At this time of the year, many make New Year’s resolutions to lose weight. While deciding to do something is nice, we all know what can happen to resolutions a couple of weeks down the track…
After having bariatric surgery you generally are losing weight and while this is great, there’s a lot to think about in the post surgery ‘after life’ so to speak. After surgery, it is difficult to eat much and so you need to be choosy about your food choices to get the nutrients you need each day. You should also start exercising (if able to) to maintain muscle mass and improve cardiovascular health. Not getting adequate nutrition can affect not only your weight loss and long-term maintenance but can lead to nutrient deficiencies, bone loss, lean muscle loss and long term health problems. Additionally while you may find you lose weight regardless of what you do initially, having surgery doesn't guarantee that you will continue losing weight or that you will maintain lost weight, you need to change your eating habits and include regular exercise to achieve this. So changing your eating habits and eating right should be top priority in your post-surgery plan.
What are some goals to work on after surgery? Here are 5:
Ensure you are getting adequate protein each day.
Getting enough protein after your surgery is essential. Insufficient protein intake can lead to loss of lean muscle tissue as you lose weight. Your protein targets will differ from other people and you are best asking your surgeon or bariatric dietitian to work out your needs for you. Protein comes from a variety of foods including meat, chicken, fish, eggs, tofu, dairy products, legumes etc. Include these foods as part of your meals and snacks each day to reach your targets. If you are struggling, to meet your needs, protein powders can help. Lean more about protein powders in our article: The Scoop on Protein Supplements.
Meet your calcium targets
Getting sufficient calcium each day is essential for bone health. It can be difficult to meet calcium needs after surgery because they are generally higher than before surgery. This is because there is a significant reduction in stomach acid interfering with the absorption of calcium. When you have a smaller stomach the shire volume of food required to get sufficient intake daily is a challenge. Requirements after surgery are anywhere between 1200-2000mg per day. While some people may be able to achieve this with careful meal planning, many need to supplement. When choosing a supplement, choose a calcium citrate one as this form has better absorption. Note: vitamin D is required for calcium absorption so ensure that you are not deficient in vitamin D.
Hence you can see that it’s important to follow your recommended blood test regime after surgery. It is also recommended to have a bone mineral density scan yearly to check bone status.
Increase dietary fibre intake
When we talk about fibre everyone thinks bowels and constipation and if you’re not constipated, you can simply assume that you are ok with fibre. BUUUUT according to the National Health and Medical Research Council adequate dietary fibre is essential for proper functioning of the gut and has also been related to risk reduction for a number of chronic diseases including heart disease, certain cancers and diabetes. Most Australians don’t get enough fibre each day. We need 25-30g daily which isn’t easy to achieve after surgery. Increase fibre intake by increasing vegetable intake, choosing breads with more grain and seeds, adding high fibre seeds e.g. chia and linseeds to meals and snacks, including high fibre legumes e.g. chickpeas, 4 bean mix to meals, choosing higher fibre cereals etc.
Drink more water as opposed to other beverages
Water isn’t a popular drink for some and after surgery it can be difficult to drink enough of it simply because you need to sip not gulp, spread it out during the day and away from meals and for some water feels uncomfortable to drink. But staying hydrated is so important post surgery and water is the best fluid choice as it is kilojoule / calorie free, hydrates you and may even help fill you up to some extent. While in general they say to have 2L per day, this is just an estimate, the amount of fluids you need depends on your weight, work, how active you are and if you are spending time outside in the hot sun, speak to your bariatric dietitian or surgeon about your needs. If you’re not keen on water, add a squeeze of lemon or lime juice or slices, add some diet cordial, make herbal or fruit flavoured teas with it.
Yep – this is never a popular one but it’s important. Getting more active has many health benefits that we all know about so I won’t repeat. But one that I will mention is that exercise combined with getting sufficient protein each day can help preserve lean muscle mass as you lose weight (very important, more on this in a future post). Why not just set small exercise goals, even if it’s just to increase your daily steps to begin with or have 1 or 2 exercise days and build on this over time. Some tips on how to get more active in your day to day activities are here: Move More, Sit Less
While these are some goals to work on, it's not an exclusive list and there's many more. What is very important after surgery is to ensure you continue your follow-ups with your surgical team to ensure you are not only on track with your weight loss but you are maintaining good health. The surgical team can vary depending on where you have your surgery but when it comes to maintaining your nutrition, having a bariatric dietitian who specialises in this area is very important. If you do not have one, find one in your area or speak to ours, she also does consultations via Skype and the phone. Learn more on her website.