Veterans vs. Newbies: Different Challenges During the WLS Journey

Article By: Kimberly Hembree

When you first have weight loss surgery, there is so much to learn. From understanding which supplements you need to take to ensuring you are eating enough protein... It is a whole new world that you have to start living. Newbie patients have a lot to take in, and it can get overwhelming. On the other hand, veteran patients still have challenges as well. When you get to a certain point after bariatric surgery, you start to get comfortable in your new routine... It's important to always remember why you had this surgery.

I remember how lonely I felt in the early days when I first had surgery. It was scary not knowing what to expect and just figuring it out as I went along. I was always living for the moment and not thinking about the future, which I think was helpful for the stage I was in. I have come to realize the farther out I get, the more I need to realize the lifelong change this surgery had on my body. When I was a newbie, I was so focused on losing the weight as fast as I could, but with time, I feel like I have become wiser from this journey. I have come to realize that now I have to be thinking about maintaining and ensuring my body truly stays healthy.

As you become more mature through your bariatric journey, where you need to focus your attention will change. So, let’s talk about the different challenges you might face as a newbie that start to transition out after a few years.

1) Getting on a good vitamin routine. You have heard it from everyone out there just how important it is to get on a good routine. You might think this sounds silly, but it truly can take time to find a routine that works for you. There are a lot of vitamins after weight loss surgery, and that can take time to get used to. It is critical that you educate yourself on the vitamins that are a priority after your surgery. For me personally, I like separating mine out throughout the day. This just makes it less overwhelming for me and also ensures I space them out appropriately since some vitamins cannot be taken together.

2) Eating a balanced diet. Once you have weight loss surgery, your diet will change drastically. As a newbie, you will have to spend a lot of time figuring out the types of foods you need to focus on. If you have spent your entire life being unhealthy, this might be a little challenging. I know that I was surprised when I started really paying attention to my food labels. I was shocked to see how much sugar was in some items. It took me a long time to really get a good routine down where I was not always thinking about food. In the early days after surgery, I would literally cry. Yes, you heard me correctly. I would cry when I could not have sugar. It truly was an addiction, and it took so much strength to push through. As a newbie, you must be prepared for the emotional toll it takes on you.

3) Learning how to incorporate exercise into your life. Once again, if you have spent your entire life being inactive, this will take time to get the hang of. You do not have to jump right in and start running 5Ks. You must find what works for you. For me, cycling was my thing. It does not matter if it's walking, swimming, dancing, or biking... Just find something that gets your body moving! And kudos if you can find something that you actually wake up excited to do every day. That is when you know you made it!

4) Understanding what foods give you dumping syndrome. This was probably one of the most difficult parts about being a new bariatric patient. Some things that gave me dumping syndrome made sense while others completely blew my mind. Sugar is our enemy after surgery, and it is important that you learn to avoid the foods that will make you sick. I remember during my early days after surgery, I would test the system to see how much sugar I could have. Yes, I was crazy and quite frankly, silly for doing this. I would have a piece of candy to see if I could tolerate it and eventually, I was eating full sundaes from Baskin Robins. This was my biggest mistake after surgery. I have no idea why I felt the need to test it because all that did was put things I should not have had back into my diet. The day that I had the sundae, I remember I thought I was dying. Dumping syndrome is awful, and this was an experience I never wanted again. My heart was pounding, I was sweating profusely, and I was sick to my stomach. Take it from me, do not try to trick the system. Just stay away from sugar!

5) Navigating through changes. So many things are different after weight loss surgery and not just with the types of foods you are eating. Your friends might also change, and the activities you do for fun might look a little different. Food can no longer be the center of your world and because of this, you will experience change. In the end, it will be positive change, but I will tell you, it can be very painful to lose friends for being healthier and not wanting to go out to eat all the time anymore.

Once you get to veteran patient status, you will probably feel so much more confident with all the things I just listed, and it will be your new normal. However, you will still have situations to deal with. As I am approaching my 9-year anniversary, there are new challenges on my mind.

1) Keeping up with deficiencies. This unfortunately does not go away. It will be something you will have to stay on top of for life to make sure you remain healthy. It can be exhausting and can affect your life more than you realize. For example, during my pregnancies, it was a huge concern and something I really struggled with. I had a lot of guilt that my decision to have surgery was now affecting my children because I felt like I could not nourish them the way they needed. If you start to slip and you get deficient, it can become dangerous. This is something you cannot slack on.

2) Dealing with long-term changes after surgery. Your body is unique and because of that, we process things differently. For me personally, I have to live with the uncomfortable long-term side effect of digestive issues. I hate it so much, but it is a consequence from the surgery that I have learned to accept. Although some side effects get better after surgery, there are some that stay for a lifetime. That fact can feel defeating at times.

3) Watching for the scary side effects. I think one of the newest challenges I have been struggling with lately as a veteran patient is the anxiety around the “what ifs.” What if I develop colon cancer or what if I have one of those crazy rare stories after bariatric surgery? I sometimes regret that I had the surgery for this reason. I worry that I was not thinking long-term and therefore one day I will pay the price and develop some rare cancer as a result from having surgery. I hate thinking in this mindset, but it can be where my head goes sometimes and that really scares me. I want to be here for my children as long as possible and sometimes I think the surgery might end up coming back and biting me. More than likely, this will not happen, but it is a very legitimate fear that veteran patients can have sometimes.

4) Not letting yourself have too much freedom. As someone who has experienced regain, this is a never-ending challenge. You do not just lose the weight and you are done. It is a lifelong battle you will have to fight and one of the things you must learn to do is not give yourself too much freedom to make poor choices. I am a huge believer in having balance after weight loss surgery, but it is also important to remember not to give yourself excuses. You have to keep fighting for yourself every single day and have accountability for your actions.

5) Staying connected in the community. Let me tell you, as a newbie patient, I was all about this and was so happy to find such an amazing community. As I have gotten farther out, I feel a little disconnected from the community and to be honest, that is my fault. I lost the initiative to check in and stay connected with friends that I met on this journey, and I think that happens for a lot of us the farther out we get. When you first have surgery, you are so excited about your new life. After a few years, just like with many things, you put less time into building those connections. Finding the time to stay connected in this community is hard, but I am learning just how much I really need it.

As a bariatric patient, whether you are a newbie just getting started or a veteran patient who has been at this for many years, we need each other. There is so much to learn on this journey, and it truly is a lifelong decision that will stick with you. You will have ups and downs, but the important thing is that you keep going.

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

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