10 Tips for Long-Term Success after Your Weight Loss Surgery

By Brian K. Davidson, Sarah Krieger

Your weight loss surgery is just the beginning. You have embarked on a lifelong journey, and you’re going to have to embrace permanent changes in order to enable not only long-term weight loss, but also your overall health. The whole process can be overwhelming, but if you take it step by step and one day at a time, these adjustments will become second nature.

Here are the top tried-and-true tips to keep you on the path to good health and permanent weight loss.

Just as each surgeon is different (and you should always abide by what yours recommends), each weight loss patient is also different. Follow these tips while figuring out what works for you, and remember that your journey may be nothing like your friend or coworker’s experience.

Eat on a Schedule

No longer is it possible for you to eat everything you want, any time you want. By having the surgery, you have made an investment in your lifelong health. But the surgery is just a tool. Success will hinge on effort, grit, and deliberate practice on your part.

By eating on a schedule, you will avoid grazing, which leads to weight gain. You may not experience hunger in the early days after surgery, but a point may come when you will. This decreased hunger will actually help you stay on your meal plan. By forming good habits now, it will be easier to avoid weight gain down the road.

Put Good-Quality Foods First

Each meal and snack is an opportunity to fuel your body optimally. Because you can’t eat as much as before surgery, be sure you get the most nutritional bang for your calorie buck. Focus on nutrient-rich foods that are loaded with vitamins and minerals and tend to be lower in calories. Keep healthy foods in the house and junk food out!

Choose foods that are as close to their natural state as possible, focusing on

  • Proteins — remember to eat these first!
  • Fruits
  • Vegetables
  • 100 percent whole grains
  • Healthy fats
  • Lowfat or fat-free dairy

Chew, Chew, Chew

One of the most important habits to adopt after weight loss surgery is to take very small bites (the size of a pencil eraser) and chew food thoroughly. This helps you to avoid nausea, vomiting, and food getting stuck. Trust us, none of those are pleasant!

Chew each bite 20 to 30 times until it’s a smooth consistency. Put your utensils down between bites. The longer you take to eat, the fuller you feel with less food. After all, that’s the goal, isn’t it?

Watch Your Portion Sizes

Portion size is key to weight loss. It is estimated that people tend to underestimate the calories they consume by 25 percent. This can really add up in terms of calories consumed.

Weigh and measure everything you eat. Alternatively, eat 1 cup of cereal (or other food) out of a 1 cup container to make sure you don’t exceed that amount. If you aren’t careful, you may experience “portion creep,” in which you make portions larger as time goes by because you forget what they should look like. Measuring your portions keeps you honest and helps move you toward your goals.

Stop Eating When Your Pouch Is Full

Think back to the last holiday meal you had before surgery. You may have eaten a lot very quickly. You probably went from hungry to stuffed in a matter of a few minutes. Stuffed is not going to cut it anymore!

You now have the advantage of having a smaller capacity to store food. In order for you to achieve your weight loss goals and not experience nausea and vomiting, stop eating when your hunger is satisfied. By eating slower, it will be easier to realize when you have had enough. Pay attention to the pouch!

Don’t Drink Beverages with Meals

If your pouch is full of liquids, you won’t be able to eat, and drinking too soon after a meal may overfill the pouch, causing nausea. You certainly don’t want to fill up on liquids and not be able to eat, do you? So be sure you stop drinking 5 to 10 minutes before you eat a meal, and don’t begin drinking again for 30 minutes after you finish.

Stay Hydrated

Keep something with you at all times (except at meals) and sip, sip, sip. You can’t hold as much liquid as you could before, so if you get dehydrated it will be difficult for your body to catch up. Check the color of your urine to monitor your hydration status. It should be pale yellow or clear, not dark yellow.

Don’t wait until you’re thirsty to drink. By the time you’re thirsty, you are already dehydrated. Your goal is about 64 ounces a day of decaffeinated, sugar-free liquids, and more on hot or humid days and if you’re sweating excessively.

Take Your Supplements

Taking supplements is a requirement, not a recommendation. Because you can’t eat as much as you could before surgery, you won’t be getting everything your body needs through food. Consider your supplements an insurance policy to ensure you get all the vitamins and minerals you need to stay healthy.

Remember, supplements are just that. They’re not meant to take the place of food, but to supplement what you get from the foods you eat.

Add Physical Activity

Calories in minus calories out equals weight loss, right? Physical activity is half of the equation for weight loss success.

Find activities you enjoy and make them part of your lifestyle. You do not have to go to a gym for hours each day. Break physical activity up into smaller pieces. Get out and walk for 10 minutes three times a day if you can’t find 30 minutes to exercise.

Any extra movement is good. Remember, physical activity increases your metabolism, improves energy, and boosts your mood. Incorporate movement into your day by

  • Parking further away from your office
  • Taking the stairs instead of the elevator
  • Marching or doing squats while talking on the phone
  • Exercising during commercials
  • Going outside and playing with your kids

Continue to Follow Up with Your Surgeon

Have a lifelong friendship with your surgeon. You made a lifelong commitment to yourself, and he or she is an important partner you can trust to guide you long term.

Your surgeon should require you return to his or her office for a series of postoperative visits (no, not just one) during the first year, and then annually after that. It’s important to keep these appointments, even if you think you’re doing fine. You need to have ongoing monitoring of your weight loss, lab values (to detect possible vitamin or mineral deficiencies), nutritional status, and other medical concerns you or your surgeon may have.