first year post-op mindset

Bariatric Surgery: Pre-Op and a Post-Op Mindset

January 26, 2021

Pre-Op and First-Year Post-Op Mindset

As pre-op patients with a first-year post-op mindset, so many of us worried about shopping for the necessities we needed. We want to make sure that our arsenal had all the necessary tools for success from a good blender to mini plates and tiny forks.  

But one of the biggest tools you can have in your journey cannot be bought on Amazon. It costs nothing to have and yet, it is something that is even more important and priceless! 

A positive mindset is absolutely essential for long-term success. It’s about the way you think about things along your journey that will often keep you motivated and positive about your healthy choices, or may make you feel depressed about your progress and possibly lead you to struggle or sabotage your own process. 

First Year Post-op Mindset: Cravings Don't Go Away On Their Own

From the day you wake up in recovery, there is no magic switch to your brain to not want food.  No one does a lobotomy on us. No one is going to say “your cravings for chips, cookies, and candy are magically disappearing! Ta-da!  This is probably one of the common “faulty thoughts” that I see often in groups.

Post-op, when you've had surgery, and you have to go through the diet stages slowly and are mindful, you are giving yourself the ability to reset your palate. By keeping the junk food out, your body will physically desire it less. This is when it is important to give yourself positive messages because your brain will be there, trying to convince you to eat them. This is what we call our “fat brain,” “fat head,” or even ED (eating disorder).  

The way you respond to your fat brain is crucial. If you respond “This sucks that I can’t eat this!”, you are likely to feel deprived, even unconsciously. Over time, this can build up to a binge and make you more likely to give in overtime. 

When you give in, you solidify the craving. You’ve rewarded your fat brain. This will increase the odds that you will give in next time. Do this a lot and you will reinforce these behaviors to the point of them becoming a habit. So, think carefully about what habits you want to reinforce!  

Remember —-a craving is your mind’s way of trying to distract you from your goal. Go make yourself busy and do something to get your mind off of it!

The "Resistance Muscle"

Every time you have a craving and you resist it, you build up your "resistance muscle," which makes it more likely that the next time you have a craving you'll resist it.

The more you say no and use positive thinking “I’m going to CHOOSE to not have that donut because I want to get to my goals and that donut is only going to distract me from them”, not only do you give yourself the power to say no, you’ve just positively reinforced yourself, and you’ve also given your brain messages about you being strong and that you’re in control of your journey.  

There is freedom when you give yourself the power to say no and realize this is a strength you have.  It’s amazing to not feel powerless when it comes to food for the first time in your life! 

Mindset also extends to the way that you view your progress. Many of us are not the fastest losers and are quick to make comparisons to others about how much we have lost. How you view how you are doing is important. Not the fastest loser? Will you automatically announce yourself as a failure or will you say, “I am going to keep working until I get to my goals even if it takes me longer than Sally or Mary? Those are two different scenarios that can lead to two very different outcomes. 

Failure Thinking

The flip side to this successful thinking is those that struggle with a negative mindset right away.  Early out “failure thinking” will likely lead you to make poor choices overall. It will be far more likely that you will break the rules, or ignore them completely, things like making positive food choices, measuring, not grazing, and so forth. At 3 months out or 6 months out, they may stop their journey or hinder it. Their goals get further and further away from their grasp. 

It is very much a self-fulfilling prophecy: if we think we are losing, we will. People that struggle with this mindset should make a point to see their dietician and social worker (or another mental health professional). 

Those folks that struggle but maintain “a forward mindset” often look for ways to continue to find successful outcomes: they might decide to refine their diet a little more if their food choices aren’t always the best, they might decide to start an exercise regimen, or they might just keep following their path. Those that continue to lose, may lose small amounts but those small amounts add up over time. We know that just a loss of 2 lbs a week is over 100 in a year! 

So How Do You Cultivate A Positive Mindset? 

Catch your own negative thoughts when you hear your fat brain speaking to you.  Replace them with “positive, strong talk”.  

Preop as you start your liquid diet talk to yourself in a positive way about it:

“Optifast for two weeks is going to suck and I’m going to be hungry” becomes “This is my last hurdle to my surgery!”, “I am going to rock optifast!”, “I cannot wait for the start journey!”, “I’m going to give myself the gift of a safe surgery!”

Watch your thinking patterns.  Avoid using phrases of deprivation, of less than, or “only.”

“I can only have liquids post op” becomes “I’m helping my stomach heal and this is a one time thing.  I’m strong!”.

“I’m bored of jello, protein shakes and yogurt” becomes “I’m helping my stomach heal and I only have 8 days until the next phase.  I’ll be okay with a little boredom right now.  I got this!”.

“I’ve only lost 25 lbs” becomes “I’ve lost a whole toddler!  I’m going to keep going!!”.

“I can’t have a piece of cake at the birthday party” becomes “I will bring my own snacks so I can continue to eat on plan. I won’t let a little cake interrupt my goals. There will be other times for cake.  Cake will just slow down my goals.  Maybe I’ll bring a special “birthday cake” flavoured protein bar to the party and that will be my cake!”.  

“I can eat way more than my program said to.  I think I’ve broken my pouch” becomes “I needs to choose to follow the plan, to use the correct measurement of food as per my guidelines and I need to eat slowly so my brain registers fullness. If I don’t feel “full” that’s okay. I really should worry about feeling satiated as “full” is actually over full anyways.” 

Watch Out For Negative Thinking

As you go through your journey, watch for negative thinking. Watch those who have success; what is their thinking like? Learn to cultivate positive talk. It’s a very powerful tool in your journey.  If you find that you are struggling or you may need to work on cultivating a positive mindset, I highly suggest the book “The Beck Diet Solution.”  You may also need therapy if it runs deeper than this, and you are struggling with self-sabotage and maintaining the course. Don’t hesitate to reach out to your social worker, dietician, etc. 

Congrats on having a good being first-year post-op mindset. Good luck on your journey. Work on that Rock Star thinking!  

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Dawn Rudling Stefani


Dawn Rudling Stefani had surgery in 2006 and has been an avid member of ObesityHelp since her pre-op days. Her OH username is “Diminishing Dawn.” She is an advocate and a strong supporter of the weight loss community, runs her local support group, and is an elementary school teacher. She is very active in weight loss surgery groups on Facebook and enjoys making new acquaintances with other WLS patients. Read more articles from Dawn!