Gastric surgery is the beginning of a major life change, and many factors will determine its long-term effect on your body and quality of life. While your doctor’s expertise is vital to ensuring a smooth surgery, your results will also ultimately depend on what you do before and after the procedure.
It’s very important to stay happy, healthy, and focused on healing in the months leading up to and following weight loss surgery. There are several steps you can take before and after surgery to maximize the results of your treatment and move faster down the road to recovery.
How to Prepare for a Quick Recovery
After your surgery, you won’t be able to gather the things you need to stay comfortable and minimize complications. If you’re traveling abroad for surgery, it’s especially important to plan ahead, because you’ll need to minimize irritation while traveling back. Make sure you take the following steps in the weeks and days before your trip:
1. Pack comfortable clothes.
When you wake up, you’ll need loose, soft clothing that’s easy to put on. Your body will be too sore to squeeze into tight clothing, and anything with buckles, zippers, or buttons could aggravate your stitches. Make sure you have plenty of comfortable clothing waiting for you at home, too, and wear loose-fitting attire to work until your stitches and soreness are no longer an issue.
2. Pack slip-on shoes.
Make sure your footwear is comfortable and easy to slip on and off too. You won’t be able to bend down easily at first, so have slip-on shoes ready to step into.
3. Set aside transition clothes.
As you lose weight in the months ahead, your transformation will cause you to go through several sizes in a relatively short amount of time. Before you have surgery, make sure you have clothes in multiple sizes, but don’t get a whole new wardrobe. Look through your closet for old items and browse thrift stores for this transition period.
4. Get multivitamins.
Your stomach can no longer hold several portions of nutritious food, but you need your vitamins and minerals more than ever. To make sure you heal properly and continue to get the vitamins you need, have nutritional supplements ready.
5. Stock up on medical supplies.
You’ll need to change your bandages and relieve your pain as you begin to heal, so stock up on basic medical supplies beforehand. Invest in gauze pads and cotton balls to replace the ones you receive from the hospital. Make sure you have heating pads and pain relievers on hand to soothe your side effects.
6. Know how to prevent vomiting.
If you eat more than your post-op stomach can handle, vomiting is inevitable. This may cause pain and discomfort, so it’s important to adjust gradually and learn how to minimize your vomiting risks. Eat slower than usual, giving your brain time to receive the signal that it’s full, and make sure you chew properly and eat half the amount you think you should at first. Don’t drink through a straw, eat too many dry foods, or rush through meals. Instead, take your time and keep your portions smaller than usual.
7. Stock up on OTC pain meds.
After your prescription painkillers run out, you’ll need anti-inflammatories to reduce swelling and pain as you continue to heal. Make sure you have over-the-counter pain medications at home for when you need them.
8. Stop drinking and/or smoking.
Most bariatric surgeons require their patients to stop smoking at least two weeks before their procedure. If you haven’t ditched the habit yet, surgery is a great motivation to make it permanent. Smoking slows down your healing time and leads to countless other health complications. Alcohol is also a bad idea for recovering patients, because your throat will be sore from intubation.
9. Designate a helper.
Do you have a friend, partner, neighbor, or family member who can help you out while you heal? Make this arrangement ahead of time, and have a backup option ready in case something happens. Even light household chores may be very difficult for the first week, so make sure someone else is there to help.
10. Read up on your surgery.
Instead of getting nervous about what-if’s, arm yourself with accurate information about your surgery. Read about the experiences of other patients, and research the best ways to prepare for your surgery. Forums and online support groups will help you learn what to expect, but they will also become support networks as you heal.
How to Recover More Quickly After Surgery
After your surgery, every decision you make will affect your results. Make sure you take the following steps to maximize your progress and speed up the rate of recovery.
1. Take vitamins.
Supplement your smaller, healthier meals with vitamins that make up for the decrease in consumption. Ask your bariatric surgeon to recommend supplements that will meet your basic needs, and continue to take them long after you’re happy with the number on the scale.
2. Listen to your body.
Overeating will slow down the pace of your weight loss, induce vomiting, and increase your risk of complications. Make sure you listen to the signals that your body is sending, because this is one lesson you don’t want to learn the hard way. Remember: don’t eat unless you’re hungry, stop eating when you’re full, and don’t eat more than a quarter of a cup at each meal for the first several weeks. Your portion sizes will gradually increase to about a cup’s worth of food, but in the meantime, eat slowly and deliberately to make the most of each meal.
3. Stay active.
You won’t be running a marathon a month after surgery, but physical activity is very important to the healing process because it’s the only way to keep your blood circulating. Stand up, walk around the house, and do the simple post-op exercises that your doctor recommends. This will prevent clots and inflammation while increasing the speed of your recovery. As you gradually increase the intensity of your exercises, you’ll develop a workout habit without even realizing it.
4. Avoid strenuous activity.
If your job involves lifting heavy objects, you’ll need to stay home for the first six weeks to avoid complications. Don’t push or pull a vacuum during this time, either, because it could aggravate your surgery site. The wait increases to three months for people who carry certain levels of excessive weight. Of course, sedentary office jobs aren’t ideal either. If you sit at a desk all day, make sure you change positions and stand up frequently to prevent clots in your legs.
5. Stay hydrated (but not before or after meals).
It’s absolutely essential that you get enough water, but your smaller stomach will make this more difficult. Dehydration can damage your skin, hair, vision, and more. Keep track of every drop you drink, and make sure you have between 1.5 and 2 liters of water every single day – between meals, not during them. Your stomach needs to absorb the nutrients from the food you eat, so stop drinking 40 minutes before each meal. After finishing, don’t drink again for at least half an hour.
6. Avoid sugar, fat, alcohol, and carbonation.
Sugary and fatty foods are often high-calorie foods, but binging on sugar won’t just exceed your calorie limit. You may also trigger dumping syndrome, which causes immediate and extreme physical reactions as your body attempts to get rid of the unwanted sugar. Avoid white bread, red meat, sweet desserts, and buttery or fatty foods. It’s also important to avoid the empty calories and complications of drinking alcohol and soda.
7. Be prepared to plateau.
Just as your body must be prepared to undergo a medical procedure, your mind should be prepared to handle the outcome. If you know what to expect before your gastric surgery, setbacks will be easier to avoid, but you’ll also know how to handle and move on from disappointments that do occur.
For example, you should be prepared for your weight loss to plateau at a certain point. This doesn’t mean you won’t lose any more weight, but it does mean you need to change your portion sizes, exercise habits, or both. Instead of getting discouraged when your progress comes to a halt, be prepared to re-start it as soon as possible.
8. Avoid hernias and anemia
Menstruation and inadequate nutrition may cause anemia, an iron deficiency that complicates your healing and deprives you of energy and strength. Avoid this by taking iron or Vitamin A supplements as you recover.
9. Use mechanical birth control.
Oral contraceptives may not work properly after bariatric surgery, but it’s especially important to avoid pregnancy, so make sure you have alternate methods if necessary. You should wait at least 18 months to get pregnant again, but your changing body may become fertile much sooner because obesity is no longer affecting your reproductive cycle. Just be aware of the health risks associated with pregnancy after weight loss surgery, and make sure you’ve taken proper precautions.
10. Be realistic and committed.
Ultimately, it’s important to be realistic about your weight loss goals and aware of the impact of your choices. Make sure you ask plenty of questions ahead of time, and that you truly understand that overcoming obesity will require a lifelong commitment to better health. Get information you need to stay in control of your weight for the rest of your life.
Successful Recovery After Weight Loss Surgery
It’s never too early to learn how to speed up your healing and maximize your weight loss results. If you start changing your eating and exercise habits before you have surgery, it will be much easier to transition into your new life afterwards. Continue to arm yourself with healthy and useful information for the months ahead, and make sure your body, mind, and home are truly prepared for the transition to come.