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Recovering from weight loss surgery

Tips and information on recovering from bariatric surgery and improving weight loss.

a woman preparing healthy foods

Managing your recovery from surgery 

The time it takes for you to recover from bariatric surgery will depend on your overall health and what procedure you’ve had. Most people who have gastric band surgery will need a week or two off work. For gastric sleeve surgery or gastric bypass surgery, most people need two to four weeks before they can return to work. 

You’ll also need to take some precautions to reduce the risk of complications:

  • Follow your doctor's instructions. Your doctor will give you specific instructions on bathing and swimming, how much weight you can lift and what sort of exercise is safe to do as you heal.
  • Pain relief. You’ll be given pain relief medicine to take at home. Plan for someone to help you get around, since you won’t be able to drive or use heavy machinery while you’re taking these.
  • Stick to a liquid diet. During the first week or two after your surgery you’ll need to stick to a liquid diet. Talk to your doctor about how to slowly transition back to eating solid foods over the next couple of months.
Warning signs to watch out for

Over the following days and weeks after your surgery, it’s important to look out for any signs of a complication or infection. Contact your surgeon immediately if you experience:

  •  Abdominal pain 
  •  Racing heart 
  •  Chest pain 
  •  Breathlessness
  •  Fever (temperature above 38°C)  
  •  Pus or liquid coming from the wound, or redness in that area
  •  Pain, swelling or redness in your calf. 

 

If you have diabetes, there’s a risk that your blood glucose levels could drop too low. This is hypoglycaemia and is more common if you’re taking insulin or insulin releasing pills. Contact your doctor if you experience:

  •  Shaking, trembling or weakness
  •  Sweating
  •  Paleness
  •  Hunger
  •  Light headedness
  •  Headache
  •  Dizziness
  •  Pins and needles around mouth
  •  Mood change

 

Managing your diet and lifestyle after bariatric surgery

In the first six to eight weeks after weight loss surgery you’ll gradually build your way up from liquids, to pureed foods, to solids. It can be tricky to get enough protein in the first few months, so your doctor or dietitian may recommend a protein supplement. They’ll give you specific instructions on how to slowly ease your way back to a normal diet that includes a wide variety of lean protein, whole grains, vegetables and fruit. 

Slowly transitioning back to normal solid foods will help minimise unpleasant side effects and give you time to heal. After your weight loss surgery, you’ll need much smaller amounts of food than you did before. 

The tips in this article will help you get the nutrients you need, reduce common side effects and improve weight loss.

Drink plenty of water

Dehydration is common after weight loss surgery. Make sure you’re drinking enough water and eating foods that are high in fibre, such as fruit, vegetables and whole grains to reduce constipation. Exercise can help too. Follow your dietitian or doctor’s instructions, and let them know if you experience diarrhoea, constipation or vomiting. 

Eat to stay well

After bariatric surgery, you’ll need to make some long-term changes to the way you eat. These new eating habits will help reduce side effects, maximise weight loss and keep the weight off. 

  • Stop eating when you feel comfortably full, and don’t skip meals. Eating small meals regularly can help prevent you from getting too hungry and overeating later which can make you feel nauseous. 

  • Eat slowly. Chew well, take small bites and savour the flavours.  

  • Try using small dishes. Using a side plate can make it easier to stick to smaller portion sizes, and smaller cutlery can help you take little bites and eat more slowly. 

  • Cut out distractions. Focus on what you’re eating instead of your phone, laptop or television. A dietitian or psychologist can teach you mindful eating techniques, and how to spot and deal with emotional eating. 

  • Don’t eat and drink at the same time. Wait about 30 minutes after eating to drink.

  • Limit ‘liquid kilojoules.’ Juice, alcohol, soft drinks, smoothies, milkshakes and cordials tend to have lots of kilojoules without making you feel full, which can lead to weight regain. Try water with sliced fruit and a sprig of mint for a tastier version. 

  • Choose foods that are nourishing and filling. Skip foods that are high in sugar or highly processed.

  • Plan ahead. Stock your fridge and pantry so you have the ingredients you need on hand. When you have time, cook big batches of food and freeze in small portions. Soups, stews, curries and pasta sauces like bolognaise all freeze well. 

Take care when eating to reduce side-effects 

Gastric bypass and gastric sleeve surgery 

After gastric bypass surgery or gastric sleeve surgery, there’s a risk of ‘dumping syndrome’: when food passes through your stomach to your intestines too quickly, particularly after eating sugary or starchy foods. Symptoms can include vomiting, diarrhoea, dizziness, cramps, sweating, palpitations and fainting. 

There are some ways to prevent and manage the symptoms of dumping, including:  

  • Eat small amounts of protein and complex carbohydrates (e.g. whole grains such as oats) throughout the day. 

  • Aim for 5 or 6 small meals instead of 3 big meals. Eating regular meals is also important to get enough nutrients and protein as you won’t be able to make it up by eating more at your next meal.  

  • Limit sugary food and drinks. 

  • Leave 30 minutes between eating and drinking. This is important since your stomach has less space after gastric sleeve or gastric bypass surgery.  

Talk to you doctor if you experience symptoms of dumping syndrome.

Gastric band surgery

Gastric bands narrow the entrance to your stomach, and slow down the speed of food through the digestive system. Taking some care with your food and eating habits can help reduce symptoms of pain, blockage and vomiting. 

  • Chew your food well to reduce the chance of food getting stuck. It can also help to chop your food up into bite size chunks. 

  • Eating too quickly can cause pain and vomiting. Try pausing for 30 seconds after each swallow.

  • Leave about 30 minutes between eating and drinking to help keep larger pieces of food from being washed down into your stomach. Keep glasses and mugs away from where you’re eating so you don’t forget. 

Speak to your surgeon if you experience reflux. It could mean the band needs to be adjusted.

Increase your exercise 

Gradually increasing your physical activity and reducing the amount of time you’re sitting still can help you keep the weight off and feel better too. Aim for at least 30 minutes of “moderate intensity” activity a day. Your heartrate and breathing should increase, but you should still be able to carry on a conversation. 

If you can’t manage 30 minutes a day of moderate exercise, doing some physical activity is better than none. See your doctor or physiotherapist for specific advice on how to safely increase your exercise 

Check your nutrition

After weight loss surgery there’s a risk that you may not be getting all the vitamins and minerals you need. Your health professional will screen for this and recommend any supplements you may need. 

Don’t skip your follow up appointments 

Patients who attend follow up appointments tend to lose more weight and are more likely to keep it off. Your doctor can help you get back on track if you start to regain weight or aren’t losing weight as expected. If you’re taking medicines for other health conditions, your doctor can make sure you’re still on the right dose as you lose weight, so you don’t experience unnecessary side effects. If you’ve had gastric band surgery, they’ll ensure your band is properly adjusted.  

Remind yourself why you’re doing it 

Sticking to a new habit is easier when you remember why you’re doing it. Remind yourself of specific benefits you’ll experience when you eat well or increase your exercise. For example, health problems such as diabetes or sleep apnoea might go away or significantly improve, you may need less medicine, may experience less pain from osteoarthritis, or may have more energy.  

Don’t be discouraged if you have a down day, or don’t achieve your goals one week. Just start the next day fresh, and remember that even small changes to your lifestyle can make a big difference to your wellbeing.

 


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Sources

https://www.uptodate.com/contents/bariatric-surgery-postoperative-and-long-term-management-of-the-uncomplicated-patient

https://www.racgp.org.au/afp/2013/august/the-bariatric-surgery-patient/

https://www.racgp.org.au/afp/2017/december/management-of-bariatric-patients/

https://www.racgp.org.au/afp/2017/july/bariatric%E2%80%93metabolic-surgery-a-guide-for-the-primary-care-physician/

https://www.uptodate.com/contents/late-complications-of-bariatric-surgical-operations/abstract/63

https://academic.oup.com/advances/article/8/2/382/4558152

Things you need to know

#   Health Concierge is available to all eligible Medibank members who hold hospital cover. Excludes Overseas Visitor Health Cover, Working Visa Health Cover and Overseas Student Health Cover (OSHC).

~    OSHC members should call the Student Health and Support Line on 1800 887 283.

While we hope you find this information helpful, please note that it is general in nature. It is not health advice, and is not tailored to meet your individual health needs. You should always consult a trusted health professional before making decisions about your health care. While we have prepared the information carefully, we can’t guarantee that it is accurate, complete or up-to-date. And while we may mention goods or services provided by others, we aren’t specifically endorsing them and can’t accept responsibility for them. For these reasons we are unable to accept responsibility for any loss that may be sustained from acting on this information (subject to applicable consumer guarantees). 

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