After the Surgery: Nutrition Rules
(Featured illustration: Roy Scott)
Bariatric surgery has been getting a good bit of media attention lately. The thought of waking up with a smaller stomach or a smaller appetite may seem like miraculous relief to someone whose struggle with food has gone on so long it’s impacting their health. In a select few cases, these surgeries do provide miraculous relief.
But they also come with extreme, long-term commitments. So the decision to seek bariatric surgery should be made with the whole picture in mind. For example, one area that is not always fully considered in pre-op conversations about bariatric surgery is the area of nutrition. Individuals seeking surgery should understand the range of nutritional consequences that surgery will set in motion.
So what are the important nutritional implications of bariatric surgery?
#1 Less Nutrient Absorption
First, when the stomach is surgically altered it cannot return to its original state. The stomach is responsible for all breakdown of food and nutrients so that they can later travel to the small and large intestine for absorption. When the stomach is bypassed or made smaller, the food loses the ability to be broken down for absorption resulting in lifelong nutrient deficiencies.
#2 Vitamins Forever
The stomach also releases intrinsic factor which is necessary for the absorption of B12. Because this process is impaired by bariatric surgery, the individual who has bariatric surgery is recommended to take bariatric vitamins and minerals for the remainder of the lifespan. If supplements are not taken, it can result in hair loss; brittle bones, fingernails, and teeth; and perhaps more importantly, serious or chronic health issues.
#3 Diet: Eat Nutrient Rich Foods
Focusing on nutrient dense foods such as fruits, vegetables, healthy fats, lean proteins and complex carbohydrates becomes more important than ever due to the stomach’s very small intake capacity and limited ability to break intake down for absorption.
#4 Small Portions, Many Meals
The small stomach capacity will also require the individual to eat very small meals several times throughout the day. Individuals considering bariatric surgery should ask themselves if they could realistically sustain this eating pattern for the rest of their lives.
If supplements are not taken, it can result in hair loss; brittle bones, fingernails, and teeth; and perhaps more importantly, serious or chronic health issues.
#5 Eat Slowly, Chew Well
The mechanics of eating are forever changed as well. One with bariatric surgery must eat very slowly and chew food very well. If this is not practiced, the individual can become quite ill.
#6 Dumping Syndrome – Avoiding It Is an Individual Art
Dumping syndrome is another complication associated with the mechanics of eating and digestion. It is generally experienced after a simple carbohydrate or sugar meal is ingested and leads to intense vomiting or diarrhea. However, it is hard to predict with certainty how this complication will play out in each individual because different foods affect different people in different ways. So the prospect of dumping can make eating somewhat of a gamble across a whole range of palatable foods.
Surgery, Last Resort
- Our clients practice “attuned eating,” which includes eating slowly and chewing food thoroughly.
- We teach clients how to recognize, shop for, cook, and enjoy nutrient dense foods.
- We also help clients to balance their food groups to make sure they obtain the full range of dietary nutrition
These practices will yield improved health, weight, and fitness. Though the dramatic results may take a lot longer without surgery, surgery itself is far from a simple weight loss toggle switch.
Many individuals can be successful with bariatric surgery, but it requires lifelong support from behavioral health therapists, dietitians, exercise professionals, medical professionals and support groups. Individuals choosing bariatric surgery must realize they are committing to long-term engagement with the whole support community. Typically, when the post-surgery patient disconnects from any of these support sources, relapse occurs. At FitRx, we have provided this much-needed support for post-op bariatric patients, but we highly recommend that surgery always be viewed as a last option.