Fortunately, there are many aspects of your weight loss surgery experience you can control. You have the ability to reduce your risk factors, maximize your results, and even soothe your own fears in the weeks before you arrive at the hospital. The steps you take in preparation for weight loss surgery have benefits that last long after the procedure is done.
Learn how the changes you make in the months before your surgery will prepare your body and mind for the changes that take place during and after surgery.
There is a direct connection between your pre-operative choices, the risks you will face during the surgery, and the weight loss results you can expect afterwards. According to a weight loss study at Stanford University, the following was true for patients who underwent laparoscopic gastric bypass surgery:
- Patients lost 1.8% more weight (in the year after the procedure) for every 1% of weight lost before the procedure.
- Operating times were 36 minutes shorter when patients lost more than 5% of their body weight beforehand.
There are short-term and long-term reasons for these correlations. Pre-operative weight loss will reduce your immediate surgical risks, because lower body weight makes it easier for surgeons to complete the operation. However, the long-term benefits of your pre-op preparations will begin during the first year and may last for a lifetime.
Weight loss surgery isn’t a magical solution to all your weight-related problems. It will change your body, but it’s up to you to change your habits. Without regular exercise and a well-balanced, nutritious diet, any post-op weight loss will be temporary. Your excess weight and subsequent medical risks will return as soon as you revert to old habits. It’s never too early to start modifying your behavior and diet, especially if you’ve had unhealthy habits for many years.
The following checklists will help you lay the framework for a successful weight loss surgery experience:
In the months before your procedure, your medical team needs to confirm that you’re still a good candidate for weight loss surgery. Bariatric surgery isn’t for everyone, and there are medical requirements in place to make sure every patient is qualified and fully prepared.
The months before your weight loss surgery will include consultations, physical exams, and diagnostic screenings to fully evaluate your physical health. Schedule these appointments in advance and attend all of them.
Your surgical team and hospital staff will also need to obtain some or all of the following paperwork before approving and scheduling your procedure:
- Medical records from your primary care provider
- Results of a psychological evaluation
- Letter of Medical Necessity
- Letter of Medical Clearance
- Pre-authorization from your health insurance provider
Insurance companies are very aware of the benefits of pre-operative weight loss. If insurance is paying for your procedure, you may be required to follow a supervised, structured diet plan for three to six months before the operation. Support and and specific dietary instructions will make it easier to start losing weight, but you must make an effort to lose weight no matter what.
Whether or not you have a supervised diet plan in place, take the following steps to start transforming your relationship with food as soon as possible:
- Make a commitment to stop gaining weight. No “last hurrahs” or guilty pleasures are worth the risk of pre-operative weight gain.
- Write down or discuss your feelings. Acknowledge your fears, hopes, reservations and desires. Diaries, supportive friends and family members, and therapy sessions are invaluable for your well being.
- Drink more water and less of everything else. Drink at least 64 ounces of water every day to stay hydrated and simulate the “full” feeling that weight loss surgery will create. Phase out sugary sodas and juices, coffee with sugar and cream, and alcoholic beverages.
It’s also important to quit smoking at least 6 weeks before surgery, seek out and attend support groups, and clock at least 20 minutes of daily physical activity.
Two weeks before your procedure, you should be eating and drinking like someone who already underwent surgery. That means choosing meals for nutritional value, not flavor or emotional comfort. You should also complete the items on the following checklists to make your recovery as smooth as possible.
Make the following arrangements to reduce your obligations and stress during the recovery period:
- Request time off work. After your surgery, you’ll need to focus on recovering and adjusting for at least four to six weeks.
- Arrange child care. If you have kids, don’t expect to take care of them yourself while recovering.
- Set up a comfortable place to sleep. Remember, you’ll be sore and have limited mobility at first.
- Stock up on healthy food and vitamins.
Your hospital room will already have some luxuries and necessities, so find out what to expect and fill in the gaps with your own items:
- Ear plugs
- Sleep mask
- Entertainment items (DVDs, books, magazines, etc.)
- Soft slippers
- Loose-fitting robe or gown
- Clean undergarments
- Flip-flops for the shower
- Basic toiletries (toothbrush, toothpaste, sanitary napkins, body wipes, etc.)
- Notebook or paper for journaling or taking notes
- Plush pillow (for the ride home, or to supplement thin hospital pillows)
- Gas relief
Your results will ultimately depend on the choices you make before and after surgery. If you expect drastic results, you must be prepared to make drastic changes, and it’s never too early to start. Work closely with your physician and bariatric surgeon to make sure your pre-operative preparations are right for you. The harder you work to educate yourself and change your habits before your surgery, the better your likelihood of success will be.