Back by Popular Demand: A Closer Look at Alcohol Post-WLS

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.

There’s just something about the feeling of having a drink in hand when getting together with friends, attending social events, or just relaxing with one at the end of the day. More often than not, we find ourselves automatically picking a drink up and not having to think twice about it. But suppose you are preparing for weight loss surgery... In that case, you may want to begin practicing going sans alcohol for a while. Eventually, you will have to make a conscious effort to dramatically decrease consumption or say goodbye to it. Don’t freak out just yet! Understanding the “why” might help you to accept these changes and even form healthier habits. Check out the following facts and tips.

Fact #1
Alcohol promotes acid production and irritates the stomach lining.

Alcohol should be avoided within the first six months following WLS for a couple reasons. First, your stomach is healing. For optimal recovery, you will avoid foods and drinks that are spicy, acidic, caffeinated, carbonated, and alcoholic. These foods and beverages can increase acid production in the stomach, leaving you to feel symptoms of acid reflux, which may already be present due to the surgery itself. This is more common with vertical sleeve gastrectomy, but not everyone experiences this, and symptoms usually subside within the first few months up to a year if well managed. Second, alcohol irritates the stomach lining and can add to inflammation. So, let’s be gentle with your new stomach and let it do its thing until you’re nicely healed and on the right nutrition path.

Fact #2
Alcohol = empty calories.

When it comes to your calories after WLS, you have to make them count! Alcohol contains "empty calories", meaning the calories it offers aren’t good quality. Sure, you’ll have things here and there that you probably shouldn’t have. No one is perfect, nor should you completely deprive yourself of things you enjoy. Still, these empty calories add up if you’re not tracking or making smart decisions on the regular. Big picture: your goal is to provide your body with quality calories that support your nutrition and give you the energy you need. When or if you choose to drink alcohol, aim to stay away from carbonated and sugary drinks.

Fact #3
Bariatric patients have a high risk of intoxication in a short amount of time.

Anyone who has had WLS should take it very slowly when reintroducing alcohol. The way alcohol is absorbed after surgery is modified. Studies show that blood alcohol values are increased, and alcohol also stays in the bloodstream for extended amounts of time. This can pose a danger of becoming intoxicated in a short amount of time or becoming overly intoxicated altogether. Avoid drinking too much by ensuring you sip your drink of choice slowly and alternate with sipping water to stay hydrated. If you plan to have more than one drink, wait a while before the next and have water in between.

Let's review some tips for changing habits.

Suppose you associate events, holidays, and social settings with having alcohol. In that case, you may find it challenging to change your mindset after surgery. But that’s all it is... Mindset. If you continue to have drinks when you are cleared to do so, keep everything in perspective and be mindful. Set rules or boundaries with yourself before drinking, and appreciate what you’ve done for yourself by electing to have WLS. If you choose to replace that drink with a mocktail, that’s great! You can still feel like you are a part of the crowd while sipping something delicious and healthier while staying true to your new lifestyle. And hey, no hangover!

BariMelts provides general recommendations, not to be construed as medical advice. Please consult your doctor.

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