As a bariatric provider seeing patients long-term in clinic, it is very common to hear patients mention (typically before surgery- but also after!) that they’ve lost weight and then regained it. This occurs in a cycle. What typically kicks off this cycle is the re-introduction of old habits sneaking back into one’s lifestyle and the lack of consistency in maintaining healthy habits. The power of consistency in long term success after bariatric surgery cannot be understated. Surgery may help you feel full sooner after eating or it may give you food aversions or unpleasant symptoms when you eat or drink the wrong things, but it won’t help you with the problem of inconsistency. That’s the real work. In today’s blog post, we’re going to help you learn tips for long term success after bariatric surgery.
Weight Regain After Surgery
Weight regain happens after surgery. It is common! Actually, 30% of patients will struggle with weight regain after bariatric surgery. So if you are new and you’re just fresh out of weight loss surgery, and you’re on that “yellow brick road” where the weight falls off semi-effortlessly, it is not uncommon for this to slow down, stall, and/or regain some of it back over time.
This isn’t to scare you, but to just set expectations. If it happens, there is no judgement. It just is what it is.
However, the best thing you can do during this “yellow brick road” time is to really focus on the important bariatric guidelines. Prioritize protein, get your water in, and build in movement as consistently as you can- when your motivation is high.
During this time, you’re usually feeling most inspired and motivated. Use this to your advantage in order to foster healthy habits that you won’t have to exert so much effort or attention on down the road. It will just become integrated into the fabric of your lifestyle. It will be who you are.
Staying Healthy When Life Gets Hard
There are going to be times in your life when life gets really hard. Relationships change. You may be becoming a better advocate for yourself. Dynamics in relationships and your outlook on yourself and your values may begin to shift. This can cause ripples in friendships, family dynamics, and/or marriages.
Or, perhaps you’ve had a close death in the family and you’re going through an extremely emotional season of life. Life after surgery is lifelong. Significant things will happen -good or bad. Therefore, we need to have a foundation of healthy habits in place to weather through the stormy times.
When your mind is elsewhere, you need to have a default healthy habit that you can fall back on that you don’t have to think about. And if you don’t have one yet, fall back to the bariatric basics. Start with getting 60+ grams of protein in daily. Once you master that, then focus on adding in 64oz+ of water daily. (If you’re soon after surgery, make sure you’re first staying hydrated- as dehydration is the #1 cause of needing to go back to the hospital, in those early months).
Focus on consistency of ONE change for the week. Begin switching your mindset around by telling yourself that it’s what you do. It’s part of your life. It’s who you are.
“Exercise. It’s what I do. I’m an active person.”
“Eating well. It’s what I do. I’m a healthy person.”
“Drinking water. It’s what I do. I’m a water drinker.”
Repeat these mantras in your mind- day after day- so you begin to embody and identify yourself as someone who IS, what you want to be, consistently.
Get In Better Touch With Your “Why”
When you first prepared for surgery, you were likely asked these question; “Why do you want to do this?”, “Why do you want to lose weight?”, “Why do you want to have a healthier lifestyle?”
This is where we get the answer that can serve you for the rest of your life and can help you with long term success after bariatric surgery:
- Do you want to have improved health?
- Do you want to be off medications?
- Do you want to have a better quality of life?
- Do you want to be around to watch your grandchildren grow up and to be there for them?
When the honeymoon phase of surgery is over, and life really knocks you down, that’s when your stress can shoot up through the roof. You may turn to emotional eating and unhealthy habits.
The most important thing to do during this time is to remind yourself of your “Why.”
Maintain a close focus on your Why.
Do something silly to remind yourself daily. Put stickies on your bathroom mirror. Save it as a screensaver on your phone. Stay focused on this throughout the day in order to combat those thoughts and emotional triggers that may have you wavering from your ultimate health goals and your greater purpose in life.
Stop Focusing On The Scale
When I ask my patients; “What’s your ‘Why’?” and they answer; “I want to be ‘X’ pounds or a size ‘Y’,” I challenge them to go deeper. This answer is just the surface. What happens if you do reach that weight or that size? Do all of your problems disappear? Will you truly be happier? Is your identity really defined by a number on the scale or the size of your clothes?
Also- what does that do to your mindset and your success of developing healthy habits if you never reach that number or that size?
See how that can be really destructive for your health goals and your mindset?
Therefore, circle back to your “Why” and see if you can go deeper than a number on the scale or a size of clothing you want to fit into. And remember- your “Why” can change over time! If you need to redefine it, that’s a good thing! This is a lifelong journey. It’s a marathon, not a sprint.
Once you clarify your “Why” and you feel like it’s powerful and in alignment of your ultimate health goals, THEN you can use it to help you develop consistency in healthy habits. When you’re tempted to go back to unhealthy habits or tendencies, you ask yourself; “Is this in alignment with my ‘Why?'” “Is this going to help me accomplish my goals? Or hurt me?”
Take One Day At A Time
Stay focused. Start with one day at a time and work toward your goals over 24 hours. Check off low hanging fruit first and challenge yourself to do just a little bit better than you did yesterday.
Start small, but be as consistent as you can- day after day.
Those small changes add up. Think of what it was like leading up to surgery. It probably seemed like forever getting closer to your surgery date. Nutrition visit after nutrition visit. Psychological evaluation. Medical testing. All-of-the-things….and then POW! It’s surgery time.
The time is going to pass by, so stay focused on one day at a time and avoid looking too far into the future. You’ll get there. Just take it slow and steady.
Long term success after bariatric surgery is achievable and maintainable with a healthy foundation of habits that you focus on doing consistently-day after day. Weight regain is common after surgery but it doesn’t have to mean “the end” for your health goals. Start with one day at a time, go back to the basics of the bariatric guidelines, and look at things from the mental perspective that these habits are who you are. Identify with them. Re-clarify your “Why” or your greater purpose and the health goals that you want to achieve (aside from the number on the scale or the size of your clothes). These foundational habits will be pivotal through the seasons and times in your life when things are hard.
If you’ve been trying to work on yourself and are struggling to find footing, or need some extra support to get back-on-track, I encourage you to explore our bariatric community and support group Banana Bariatrics.
And if you haven’t already grabbed our FREE Weight Regain Resource, be sure to do so as well below!
This blog post was inspired by my interview with Bariatric Psychologist Dr. Connie Stapleton on the “Power Of Consistency” when it comes to long term success after bariatric surgery. Give it a listen!