What to expect after weight loss surgery
Preparing for weight loss surgery is an exciting and uncertain time. Knowing what to expect after surgery helps you prepare for your surgery and better manage your recovery afterwards. It’s important to talk with your doctor so you understand what to expect in your particular situation, but here is some general information.*
Your recovery time will vary depending on the type of weight loss surgery you choose; less invasive procedures have shorter recovery times. The following provides broad time frames, but your doctor can give you more specific information based on your surgery:
- The hospital stay is usually outpatient or 2 to 3 days
- A return to work is possible in 3 days to 2 weeks
- A full recovery is expected in 3 days to 6 weeks
- Pain varies from mild to manageable with medication
- A return to normal activity is expected between 3 days and 4-6 weeks
When to Expect Results
How quickly you lose weight again depends greatly on the type of weight loss surgery, but most people begin to lose weight by the first week after surgery. Weight loss should continue throughout the following months, with a slump typically occurring around 12 to 18 months. Most people are able to keep off the weight lost after surgery.
Your diet following weight loss surgery will be severely restricted; always carefully follow your doctor’s instructions to avoid possible complications. Typically, your recovery diet will look something like this:
Day 1 – No food or drinks
Day 2 to 7 – Clear liquids
Week 2 – Slowly add thicker drinks and smooth foods
Week 3 – Begin adding pureed foods and soft foods
Week 4 – Begin testing solid foods
During transition periods, add new foods slowly to see how your body responds. Sometimes people may not respond well to certain foods and need to go back to something softer for a couple more days. Drinking enough fluids is crucial during this time to avoid dehydration; you will need to drink between 48 and 64 ounces each day. Keep a drink with you and sip from it frequently. Avoid drinking just water because you may develop electrolyte abnormalities; instead, make at least half of your fluids a low-calorie, caffeine-free liquid.
Your physical recovery varies, some procedures have quick recovery times of just a few days while others may take as long as six weeks. For longer recovery times, here are some general guidelines:
Day 1 – Simple movements
Day 2 – Begin walking
Day 5 – Begin light physical activity
Day 7 – Begin driving
Week 4 to 6 – Back to normal activities
As your body adjusts to changes in your stomach and weight, you are likely to experience some side effects. Most of the time, they are minor and will go away fairly quickly. Common challenges include:
- Nausea or vomiting – Avoid eating too much or too quickly and learn what your stomach can handle
- Body aches – Ask your doctor which pain medications are safe to use if you become uncomfortable
- Feeling weak or tired – Should go away quickly once you are used to your new diet and begin exercising
- Constipation – Consume fiber and plenty of fluids
- Diarrhea and gas – Learn to avoid foods that disagree with your stomach
- Dumping syndrome – Avoid high-sugar meals that cause the food to rush through your stomach
- Gallstones – Usually harmless, but occasionally require removal of the gallbladder
- Wound infections – Characterized by warmth and redness, pain or excessive drainage from surgery site; visit your doctor for antibiotics
- Sagging skin – Rapid weight loss often results in sagging skin, which can be surgically removed
Help and Support
Recovering from weight loss surgery is an emotional experience that can be challenging; making sure you have the proper support is important for achieving your weight loss goals. Many times your family and friends will not understand what you are going through. Having your family members present for the discharge instructions and dietitian visit before you leave the hospital will help them better understand what you are going through. Be ready to explain your new way of eating to friends and family and adjust your social activities to fit your new lifestyle. Instead of going out to eat, choose a different activity that doesn’t involve food. Or order an appetizer for your meal instead of a full entree.
Joining a support group is key to navigating the emotional challenges during this time. Patients involved in a support group are more likely to experience successful long-term results.
Changing your diet is crucial to successful weight loss after surgery. It will be harder for your body to absorb certain nutrients, so you may need to take supplements; your doctor will evaluate this during a post-surgery appointment. You will likely need to radically adjust your eating habits to experience the most dramatic results and keep the weight off. Working with a dietitian to create a plan for good nutrition helps you learn to eat in a healthy way. Consuming small, frequent meals is best after weight loss surgery.
Exercise is a must for optimal weight loss and to improve your physical health. Incorporating exercise into your daily routine after weight loss surgery has been shown to offer the following benefits:
- Prevent blood clots
- Raise metabolism
- Improve depression
- Reduce bad cholesterol and raise good cholesterol
- Improve self-esteem
- Improve insulin control
- Help you live longer
- Improve libido
Weight loss surgery is a way to regain control of your weight and life. It poses some challenges, but often produces dramatic results that improve your health and the way you feel. If you are considering weight loss surgery, a sleeve gastrectomy might be right for you. Call today to learn more and to see a sleeve gastrectomy is the right weight loss surgery to help reshape your life.
*Note that this article addresses general recovery expectations, not specific to any one type of weight loss surgery. Patients should always consult their doctor regarding their unique post-surgery expectations and recovery plan.