The short answer to the question of how much weight you can lose with bariatric is a lot. Bariatric surgery is a very effective and aggressive method of losing excess body fat and it shouldn’t be taken lightly. But if it’s done correctly as most surgeries today are, losing up to 80% of excess body fat is not out of the ordinary.
But a better question to ask is not how much weight you can lose with bariatric surgery, but how much weight can you keep off over the course of decades? If you’ve done any research on weight loss surgery you’ll have read more than a few stories about people that have lost tons of weight only to regain most of it back a few years later. Stories like this make this procedure out to be an ineffective or temporary solution to obesity. And if you treat bariatric surgery as the end to being overweight then yes, it is only a temporary solution to your obesity problem.
Bariatric Surgery gives you a fast start.
But if you look at weight loss surgery as giving you a fast start to building a healthy new life then your chances of not regaining all the weight back improves significantly. (A quick note on the ‘fast start’ I used above, this is where people think you are “cheating” or “shortcutting” the process of weight loss. I have a post on that coming up that talks more in depth about that aspect of weight loss surgery.) This fast start though is a double edged sword. As I’ve mentioned above if you get seduced into the quickness of the fat loss you can find yourself back where you started. But if you use this ‘fast start’ as a helpful push in the right direction your probability of success, that is taking the weight off and keeping it off improve significantly.
Let’s get into more detail about this using three important aspects of losing weight: Exercise, Nutrition and Mindset.
This one is the biggest and easiest to ignore. For many people, they see exercise as one of the primary ways to lose body fat and now that they are losing tons of body fat through this surgery why would they need to add it in? This idea feels right and to the people that don’t like to exercise already it feels extra right. All the loss and none of the sweat. Yet it isn’t right. If you have this mindset that exercise = fat loss then you are looking at this wrong finding yourself at a dead end and probably regaining the weight. So why do you need to exercise after weight loss surgery?
Bariatric surgery is a very aggressive weight loss method. Because of your lack of stomach your body is using the stored fat as its main source of energy. It’s also using your muscle mass as a secondary source of energy. There is research that shows that you can lose up to 30% of your pre-surgical muscle mass weight within a year after surgery if you don’t exercise. So when you think of exercise after weight loss surgery you should be focused more on how you can slow the loss of muscle mass down more than on the idea of exercise as a form of fat loss.
There is a lot that goes into this part of your post-op exercise life. You can read more about it here, here and here. But your take away from this is that you have to exercise after weight loss surgery if you want to keep the weight off.
This part seems like it’s a no-brainer. You can’t eat much so surely the nutrition will just fall right into place? NOPE. Sure the first few months after you’ve gone through your procedure the quantity of food you’ll eat is really small. But nothing stays that way forever and if you are not aware of the changes that will happen overtime like the pouch increasing in size then your in for a not so welcome surprise as you start regaining your weight. Honestly it’s really not that difficult to cheat this process. Eating slightly more, drinking and eating at the same time, drinking carbonated beverages, the list goes on. If you are not willing to follow the rules that are laid down around eating for you to be successful then you’re not ready for this procedure.
This is the most important and probably most overlooked part of being successful with weight loss surgery. Obesity happens because of a lack of diet and exercise, but what gets lost in that statement is the why behind your habits. What does eating bring to your life? Is it a security blanket, an avoidance mechanism, a way to try to heal from a trauma, something completely different? There is much more underlying the problems of obesity than just “a lack of discipline” and usually part of that underlying problem is mental.
If this is something that you have not considered or planned for, I strongly suggest that you take the time to pursue this path. Having people around you that can help you with understanding more about why you do what you do brings in more awareness into your life and allows you to make decisions about your actions in a more positive and helpful manner.
Bariatric surgery is not a shortcut – not if you want to be successful at it. The surgery does give you the opportunity to jump over the year or two it can take to lose the fat in a more traditional way, but if you are unwilling or unaware of the changes you have to make in your life to keep the weight off it’s not going to work. But the good news is that you are now aware of these things. You can start to plan on how you are going to put exercise, good nutrition habits and mindset work into your post-op life so you can successfully take off all the excess body fat and keep it off.
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Geof has been working with bariatric surgery clients for over a decade. His goal with Coaching For Bariatric Success is to give you the tools to make your weight loss successful for the long term.