7 Tips from a Long-Term Successful WLS PatientOctober 23, 2017
My life completely changed on November 16th, 2001. I had been researching weight loss surgery for a couple of years prior to finally making my appointment for a consultation, and I had a laundry list of things I wanted to achieve. At the top of that list were the hopes and dreams of feeling “normal” and being a healthy, happy Mom to my children; not the tired, in constant pain and cranky Mom they had the pleasure of enduring every day. I’m sure you all know the feelings I am talking about. It may even be what brought you to have had or consider having surgery as well.
I weighed 312 pounds at my highest weight. After my RNY, I have lost and maintained a 160-pound weight loss for 16 years. In writing this article and reflecting on how I did it, I can say the road was not easy, but well worth it. I had to make A LOT of changes in my life!
My surgery did its job by restricting my solid food intake, but I had to take responsibility for my own success and honor my surgery EVERYDAY so it would continue to work for me.
So, what are the things I do to stay successful? There are seven things I do all the time that I believe are the keys to being a successful weight loss surgery patient.
7 Tips From a Long-Term Successful WLS Patient
1. Stay Connected
Support Groups: I love my support groups. I always say that the support groups are where I feel like I am with my own kind. It doesn’t matter if you are getting ready for surgery or if you had your surgery 16 years ago, support groups are a safe environment to talk and express yourself and what you are going through amongst others who have gone through similar situations. The sharing component is a huge advantage.
The last thing we want is to feel alone in our journey.
Surgeon Visits: Dr. Valeriu Andrei is my bariatric surgeon and I absolutely adore him. He is available to me if I have any questions or concerns. We have worked together for the past 16 years to ensure my success. I maintain my visits with him every year along with getting my blood work done and any follow-up testing that may be needed.
No disrespect to any readers, but it truly baffles me that some folks will have surgery and never see their surgeon again. My decision for surgery was not one that I made alone; including my family, it became a team decision the minute I signed on with my surgeon and I take that decision very seriously. Make sure to stay connected with your surgeon and team.
2. Keep Yourself in Check
I always repeat to myself that my surgery is a gift, a second chance to live the life I always felt I should.
With that said, I always am monitoring three things:
Nutritional intake: I don’t always measure my food but I do a check-in every few months to make sure that my eyes are not being too giving and adding too many extra calories. I use the LoseIt app to record my food and drink for the day. I love the weekly reports, even if I am eating the same thing. It gives me a feeling of control and keeps me on track.
I am also very vocal when eating out, I check restaurant menus ahead of time, inquire about how things are prepared and will ask for a to-go container to be brought with my meal.
When I go to special events or buffets, instead of focusing on not eating all day because I know there is going to be an abundance of food for me to choose from, I eat according to my usual schedule (every 2 –3 hours) and eat a “meal” before I go so that I am satisfied. This allows me to focus on my water intake during the event and approach the meal in a more relaxed manner. Best of all I can focus on socializing and enjoying the company of my family and friends.
Water intake: 48-64 ounces minimum per day, more if you are doing a lot of exercising. I never eat and drink at the same time either. After all these years, I still separate eating from drinking water. I stop drinking 15 minutes prior to eating and resume 30-45 minutes after eating; keeping a maximum 1-ounce beverage for sipping at mealtime, just in case something may be too dry.
Exercise: Something every day! Personally, I have to stay moving. Even if it’s shopping (my husband loves it when I call that exercise). I look at it this way, for so long I wished I had the stamina and endurance to be active and healthy. Now I do and will take full advantage of it. I strive for 10,000 steps per day and challenge myself to do more in my allotted exercise time-making the workouts more intense.
This is a BIG tip and was HUGE for me, especially in the beginning. Not just in my food preparation, but life in general. I realized after surgery that I was a “victim” of my own circumstances. I would fly by the seat of my pants every day doing what I felt needed to be done but not planning for my own success.
After surgery, that didn't work for me any longer. I had to slow my eating down, not eat on the run, and make healthy choices. The only way it worked for me was to pre-plan my meals with my schedule for the week. By doing this, I know what my meals are for the day/week and what my life schedule is.
I find this is very relaxing and allows me to approach my day with confidence knowing I am doing my very best to honor my surgery and my weight loss success. I know that life happens and I am not unrealistic that things cannot be 100% organized and pre-planned and I am able to adjust to those times knowing they are temporary situations. It’s just nice to have an outline and some sense of control over my life.
I use the 90/10 rule for myself, if 90% of the time I am on track, that 10% of the time I'm not eating as I normally do, that doesn't matter. It’s not allowing that 10% to become the 90%!
4. Keep Setting New Goals
Remember the laundry list? I ran through it by the time I hit my goal weight, lucky me, right? I got bummed not having something to work toward.
Maintaining my weight loss was great but didn’t push me to monitor myself enough and I certainly didn’t want to backslide. So, I started walking and training for many causes. I now walk for Alzheimer’s, Brain Disease, Epilepsy, Autism, Obesity, and Cancer. I have also completed a half marathon and am planning on completing the upcoming 3-day breast cancer walk.
Having these things to train for keeps me on target and gives me the opportunity to give back. Talk about a feeling of accomplishment!
5. Don’t Let Anyone or Anything Sabotage You
We know them well, stress and worry. I had to learn early on that these two things came in many forms and can be a person, place or thing and, if not put in their place, would have put me right back where I started.
This is still a work in progress for me and a struggle some days even now. Let’s face it, life can be overwhelming, but it’s how I choose to handle the situation that will keep me on track. Responding to things instead of reacting is a good place to start. When we react to something we tend to release our fight or flight response and this puts our bodies in survival mode thinking we are fighting for our lives- and sometimes we may feel like we are!
Responding, on the other hand, allows us time to take a breath and make a rational calculated decision. Unless it is literally a life or death situation, give yourself time to think through the situation and how to best handle it. I have also learned to make people responsible for their own problems. Don’t get me wrong, I love to help people, always have and always will. I just choose not to own their problems now.
This could be considered a continuation of #5 above but I wanted to list it separately because it’s that important. Remember how you turned to food before surgery? Why did you do it? Really think about it.
For me, I was a late night snacker. After the kids went to bed I would be ransacking the pantry or sitting like a zombie in front of the T.V. Trying to figure out the day’s problems subconsciously thinking the answer was at the bottom of whatever bag or box of snack I grabbed that evening.
I needed to figure out what drove me to that and create a different way to manage those feelings. At first, it was a very conscious shift, but the more I did it the better I got at distracting myself. The first step is realizing the trigger and the second step is to find a distraction for it that will lead to a better result.
For example, one of my triggers was literally pulling into the driveway after a long stressful day. The feeling was like a green light to eat. I would brace myself for what going on inside the house, feeling exhausted from work and knowing that I still had so many things to do when I walked through the door; first and foremost being present for my family. That energy was hard to come by when I was 150- 170 pounds overweight.
Often thinking that the late-night snacking was “my time”, my gift to me for a long stressful day. I had no one to consider but myself and was too tired to put much effort into me.
After surgery, the thought process, my mindset changed over time, because immediately after surgery, you just can’t eat the way you were eating so go with that and listen to your body. As your body adapts to the surgery, you really have to consciously think about your choices more and make that effort to mentally change.
So, we go back to that same driveway at the end of the day. Instead of going running right into the house to troubleshoot whatever is going on. I call my husband on the way home, make sure the house is not burning down and that things are all okay, I ask him to put the dogs and their leashes out in the yard. When I come home, I pull into that same driveway, grab my pups and go for a walk with them. That has become my treat to me. Then I can go into the house and be ready for whatever is waiting for me.
7. Speak Up!
Lastly, I would like to encourage you to let your family, friends and support system know how they can help you to be successful.
I realized very early on that my husband questioning everything I ate was not working for me and would stress me out even more even though his heart was in the right place. I know he wanted me to be successful and was rooting for me and was just doing what he thought was being supportive. I wasn’t telling him what I needed from him. I had to think about how I wanted him to help me with my weight loss journey and be very clear with what I needed from him. Once I did that, we both felt relieved and it helped our relationship to grow.
No matter what surgical option you choose to control your weight, it’s a lifelong journey that requires diligence and forgiveness, while utilizing the seven tips we just discussed, you can feel confident in your weight loss success.
ABOUT THE AUTHORDonna DeMild, CMA, CPC, had RNY gastric bypass in 2001, and weighed 312 pounds before surgery. Donna lost and has maintained a 160 pound weight loss. Over the past 16 years, Donna has worked with her surgeon as a Patient Liaison/Patient Coordinator in facilitating support groups & events. She has participated in many conferences such as OH and the ASBMS conventions, as well as a support person and advocate for patients both local and internationally. Donna stays involved in the weight loss surgery community and strives for a holistic lifestyle.