A Complete Guide to Bariatric Surgery: Preparation, Procedure, Recovery, Risks, and Rewards
Bariatric surgery is often viewed as a “quick fix” for weight loss, but there’s more to it than most people realize.
To some, weight loss surgery is the easy way out for those who don’t want to diet, exercise, and make the lifestyle changes they need to lose weight. For others, they believe that surgery will motivate them to make the lifestyle changes they need to lose weight once and for all.
But the truth is bariatric surgery is a complicated procedure, and the decision to move forward with the surgery shouldn’t be taken lightly.
We’re pulling back the curtain on what you need to know about the surgery so you can set reasonable expectations and make an informed decision for your health.
Preparing for Bariatric Surgery
Before you dive into surgery, your doctor will decide if you’re a good candidate for a bariatric procedure and help you explore the options. Typically, your body mass index (BMI) will need to be 35 or higher (the official definition of obesity is a BMI of 30 or higher). Candidates will also have at least one obesity-related chronic disease, such as high blood pressure or diabetes.
Surgery is usually not the best first option to losing weight. Your doctor may try to help you lose weight through diet and exercise first, but if these fail, then they may recommend you for surgery.
What Happens During Surgery
When you undergo weight loss surgery, your doctor will perform a procedure that either helps you limit your food intake or reduce the calories and nutrients your body absorbs.
Gastric bypass is a common procedure that requires the surgeon to create a small pouch at the top of the stomach. This is the only part of the stomach that will receive food, which will limit the amount of food you can comfortably take in. The small intestine is also altered so that food goes directly from the pouch to the small intestine, which allows your body to absorb fewer calories (but also fewer nutrients).
Gastric banding is a similar process to gastric bypass, but it doesn’t limit the amount of calories or nutrients your body absorbs. The surgeon creates a pouch in your stomach to limit food intake so that you feel fuller sooner.
Another procedure is called sleeve gastrectomy, which removes part of the stomach from the body. The remaining part of your stomach cannot hold as much food, so you feel fuller faster and eat less. It also reduces the amount of the hormone ghrelin, which is what triggers hunger.
Regardless of the procedure you choose, you will be in the hospital for part of your recovery. It’s an intense operation that requires extensive healing and lifestyle changes in order for it to be successful.
The Long Road to Recovery
After surgery, you will be on a strict liquid diet for the first two weeks of healing. You will gradually add softer foods to your diet, and after six weeks you may be able to eat whole foods.
These first six weeks are critical for post-op patients, as you need to be extremely restrictive in what you eat. You may be able to only have a few bites of food before you feel full, and being able to stop eating at the first sign of fullness can be difficult for many patients.
You will also need to take supplements to fill in nutritional gaps during this time. Your doctor can recommend which ones are essential.
Your doctor will also help you design a workout plan to speed up the results of your weight loss. They may also connect you with local support groups to cope with the mental stress of recovery.
Risks and Complications
The most surprising fact about bariatric surgery is that results aren’t guaranteed. It’s a lot of stress, work, and lifestyle changes to tackle to get nothing in return, not to mention the high cost of the surgery. But the patient is largely responsible for the outcome, and you need to be prepared to take on an active role.
There are several complications and risks associated with the surgery, depending on the type of surgery you have.
Dumping syndrome is a common occurrence where foods that are high in sugar move from your stomach to your bowel too quickly. This can cause severe nausea, vomiting, pain, diarrhea, and other symptoms.
Gallstones, hernias, perforation of the stomach, internal bleeding, and vitamin deficiency are common with gastric bypass surgery. These are also risks with gastric sleeve surgery, along with blood clots and skin separation.
Your current health status may also complicate the surgery. Doctors will usually not perform surgery if you’re too overweight, as risks and complications could be more severe.
Your doctor will be the best resource in helping you explore all the risks of the surgery, as well as determine your candidacy for the procedure.
Are the Rewards Worth the Risk?
Bariatric surgery isn’t the quick fix that many people think. From preparing for the surgery to making lifestyle changes to watching your progress could take upward of a year or more.
The journey is never completely over. You will always need to be mindful of what you’re eating, how often you’re exercising, and other habits that could impact your health. For many, the rewards are far greater than any risks, especially if diet and exercise alone haven’t worked for you in the past and you’re at a point where you need to take action.
The surgery’s success is up to you. The best thing you could do is talk with your doctor about the procedure, recovery, risks, and rewards so that you’re prepared to take an active role in creating a healthier life.
For more bariatric news and insights, head back to the blog.