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Weight gain is a touchy topic for millions of people, especially in the wake of so many Americans packing on “pandemic pounds” following months of being locked down during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Packing on the pounds is an especially sensitive subject for people who went through the process of undergoing life-altering bariatric surgery only to see the weight return a few years later.

“How did I gain all this weight back?” It’s a question no one wants to have to ask themselves after they’ve successfully taken control of their weight after bariatric surgery only to see it return. Bariatric surgery remains the most effective way to lose weight and has the highest rates of weight maintenance long term, but the real truth is that regaining weight is 100% possible if you don’t follow a series of basic steps following your procedure.

So, if you are reading this article now, you have to be asking yourself, ‘How can I prevent weight regain after surgery?’

In essence, weight management is all about calorie management, and weight regain means you started eating more calories again. Bariatric surgery provides a tool for a person to manage calories more effectively, but it is not a free pass to eat whatever you want. For this reason, there is one major step to know to prevent weight regain, and that’s, “PUT THE FORK DOWN.”

However, doing that isn’t always that easy for some people, and the question now becomes, ‘Why can’t I put the fork down?’ Through the years as a Registered Dietician at Blossom Bariatrics in Las Vegas, I’ve counseled hundreds of patients — both pre- and post-op — about ways to avoid regaining the weight. I’ve heard all the frustrations, excuses, and questionable solutions related to weight management.

With that thought in mind, I have come up with a 5-step process that former bariatric patients can follow to avoid regaining their weight:

1. Forget the past!

That’s right!! Forget it! The past is the past and you are about to receive a tool to start fresh. Everyone I speak to prior to surgery, one thing is already certain in their minds; Nothing works! This surgery is seen as a last resort for them. Unfortunately, past ideas can often tremendously hinder your ability to move forward productively. History has proven that if you eat this or that, you will gain weight. History has proven that you’ve lost weight doing this, but ultimately reverted to your old habits and regained weight. For many of us, we quit at the first sign of failure because history has shown that we almost always gain the weight back.

I’m here to tell you that you just didn’t stick to the plan long enough for it to be successful. Some patients I have worked with come in already defeated because they’ve been trying for years and can’t seem to lose any weight, but they don’t recognize that the pre-op diet has proven effective for losing weight. Granted, the struggle was real on the pre-op diet, and the idea of eating so little is hard to comprehend at first. That way of thinking is largely because people often lean on their past experiences and anticipate pain moving forward without the use of vast amounts of food. Once again, patients must forget much of what they have learned about food consumption in the past, keep an open mind, and don’t allow past failures to prevent you from seeing success moving forward. The mind is like a parachute; it simply doesn’t work if it’s not open.

2. Don’t compare yourself to anyone else.

Comparing leads a frustrating spiral that results in you trying to cope with bad decisions. In our social-media-driven society today, we can’t help but compare our bodies and journeys to others. However, even when we realize that everyone is different, that doesn’t stop us from seeing everyone else’s weight-loss journey and wonder why we can’t do the same? Hundreds of factors contribute to the rate of weight loss and everyone is different. Factors such as starting age, weight, height, metabolic rate all play major roles in your specific journey. If we were to cut our fingers today, it’s most likely that we would be healed on the same day. However, twins raised together often turn out completely different because of different body compositions. Know going in that comparisons are often counterproductive, and that idea leads to the next step.

3. Trust the process!

As I’ve stated in step 1; History has proven to many patients that little to nothing works for them in trying to lose weight, and they often allow the frustrations of the past to affect their mindsets. Often, we want and need instant results to stick with a plan. We live in a fast-paced society, and for most diets, if there is no change in weight loss after two weeks’ time, then it’s seen as a flop. Patients often have this same sort of mentality following bariatric surgery. “I’m doing everything that I’m supposed to be doing but I’m not losing weight.” This thought process is wrong because you have unrealistic expectations. Bariatric surgery is a tool that will greatly assist you in getting through another month while your body adapts, adjusts, heals, and progresses. While you might want to kick and scream that, “This surgery didn’t work,” you just simply need to be patient and allow the procedure to work its magic. Even though you often quit diets after two weeks in the past because you didn’t see immediate results, you must trust the process and see this plan through.

4. Take full advantage of the honeymoon period.

The first six-to-12-month period following bariatric surgery is the magic window for patients to change their mindsets and enjoy the benefits that are bound to come if they stick with the plan. This is when you will get the most out of the new tool that the bariatric procedure provided you. If you don’t lose the majority of the weight you are wanting to lose in this time, statistics show that you likely won’t be able to do it in the long run either. The thinking is that if you cannot make a lifestyle change in the first six months after the procedure when your restraints are the most restrictive, you most likely won’t be able to change your lifestyle later on when the process gets easier in theory.

Changing your lifestyle and mindset will get easier as the swelling comes down, the pain disappears, and your ability to test your limits increases. This is the time to learn about the new tool that bariatric surgery has given you and build a foundation for long-term success going forward. Remember, this procedure is a tool, but it is not an absolute, failsafe solution. Use this time after surgery to make positive food choices, and learn when your stopping point is. Eventually, you will be able to test your limits, and if you don’t create positive new habits, you very well could revert to your old ways that led to weight gain in the first place.

5. Don’t try and do this alone!

Traditionally, patients who have the most success are the ones who have had the most support around them throughout this process. Being afraid to tell friends and family about your decision to change your lifestyle and mindset following bariatric surgery can make a difficult situation even more daunting. You don’t have to tell them if you don’t want to, but just know that there is a huge community of people who are in the same position as you and they can help with their verbal and emotional support.

Any struggle that you’re going through there is someone out there who has already conquered it and they might be able to help you with tips and support. And, you very well could be that person offering support and tips to others along this journey. Also, the amazing staff at Blossom Bariatrics can provide lots of resources to help along the journey. One such resource is a YouTube podcast. If you don’t trust yourself to be accountable, you need not worry because the Blossom Bariatrics family will be there to help with your accountability. Remember, this journey is not going to be easy and surrounding yourself with caring and thoughtful people willing to offer support will give you your best shot at long-term success.