The Stages of Bariatric Surgery and How to Prepare for Them – From Lived Experience

the stages of bariatric surgery and how to prepare for them

Starting your weight loss surgery journey can be overwhelming. That’s why we’re excited to team up with Tash Jarrett, she’ll be sharing a series of blog posts based on her own experience with weight loss surgery, offering helpful tips to guide you on your journey.

Tash Jarrett brings a wealth of experience to her role as a Bariatric Support Australia Facebook group admin with over 60,000 members. Read on to discover the stages of Bariatric Surgery and how Tash prepared for them. Find more information about her personal journey here.

When doing your research about Bariatric Surgery, one area that can be tricky to understand is the diet stages. Pre-op, post-op, liquids, mush…it’s enough to make your head spin! Before and after surgery, you must follow some pretty specific guidelines for what goes in your tummy. It might seem strict, but trust me, it’s all to help your body adjust back to solid food.

Remember, everyone’s journey is unique – my dietician might have a slightly different plan than yours, but hey, we’re all on the same adventure, working towards a healthier and happier life!

Here are some handy tips that helped get me through each stage of my journey!

Pre-Operation Stage 

So up first is the pre-operation (pre-op) stage. This is where we are laying down the foundation for our new life to be built on. This is where it all starts. And I would say it’s possibly the most important stage!

This stage is where you’re introduced to a Very Low-Calorie Diet (VLCD) in hopes of shrinking the size of your liver before surgery. This ensures safer operation. For me, this stage lasted around 2 weeks before my surgery date, but this all depends on you and your surgeon. 

The food story that we have during the preoperative stage can and does vary from team to team but there are often similarities. I can tell you what worked for me! I was recommended to have VLCD products twice a day and 1 meal consisting of 2 cups of low-carb veggies and a tablespoon of oil. That is it. 

I’d say the most difficult part of this stage is the mental game. At this point, you haven’t yet had the surgery, so your body feels the same however, it’s not having its regular amounts of food. This can be tough, not only on the body but your mind as well. Remember, your actions at this stage will give you the best possible outcome on the other side. This is what I regularly told myself.

I diligently stuck to my pre-op plan and I knew that if I didn’t I could very easily slip into poor habits. I felt like I was a warrior preparing for battle. If I started strong, I would give myself the best possible chance of my results standing the test of time. We all sacrifice so much to even have the surgery, so I wanted to set myself up for success from the get-go.

Liquid Stage 

You’ve just had the surgery, now you’re in the liquid phase. Your body is recovering from life-changing surgery, so we need to be kind to it. This means introducing liquids slowly, sip by sip. I first started on clear liquids, things like protein water, tea, and clear broth. But, after getting the OK from my dietitian, I was able to progress onto free liquids. And this is where the fun really began. 

The free liquid phase is super important to start getting all your well-needed nutrients back into your body. I was told to focus on my protein intake so I prioritised things like protein shakes and protein water to hit my targets. 

My liquid stage lasted for 14 days. 14 long days. At the start, trying to get the recommended 1200ml of fluids in a day was a battle, my stomach just couldn’t take it, but I knew I had to hit my goals to stay hydrated. This was my least favourite of all the diet stages of bariatric surgery. Just keep sipping away and eventually, it does get easier, I promise. 

Puree Stage 

Then came the puree stage. Oh, what a stage, what a stage, what a stage it is. After only drinking liquids for 2 weeks, we finally arrived at that happy day! Yes, it did look like something you’d spoon into a toddler, but let me tell you, never had mush tasted so divine. It must be this consistency to build your stomach’s tolerance to solid food, something I’d been dreaming of for the past 2 weeks.

This glorious stage (yes that is sarcasm) lasted 14 days for me and in that time, I just experimented with as much as I could, and I recommend you do the same. A lot of things change after surgery, and what you think you will tolerate may not be the case anymore. Your stomach is adjusting to its new life so it’s also working out what it likes and dislikes now. 

I also had trouble with certain foods turning me into a bloated gassy mess but, this is all in the spirit of experimentation! I soon discovered that some of my faves were protein gravy with veggies, soups, and baked dishes such as ricotta and cottage cheese bakes. But whatever you decide to eat, try and get as much out of your small bites of food as you possibly can. This could mean adding supplements to your food to get that added kick of nutrition back in your body.

Soft Food Stage

Oh, the joy of joys! I could not wait to get to this stage, it meant I could finally start cutting my food with a fork. That was my dietitian’s requirement – if I could cut it with a fork, it could go in my mouth. This opened the floodgates for me in terms of food possibilities. But, like the puree stage, I soon found out that not everything works for everyone. 

My advice is to keep experimenting but don’t go wild! Mindfully eat, take tiny bites and make sure you chew really well. A top tip I learnt was to put down my fork in between bites and let my food settle for at least 30 seconds before taking another bite. This allowed me to understand when I was full.

I was advised to have a protein-based, healthy fats and low-carb diet but, your dietitian will guide you towards the diet that’s right for you. I still relied on my protein supplements but also upped the ante with yummy, soft protein powerhouses. Foods like eggs, sliced meat and minced meat slowly became my best friends during this stage. They’re easy to prepare, have many possibilities and are easy to take with you on the go. I stayed in this phase for around 5 to 6 weeks before starting my regular bariatric diet. 

Bariatric Diet for Life 

After going through all the diet stages of bariatric surgery, it was like re-learning how to eat all over again. People may tell you it is only temporary, but listen up, for lasting results, your relationship with food needs a permanent shift. The surgery will only take you so far. I have stuck to a healthy balanced diet, putting my nutrients first. And that’s worked for me for the past 6 years after my surgery. 

The biggest takeaway I’ve learnt is to enjoy my meals. This could mean making my favourite dishes (bariatric-friendly of course), eating with special company or even going to my favourite restaurants. Even though I often feel full after small meals, I want to make every bite count. This is my life now, and it’s too short for boring food!

With love,

Tash x