposed cure for the epidemic.
What We Know About Artificial Sweeteners
Some artificial sweeteners are better than others, no doubt, but with the rise in consumption of these compounds are we doing ourselves any favors? Let’s jump in.
Of course, the main benefit of artificial sweeteners is that they offer the sweet taste we crave without the calories. Drinking a diet soda versus the regular kind can save 140+ calories per bottle. Baking a cake with sucralose versus regular sugar can save thousands of calories. Seems like a win-win.
So, what’s the catch? There are a few and they’re biggies.
- There is a tendency to believe that if we save calories on one hand (by drinking diet soda), we can splurge on the other (maybe eating a cheeseburger). Clearly that logic can be destructive to one’s long-term health, but in the moment, it just makes sense! Obviously, any such thoughts need to be dispelled.
- It is becoming clearer with each new study that artificial sweeteners may be changing our palates to where we need sugar in everything to enjoy our food and drink. This means that low-sugar items become less and less appealing and those that fill our sweet cravings become the staples in our diets. As our tastes change, so do the processed foods that cater to those tastes. The result? Intake of low-nutrition, processed foods that manage our cravings, but do not offer quality nutrition.
- Artificial sweeteners, much like sugar, may be addictive, at least in animal studies. Just like every craving, over time we need more and more to keep us happy. You may have started with half a packet of sweetener, but a year later need a full packet to enjoy that same coffee. Some studies have drawn comparisons of addictiveness at the level of illegal Proof 18 drugs such as cocaine. Trying to detox our bodies of such a powerful compound does not happen easily.
- Sugar substitutes may, in fact, trick the body into believing it needs more calories, which it will crave and receive from other sources.
- Even though there is some scientific consensus that many artificial sweeteners a not carcinogens in small amounts, they have become an ever-larger part of our diets. First, we do not know if these compounds could cause cancer in the quantities being consumed today and second, we do not fully know how these compounds affect our gastrointestinal or hormonal systems.
What About Other Natural Sweeteners?
There are many natural sweeteners out there, some that offer very compelling benefits – for example, being organic, derived from plants and zero- or very low calories. However, the negatives are the same – extreme sweetness, regardless of the calories, can work against us, natural or not, for the same reasons mentioned above.
What’s the Takeaway on Sugar and Natural and Artificial Sweeteners?
To be sure there is a place for them all. However, we must reduce our dependence on them…just as we detox from a drug, removing added sugars and all forms of added sweetener from our lives will make us healthier and reduce those cravings that are so hard to resist.
OK, You’ve Told Me what NOT to Do, Now What Are My Options?
- Understand that you will not be able to avoid artificial sweeteners, especially right after bariatric surgery (most protein shakes have it), but you can minimize your exposure to it. A) choose your products carefully by checking ingredients, b) avoid the consumption of non-essential foods and drinks like zero-calorie flavored drinks sweetened artificially and c) work with your nutritionist and support group peers to find new and interesting options.
- Get back to basics. What did our parents and grandparents eat and drink when obesity was not a national crisis? What portions did they find filling? How can we emulate that? Changing what a “treat” means (maybe instead of cake, we try fruit) and limiting portions (get the taste but not the quantity) can both help.
- Remember that healthy weight loss requires a combination of factors for long term success. Yes, diet is a very important component, but exercise and mental health are key to losing weight, too. Getting your physical and mental house in order helps limit your consumption of bad foods as well. That helps us keep our cravings in check.
- Learn to love water again. It’s not the tastiest thing out there, but it sure does make us feel better when we’re dragging through the day due to dehydration. For added flavor, there is nothing wrong with steeping fruits and vegetables in the bottle – a little lemon, cucumber, mint or watermelon adds negligible, if any, calories and offers a more satisfying taste.
As with everything after bariatric surgery, moderation is key. We don’t expect you to cut out sugar entirely – it would be torture and, quite frankly, unsustainable. Rather, we want to see you consume sugar in appropriate quantities and ideally in the form of whole fruits, not in juices or added to other foods and drinks.
Drinking After Bariatric Surgery
Every year, hundreds of thousands of Americans undergo some form of weight loss surgery. While the procedure itself is very effective in helping the patient lose weight, ultimately it is the patient’s dedication to a new and improved lifestyle – including diet and exercise – that determines their level of success, both as it relates to weight loss and disease improvement and resolution.
While many patients enjoyed drinking before surgery, they come to find out that alcohol after a weight loss surgery procedure is not recommended both for weight gain and even in some cases, safety. Let’s dive in:
Nutritional and Dietary Considerations
Regardless of the procedure you undergo, restricting calories is paramount after surgery. This is both to lose weight and to improve or eliminate the diseases associated with morbid obesity, known as comorbidities. Alcohol is very high in sugar and calories. Even low-calorie drinks and mixes, that advertise themselves as diet-friendly, are problematic.
Getting adequate vitamins and nutrients after bariatric surgery is critical to the patient’s health and ongoing weight loss. However, studies have shown that alcohol can interfere with nutrition by causing problems both when absorbing and using key vitamins and nutrients. Oftentimes nutrients are not fully broken down because alcohol inhibits the secretion of important enzymes from the pancreas. Bariatric patients are already at risk of nutritional deficiencies and these risks are increased by alcohol use, especially heavy or binge drinking.
Alcohol is a diuretic and while some patients may believe they’re consuming liquids, and they are, they are also expelling more liquid than they normally would. The net result is a deficiency in a key component of the aftercare process – hydration.
Blood Sugar Considerations
After bariatric surgery, patients will experience rapid weight loss. One of the most restricted compounds are carbohydrates, most specifically sugars. During this time, patients are therefore susceptible to low blood sugar levels. Consuming alcohol can create a glycogen deficiency which in turn causes blood sugar levels to fall even further. Many of us have experienced temporary, mild low blood sugar symptoms in the form of lightheadedness, but bariatric patients may experience more severe symptoms including loss of consciousness resulting in serious injury.
Impairment and Overeating
Some weight loss surgeries, such as the gastric bypass, reduce the stomach to roughly the size of a ping-pong ball and as such, patients need to be careful to monitor not only their food intake, but alcohol consumption as well. The concerns are two-fold:
First, because of the phenomenon known as rapid gastric emptying, gastric bypass patients may experience heightened sensitivity to alcohol. The reduction or elimination of a stomach enzyme that metabolizes alcohol means the alcohol passes into the sensitive lining of the small intestine relatively undigested. This enhances inebriation and increases blood alcohol levels. This is especially true during the first six months to one year after surgery. As patients become more accustomed to life after bariatric surgery, they may be able to enjoy a very occasional drink, with the knowledge that a smaller concentration of alcohol will create more significant impairment. Patients should wait ample time before driving and performing skilled tasks.
Alcohol aids in social relaxation, but too much alcohol may eliminate some necessary inhibitions – making it possible for patients to overeat without thinking of the consequences. While an indiscretion here or there is relatively harmless, over time, alcohol induced overeating can lead to stretching of the stomach pouch. The danger arises when the patient reverts to bad eating habits, gets sucked into a cycle of drinking alcohol to enable them to consume more food, and eventually stretches the pouch permanently, causing weight gain.
Alcohol Dependence and Transference
A relatively uncommon, but possible consideration for bariatric patients is addiction transfer i.e., substituting the comfort of and dependence on eating (before surgery), for another addiction, like alcohol (or drugs, shopping, gambling or any other compulsion). While addiction transfer rates vary, it may affect a significant number of bariatric surgery patients. Addiction transference for the bariatric patient may be managed with open and honest communication with loved ones and our office, understanding the signs and risks and seeking help from a professional when these compulsions appear. Patients, therefore, need to be aware of the potential for addiction transfer and should keep their alcohol consumption to a minimum.
The Bottom Line
Simply put, alcohol consumption is not advisable after surgery. However, there will be times when you just want to have a small drink. Sometime within the first year, after the first six months, you will be cleared to consume alcohol. At this point, just exercise appropriate restraint and caution. Much like anything else after bariatric surgery, the key is moderation.
Most importantly, do not drive or operate machinery having consumed alcohol recently, no matter how small the amount – you truly will not know your blood alcohol level or level of impairment. And if you’re drinking to cope or get through the day, seek professional help.
As always, we want you to enjoy your life after bariatric surgery and encourage you to bring up the topic of alcohol consumption either at your next follow-up appointment or at one of our monthly support group meetings.
Activity and Weight Loss After Weight Loss Surgery
In the longer term, exercise is a critically important part of patient success. After surgery, bariatric patients who combine proper diet with a regular exercise program have been shown to achieve greater weight loss than patients who remain sedentary. In addition to losing more weight and keeping it off, patients who exercise are not only healthier, but may be happier, too. Exercise releases chemicals in the body that stimulate happiness and mitigate depression and anxiety. Plus, exercise improves heart health and increases energy.
Patients should slowly build up the amount of time they spend exercising every day. Walking will be one of the most effective and easiest exercises to perform after surgery. Patients will likely be able to return to many activities and might finally be able to perform some that they haven’t in many years such as:
- Taking a long romantic walk with their spouse or significant other
- Playing (and keeping up) with their children or grandchildren
- Tying their shoes with no difficulty at all
- Fitting comfortably into a plane or movie theater seat
- Being able to perform and complete a cardiovascular workout
- Playing sports
Moderation in Exercise
With all activities and exercises, also comes risk. These risks usually revolve around overexertion and injury. Exercise should be started in moderation, slowly building up to greater and greater difficulty levels. Patients may also opt for low-impact activities as they lose wright, to minimize stress on their joints. Swimming and cycling may be preferable to running on pavement for several months after surgery. Some beneficial low impact exercises may include:
- Cycling or spinning
- Ballroom dancing
- Yoga and stretching
- Rowing or kayaking
- Water aerobics
- Brisk walking
No matter what exercise is being performed it is important to remember that overexertion is not worth it. While you may be excited to see the next step in your routine, injuring yourself can set you back for weeks.
Staying Motivated to Exercise
One of the many challenges that patients face after surgery is staying motivated to exercise over the longer term. Workout routines can seem monotonous after a while. Staying motivated becomes more important. Here are some simple tips to get moving and keep motivated when you are cleared for all exercises.
First off, it is important to find enjoyable activities. Exercise does not have to be torture. In fact, we can come up with dozens of ways to entertain ourselves while exercising. Finding something fun – a walk in the park, riding a bike, swimming or rollerblading. If you enjoy winter weather you might try skiing, snowboarding, snowshoeing or cross-country skiing. They will all get your heart rate up, get you moving and that is the main goal. Participating in team sports can also be very fulfilling. Having others count on you to show up and play your best helps keep you motivated week in and week out.
Not into the outdoors? Even bowling counts as exercise! Or maybe join a gym and bring a buddy. Having someone to keep you accountable will encourage you on those days you really don’t want to exercise. And don’t forget the kids or grandkids; trying to keep up with them will not only require plenty of exertion, but their excitement at playing with their parent or grandparent may offer much-needed motivation for you to keep going. There is some form of physical activity that will get you excited about exercising and will hold your interest for more than a short while. Be creative – the need for exercise is never going away, so you may as well burn calories and shed those pounds doing something you enjoy.
Important reminder – always follow your surgeon’s instructions for exercise to avoid injury or surgical complications.
Remember exercise is a significant part of a successful surgery. Find activities that you really enjoy and relish the thought of finally being able to perform them to your fullest abilities.
Pregnancy After Surgery
There are many benefits to weight loss both medical and aesthetic. One of the most fulfilling benefits for many of our female patients is that they may begin to start ovulating and menstruating normally after surgery. This is as a result of the normalization of hormonal levels, especially estrogen and insulin.
Why Do Hormone Levels Matter?
The ovaries use the hormones in the body to regulate their natural cycles. Obesity however, interferes with hormonal balance and can cause irregular or missed ovulation, resulting in infertility. As a result of the more normal hormonal patterns, pregnancy is not only more likely, but complications and birth defects are less likely to occur. Further, it has been shown that children born to obese mothers have a higher likelihood of becoming obese themselves both at very young ages and through their adolescence.
When Can a Weight Loss Surgery Patient Get Pregnant?
It is important to understand that bariatric surgery causes disruption to the normal gastrointestinal and abdominal functions. Since pregnancy places an increased stress on your body and specifically your abdominal area, there is a potential for serious complications if a patient becomes pregnant within the first 16 to 24 months after weight loss surgery. Also, during the first year or two after surgery, patients will be losing a significant amount of weight and their diets and nutritional requirements will be changing as well. Becoming pregnant during that time can pose a risk to fetal development. We strongly advise that sexually active weight loss surgery patients begin taking effective birth control measures to avoid pregnancy within that time to not harm mother or child.
Effects of Obesity on Fertility
Obese women may have difficulty becoming pregnant as obesity may affect ovulation and fertility by altering the normal hormonal patterns that the ovaries need to function properly. It has also been shown that the risks of birth defects and adolescent obesity are increased in children born to women who were obese when pregnant.
Obesity affects fertility in several ways. Excess weight can alter hormonal production in the body, creating imbalances that can reduce the chances of getting pregnant. These imbalances can also alter ovulation patterns. Further, obesity can lead to type 2 diabetes which itself can cause problems with fertility.
Obesity can cause or worsen polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), a condition where the ovaries are enlarged and contain many small cysts, often causing fertility problems. Obesity can also interfere with the effectiveness of in vitro fertilization (IVF).
Risks of Pregnancy While Obese
A study published in the February 11, 2009 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association analyzed clinical data from previous studies and concluded that indeed there is a link to birth defects when the mother is overweight or obese. Birth defects included: neural tube defects, spina bifida, cardiovascular problems and cleft lip.
While the risks of these birth defects were increased, their overall incidence is not widespread, so it is something to consider as obese women decide to conceive. Other data has shown that the risk of miscarriage increases with excess weight and obesity.
Studies have also shown that children born to women who have undergone successful weight loss surgery were less likely to be obese than siblings born presurgery. A 2006 study published in the journal Pediatrics compared 172 children – 113 born to obese mothers who had weight loss surgery to 45 similarly aged siblings who were born before surgery. The incidence of obesity in the post-surgical children was 52% lower and the incidence of severe obesity was over 45% lower than in pre-surgical births.
When can you get pregnant after bariatric surgery?
If you undergo bariatric surgery, there are limitations on when you can safely get pregnant. Depending on the procedure and how long you take to heal, you may have to wait up to 18 months after surgery before trying to become pregnant. Because pregnancy puts a strain on the abdominal area including the stomach and digestive system, it is very important you do not get pregnant until your surgeon declares it safe to do so.
Our office will be able to estimate when you can become pregnant safely based on the progress you make in healing. When you decide you would like to get pregnant, please let us know and we will be able to offer you guidance throughout the process.
Weight Gain After Bariatric Surgery
If, after all your hard work and weight loss efforts, you notice that suddenly, the scale is going up instead of down, don’t panic. Virtually every bariatric surgery patient will contend with some weight regain, lack of weight loss and fluctuation throughout their post-operative journey. First, assess the situation and see if you can see an immediate and obvious cause. For example:
- Are your eating habits the same as before? If not, how have they changed?
- Have you been in one exercise routine for a long time?
- Has your exercise routine slowed down?
- Have you had an excess of salty foods recently?
- Has your stress level changed recently?
A change in eating habits, increasing or even decreasing calorie intake, can affect your weight loss or maintenance. Too much food can cause weight gain, but not enough food can trigger our bodies’ starvation mode and cause us to hold on to extra weight and water. A quick chat with your nutritionist can figure out any issues.
Slowing down your exercise routine or even simply staying at one difficulty level can also cause us to hit plateaus or put on weight. It may be time to change it up or even step up the intensity level just a bit. Talk to your exercise physiologist or your personal trainer for advice on how to take your workout to the next level.
Avoid salty foods and be sure to drink plenty of water. You’ve probably heard that a hundred times, but it’s true. Just a little excess salt can cause some powerful water retention and not consuming enough water can cause “head hunger,” water retention and low energy.
Stress and hormone levels can often affect our weight and ability to lose weight. Assess your current lifestyle. Have there been recent stress level changes or is high stress the norm in your life? If you said yes to either, stress relief exercises may help lower your levels, which will help bring those weight gaining stress hormones back in check.
- If you’ve assessed the situation and still can’t find the answer to the mystery weight gain, make an appointment with your surgeon. If lifestyle issues are ruled out, the reasons for weight regain after bariatric surgery can vary and include:
- Natural plateaus during the weight loss process
- The stomach may begin to stretch in response to increased food intake over time. This is perfectly normal if the weight regain is only moderate
- Gastric bypass patients may experience a widening or stretching of the stoma – this is the valve that was surgically created between the stomach and the small intestine
- The surgical procedure is not working ideally
If no overt lifestyle reason can be determined, we may perform certain tests to verify the continued effectiveness of the primary bariatric procedure. For those that may have a physical or procedural reason for their weight regain, there are several minimally invasive (and even no-incision) options for restoring the procedure to its former effectiveness. This is called revisional bariatric surgery and represents an uncommon, but sometimes necessary solution to weight regain.
We encourage you to discuss your weight regain concerns with our team or consider bringing it up in support group to learn more about any possible underlying problems and to get more information on effective solutions.