Having weight loss surgery can be an intense journey. Most patients have suffered because of their weight for years. They have considered the pros and cons or surgery, made the tough decision to pursue a medical procedure, and have prepared their family and friends. Then, after procedure day, and recovery process begins.
Recovery after a major weight loss surgery (gastric sleeve, gastric bypass or lap-band) can be difficult, both physically and emotionally. Patients need to make permanent changes in their lifestyle in order to see the results they desire. So how can patients set themselves up for success? The first step is having realistic expectations for recovery and beyond.
Let’s dive into what to expect after weight loss surgery:
How much weight patients lose depends on their pre-surgery weight, type of surgery they get, and their post-surgery lifestyle. The range of excess weight lost can be from 25% to 90%.
Here are some general guidelines for excess weight lost over time, assuming patients stick with recommended post-operation lifestyle changes:
- 3 months: 30%
- 6 months: 50%
- 1 year: 70%
- 2 years: 65%
- 5 years: 56%
- 3 months: 30%
- 6 months: 50%
- 1 year: 65%
- 2 years: 60%
- 5 years: 50%
- 3 months: 20%
- 6 months: 30%
- 1 year: 40%
- 2 years: 55%
- 5 years: 55%
Surgeons can provide the best estimation for patients on a case-by-case basis.
In general, recovery from gastric sleeve, gastric bypass and lap band surgery takes around six weeks. Most patients will stay in the hospital for one to three days. After five days, patients can do light activity and can return to work after two weeks. After four to six weeks, most patients can return to normal activity with noticeable weight loss.
If patients follow post-care instructions, most don’t experience serious problems after weight loss surgery. The complication rate for serious complications is less than 5%. There are some common side effects that patients may experience. These include:
- Constipation: Patients can take a stool softener in the first month after surgery, and increase fluid and fiber in their diet.
- Dumping Syndrome: Avoiding sugary food, sodas or fruit juices can help decrease nausea, vomiting or weakness.
- Gallstones: These are common (occurs in 50% of patients) and may require surgical removal.
- Surgical site infections: Wound infections can be treated with antibiotics.
Diet and Nutrition
With a significantly smaller stomach comes a change in both what and how patients can eat.
- Protein first: The body requires up to 80 grams of protein a day, and if not available in the diet the body will begin to break down muscle. This can lead to nausea, irritability, and weakness. So it’s important to eat protein first, which can be found in lean meats, fish, nuts, and soy and dairy products.
- Avoid simple carbs and sugary foods: Complex carbs (like brown rice and whole-grain bread) are often high in fiber which keeps the stomach full faster and helps regulate bowel movements.
- Stay hydrated: In general, patients need to drink at least 8 cups of water per day. This can be tough, especially since patients can’t drink with their meals. Drinking liquids within an hour of eating can quickly flush food through the stomach, which can lead to digestion problems, hunger and weight gain. Patients usually have to sip some water every 15-20 minutes outside of meal times to meet their liquid goals.
- Vitamin supplements: Surgeons often prescribe patients with supplements that contain iron, vitamin B12, folate, calcium, and vitamin D, since the body has a harder time absorbing these nutrients after surgery.
Patients can achieve dramatic results from weight loss surgery, but the key to maintaining results long-term is to keep up with permanent lifestyle changes. These include:
- Eating small meals more frequently: After weight loss surgery, the size of the stomach is significantly smaller. Eating large meals can cause health problems and lead to regaining lost weight. Adapting to a post-op diet with smaller portion sizes can be a challenge, especially with patients who suffer from binge eating disorders.
- Eating a nutritious diet: After transitioning from clear liquids to solid foods after surgery, committing to a balanced diet is important. Ideally, patients stick to the diet outlined by their healthcare team.
- Exercise regularly: Patients can work with their doctor’s to develop a program that takes into consideration personal exercise preferences, ability and goals. Low impact exercise like swimming, cycling and walking are ideal for bariatric patients, as well as toning exercises such as lifting weights.
With a better sense of what to expect after weight loss surgery, patients can be better prepared to make the best short and long term decisions to achieve optimal results. For more info and tips on recovering from surgery, see our previous blog post, “What is Plastic Surgery Recovery Like? How to Speed Up Recovery Time” or reach out to us today!