Article By: Whittany Gibson, RDN
Whittany is a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist who specializes in bariatric nutrition counseling, providing education and support prior to and following weight loss surgery.
You spend years trying to lose weight and nothing, I mean absolutely nothing, has worked for you. Diets, weight loss programs, medications, and exercise have never resulted in substantial or sustainable weight loss. But then there’s weight loss surgery... This could be the answer to it all. The key words there are, “could be”. But wait! “I thought weight loss surgery fixes everything?”, you say. Well... It can, but not without your help. You have to think of weight loss surgery as just a tool, like a hammer and a nail. A nail cannot be placed into a wall without the work of a hammer. You have to be that hammer. If you don’t put in the work, your end result will be null. But this work you put into supporting the tool must be optimized within a certain time frame, typically about 6 months post-op. This is when weight loss can begin to slow down. This time frame is commonly referred to as the honeymoon phase.
It’s called the honeymoon phase for a reason. In the immediate post-op months, you’re motivated, doing well with your food choices and exercise regimen, and you feel all warm and fuzzy inside about how the weight is falling off. Fast forward to a few months later, and you start to become comfortable. Maybe a little too comfortable to the point where these feelings tend to wear off... You might find yourself starting to slack off with your exercise routine, you get busier with work and prioritize yourself less leading to lack of meal prep and planning, and maybe you start to test the limits with foods you have previously said goodbye to. Whatever the reason, you need to beware of the human brain and understand you and only you are in control of your success. What you do within that time frame determines your results. You have to keep the ball rolling. With careful consideration and planning, you can avoid falling off track and continue to crush your goals for the long-term. How, you ask? You can follow these simple rules (and follow them religiously within the first 6 months) so you are more adapted to your routines and habits. Therefore, you set yourself up for success after the honeymoon phase is over!
1) Adopt changes as a new lifestyle. If you go into this whole experience knowing you will be living a new lifestyle, it will be a lot easier. What you do on a day-to-day basis will determine your lifestyle. If you understand that regimented exercise and diet are the two main factors, you’re good to go. Do the work. This is not a “diet” or some kind of “plan” you are following that has an end. It will never end. These habits you practice on the daily are your new lifestyle. Planning, eating healthfully, exercising, and just taking care of yourself in general is part of this lifestyle.
2) Make exercise a “non-negotiable” priority. Exercise is not an option if you want to succeed, so you must make it a “non-negotiable”. Remember that exercise isn’t just a means of losing weight. You can’t look at it that way. Exercise makes you more motivated to be more active in general. You feel better both physically and mentally. It boosts serotonin which makes us generally happier, reduces risk of disease, can add years to your life, strengthens your bones and muscles, and supports your metabolism. There are forms of exercise out there for absolutely everyone. I’m an excuse crusher. If you tell me your knee hurts when you walk, I’ll challenge you to find chair exercises. If you tell me all your joints hurt, I’m going to challenge you to find a pool for aquatic exercises. Whatever your barrier may be, what can you do? Aim for daily cardio, optimally something that gets your heart pumping harder. You’ll also want to plan for 2-3 days of weight bearing exercise to help maintain muscle mass and build strength. Remember to change up your exercise every 3-4 weeks to keep your body guessing and preventing adaptation. Schedule it, communicate with others that this is time you will be taking to prioritize your health and do all you can ahead to prepare for this time.
3) Always do prep work. You should always be aware of what your plans are for the day before the day even begins. As the saying goes, failure to plan is like planning to fail. Typically, if it’s not in your schedule, it doesn’t happen. Want to eat healthier and ensure you’re on the right track? Sit down, get a pen and paper, and begin to organize your thoughts for what you or you and your family will be eating that week. Does it have to be perfect? No! But a tentative plan is better than no plan. Go shopping for these foods and prep as much as possible before the busy work week. What about exercise? Add that to your plan also. What will you be doing? Where will you do it? What equipment, tools, or resources do you need? Who will you need to communicate this plan with so that there are no surprise interruptions? My number one tip is to make a plan before the week and review this plan every day and every night. Stay ahead of the game and keep it in the front of your mind. After all, this is your new lifestyle so it should be something that stays on your mind. Your focus goes where energy flows!
4) Know who supports you and surround yourself around like-minded people. You are who you hang around, right? There’s so much truth to this it hurts. This can apply to many areas of our lives including the weight loss surgery community. It’s invaluable to have others that have been and are going through the same struggles as you are. It’s also wonderful to be able to share successes and receive motivation from others. Connect with your surgery center’s support groups, follow others on social media who are great leaders, join online programs that provide long term support and education, listen to podcasts that focus on growth and improvement. Basically, surround yourself constantly with things and people that support your new lifestyle. In my opinion, this is the most important rule because without it you can find yourself lost in the mix of everything else and can be left feeling unsupported. Without this support, you can quickly fall off track.
There’s no doubt that if these habits are in place prior to surgery, you will be able to roll pretty effortlessly into continuing them post-op. But always be aware of life and the distractions it can throw at you. There’s nothing like a vacation, a family tragedy, a new job, or whatever else that can quickly derail your rhythm. If you know what to do and how to do it, you’re golden. You’ll know what to do to get back on track. But ensuring these practices are followed especially within the first 6 months post-op will be vital to your success.
BariMelts provides general recommendations, not to be construed as medical advice. Please consult your doctor.