“How do I break a stall after weight loss surgery?” is one of the common questions I receive from the bariatric community. One of the most frustrating things many people who undergo bariatric surgery experience is a weight loss plateau. It’s not uncommon for weight loss to be steady and exciting for the first several weeks only to slow without warning.
You might be asking, is this slowdown normal? Why does this happen and how can you get past a weight loss stall? If you’re wondering how to break a weight loss plateau after gastric sleeve or other bariatric surgery, this post is for you.
Why weight loss stalls after bariatric surgery
When it comes to weight loss slowing down after bariatric surgery, the question isn’t so much “if” as it is “when” it will happen.
Weight loss stalls are normal and expected after such a big procedure and corresponding shift in lifestyle behaviors. After all, not only did your body just undergo a traumatic and extensive surgery, it’s trying to find its new metabolic balance. That can take some time.
In the early days and weeks following surgery, your body is losing water, reducing post-op swelling, and burning alternative sources for energy, like fat and muscle. You’re also taking in fewer calories than you may have been used to for years, or even decades, prior.
As your body breaks down muscle, your muscle mass declines, which contributes to weight loss. People with more muscle mass naturally have a faster metabolic rate, so it makes sense that as your lean body mass declines, your metabolic rate also slows. In other words, your body will not stay in a large caloric deficit forever or continue the rapid weight loss as it finds its new balance.
While it can be encouraging to see your body lose weight so quickly after surgery, this rapid weight loss is not infinite. Sustained fat loss and the achievement of a healthy weight is a slow process that requires consistency, adherence to the prescribed post-surgery plan, and patience.
How to break a stall after weight loss surgery
If you’ve experienced a post-gastric bypass or gastric sleeve weight loss plateau, don’t panic. Again, this is a completely normal part of the recovery process for many patients and it’s important to keep your focus on the long game. The best way to ensure continued successful weight loss is to stay consistent and continue nourishing yourself.
Some tips for getting yourself through a weight loss plateau include:
- Make sure you’re eating enough. It can be tempting to listen to the voice in your head telling you to eat fewer calories to jumpstart weight loss again, but this might be incredibly detrimental to your journey. Without adequate calories, you cannot fuel your body’s recovery or ability to continue burning fat.
Furthermore, the ASMBS recommends 60-120 grams protein per day after weight loss surgery, and it’s important to adhere to this. Stick to the post-op nutrient plan prescribed to you. Contact your registered dietitian if you have any concerns, think adjustments may be helpful, or just need reassurance that you’re on the right nutritional track.
- Adjust what and when you’re eating. This doesn’t mean do a total dietary overhaul. It just means that sometimes when you feel like you don’t have any control, the types of foods you’re enjoying can be one way to find new motivation while meeting your nutrient needs.
For instance, if you’ve been eating a lot of animal-based protein foods lately, try incorporating some plant-based ones and finding new ways to prepare them. If you’ve been eating three or four meals a day, you may find that switching to six smaller meals is helpful, providing the same nutrition, just at different times. And if you need ideas, check out some of my bariatric meal plans and recipes.
- Stay hydrated. One of the most important things for bariatric patients to do after surgery is to hydrate. Your body is made up mostly of water, so in order for it to perform at its best metabolically, it needs adequate water. Furthermore, hydration is key for optimal immune function, promoting bowel regularity, preventing constipation, and supporting overall physical and mental well-being.
- Take your supplements as prescribed. Your body just underwent a significant surgical trauma right in the digestive system, where nutrition starts. Vitamin and mineral supplements are going to be a lifelong habit that are critical to your recovery and your body’s ability to find and maintain its new metabolic normal. By optimizing your body’s nutritional status, you are supporting it through weight loss plateaus and encouraging long-term success.
- Change up your exercise routine. Once you’ve been cleared for physical activity, try to mix up what you’re doing every so often. Some people recommended a new regimen at least every 4-6 weeks, to help you stay motivated and your body stay challenged. This can also help you target new muscle groups.
Walking and other low-impact activities are great for overall health, but consider adding in some strength training exercises when you’re able. Resistance bands, dumbbells, and high-intensity interval training (HIIT) may be worth exploring, just be sure to clear it with your medical team first.
- Focus on the end goal, not the short-term numbers game. When weight loss comes to a halt for no apparent reason, it can be incredibly frustrating. It’s natural to start worrying about what you’re doing “wrong” or becoming obsessive about weighing yourself, counting calories, or keeping food records.
While numbers can certainly help track progress over time, they shouldn’t become a source of constant anxiety. Instead, find some ways to focus your mind elsewhere on other activities you enjoy. Trust that you’re on the right track and your long-term weight loss journey will continue past this temporary obstacle.
Keep in mind that the suggestions above depend on your individual needs and stage of the recovery process, including what foods and activities you’ve been cleared to enjoy. Everyone has a different bariatric surgery experience, but a weight loss plateau after bariatric surgery is to be expected.
The very best thing you can do for your health and weight loss is to create positive food and exercise habits, and stick to them even through weight loss stalls. Communicate with your medical team and registered dietitian to make sure you’re keeping your nutrient needs on track, and seek support whenever you need it.