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31 Days to A Healthier You: For Weight Loss Surgery Patients

By Dana Babeu, R.D. | March 2, 2015

Considering weight loss surgery? Whether you're about to have gastric sleeve, gastric bypass or gastric band or balloon, take time to learn the skills that will help you be a bariatric success story.

The most successful weight loss surgery patients know that fully committing to a healthy lifestyle is one of the most important things you can do — both before and after surgery — to ensure that your weight loss lasts long term. That means making healthy food choices, controlling portion size, exercising routinely, planning meals, getting support. Sound like a daunting task? The good news is that it doesn't have to be!

Once you have your Gastric Band, Gastric Sleeve and Gastric Bypass procedure, your stomach will be smaller and you'll feel less hungry so you'll eat less and lose weight. But until then, think of yourself as being in training for your new lifestyle. We've put together 31 healthy changes you can make before your surgery. Commit to one new healthy task a day. (If there’s one you can commit to for more than one day, like drinking water or chewing slowly, even better.) These are all designed to increase mindfulness about ways to move more, what and how much you eat and staying motivated. After 31 days, you’ll be on the road to a healthier new you.

Day 1: Drink 8 glasses of water. Water is uniquely hydrating for the body, unlike caffeinated, carbonated or sweetened beverages. If plain water just isn’t your thing, adding natural flavors like citrus, cucumber or mint can make it more appealing.

Day 2: Eat without distractions. This means no TV, computer, smart phone or even reading.  Studies show these types of activities lead to rushed meals and overeating.  Sit at a table and talk to someone face-to-face or play some relaxing music if dining solo.

Day 3: Measure all your portions. This can become tedious and unsustainable if done all the time, but for one day try measuring as a way to “reset” expectations about what a true portion looks like. Use measuring cups and spoons for things like rice, pasta, cereal, peanut butter and salad dressings. Read labels for chips, crackers or baked goods. Protein can be eyeballed – a 3-oz. serving of meat, poultry or fish is roughly the size of deck of cards.

Day 4: Write down everything you eat and drink today. And be honest! Research shows that people who document their intake are more successful at making lasting, positive dietary changes. Try an app, like My Fitness Pal, for tracking intake and activity. But a simple pen and paper journal will work just fine too.

Day 5:  Stand up or pace during every phone call you make today or walk to deliver a message instead of emailing or texting. It is likely that chronic sitting – at work, commuting and watching TV – significantly impacts cardiovascular and metabolic function. Aim for 5-10 minutes of walking, bending or standing for every hour spent sitting.

Day 6: Slow down – chew each bite of food 30 times before swallowing and stretch each meal to last at least 20 minutes. It takes that long for our brains to get the “full” signal. Slowing down and chewing more aids in digestion and decreases the likelihood of overeating. This is even more important when your stomach has been made smaller through bariatric surgery, when overeating can have unpleasant side effects.

Day 7: Do glute crunches while stopped at every red light today and during all commercials while watching TV. Simply sit up straight and alternate squeezing and releasing your butt muscles. Try to increase the amount of time you hold each contraction as the day goes on.

Day 8: Wear a pedometer.  Buy one, borrow from a friend or download an app.  The recommended number of steps to take each day is 10,000.  Unfortunately, most Americans do only half that amount. Challenge yourself to get as close to 10,000 as possible.

Day 9: Go to bed an hour earlier tonight. While current research indicates there may be no “magic number” for sleep, most Americans typically fall short of their individual needs. Chronic sleep deprivation leads to an increased risk for diabetes and heart disease and reduced performance at work and on other memory-related tasks.

Day 10: Replace a starch with a new vegetable. Instead of potatoes, corn or rice as a side dish, try something new like bok choy, kale, artichokes or parsnips. These often overlooked veggies are nutritional powerhouses and can be prepared to almost anyone’s liking.




Day 11: Shake up your routine. Challenge yourself today by trying out a new exercise move, fitness class or DVD. Or finally ask a trainer to show you that intimidating machine at the gym instead of walking past it to your usual spot. Your brain and muscles will both benefit from trying something new and different.

Day 12:  Snack on protein.  Since carbs work against post-operative weight loss, forgo the usual chips and pretzels and choose lean protein instead.  A low fat cheese stick, ¼ cup of nuts, hard boiled egg, or cottage cheese cup all make great snacks when hunger strikes.

Day 13: Tune in to hunger. Use a hunger scale to increase mindfulness about when and how much to eat. Use a scale of 1 to 10, with 1 being ravenous and 10 being Thanksgiving Day stuffed. Try not to get hungrier than a 4 or fuller than a 7.

Day 14: Focus on fiber. Keep track of how many grams of fiber you consume today. The recommendation is 25 grams for women and 38 for men, but the average person tops out just around 15 grams. The National Nutrient Database is a useful tool to find the fiber content of whole foods like fruits, nuts and veggies

Day 15: Stretch it out. Your muscles, that is. Spend about 20 minutes today doing gentle stretches for all your muscle groups. Stretching is a vital yet often overlooked component of fitness. Research suggests it can help reduce soreness after a workout and may prevent injuries from falls as we age.

Day 16: Look before you eat. If you have plans to dine out this weekend, try going online and looking at a menu before you’re seated at the table. Not only can this help you plan ahead to make a healthier choice when ordering, you’re less likely to be influenced by the choices of those around you. If eating out isn’t on the next few days’ agenda, try looking up the menus and nutrition info (if available) of some of your favorite places. You’ll be armed with knowledge the next time you go.

Day 17: Park your car in the farthest spot from the door today everywhere you go. And take the stairs instead of the escalator or elevator. Aim for at least 30 total minutes of walking and break it up if that makes it easier to achieve your goal.

Day 18: Start the day with a healthy breakfast. Beginning the day with a balanced meal containing protein and fiber will help stabilize blood sugar and fuel your body for the day’s activities. Try a veggie omelet, slice of whole grain toast and a small piece of fruit.

Day 19: Make an appointment for health. We all have that something we’ve been meaning to schedule for forever, so why not today?  It might be a yearly physical, dental check-up, beginner yoga class or massage. Whether necessary, indulgent or somewhere in between, put self-care on the top of your to-do list.

Day 20: Leave something on your plate. Today’s the day to cancel your membership to the clean-plate club. For each meal or snack today, leave a few bites behind.  Because so many foods today are served as supersized portions, this simple step can slash significant calories from the day’s total with minimal effort. After your weight loss surgery, you’ll have to get accustomed to eating much smaller portions because you simply won’t be able to eat the large portions you were once used to.

Day 21: Spice things up. Try adding some cayenne pepper, hot sauce or other spicy flavor to your normal fare. Research suggests that people eat less of a spicy dish plus it’s a great way to amp up the flavor without adding extra calories.

Day 22: Brush your teeth after every meal and snack. Mouthwash works, too, if brushing at work or on-the-go isn’t an option. Your mouth will feel fresh and clean, meaning you’ll be less likely to grab for that random chip or cookie. Plus, mint is a proven appetite suppressant.

Day 23: Try a new food.  Forgo the usual pizza and try Indian, Thai, Middle Eastern or any other fare that piques your interest. Many patients tell us their taste buds change after surgery so you may find a new favorite in one of these cuisines, which are known for being rich in lean proteins and veggies.  Just remember to keep it weight-loss friendly by limiting starches and avoiding anything deep fried. .

Day 24: Make fitness fun! Get in touch with your inner child today and relive the days when exercise felt more like play than a chore. Go skating, jump rope or have a dance party around the house. Chances are you’ll be having so much fun you’ll forget you’re burning calories too!

Day 25:  Become a trans-fat detective. Look for the presence of trans fats on food labels today. Even foods labeled “fat free”’ or “trans-fat free” can contain up to .5 grams of trans-fat by law. Avoid products that use the words “hydrogenated” or “partially hydrogenated” in the ingredient list.

Day 26: Brown bag it.  Try packing a day’s worth of healthy food the night before so it’s ready to go with you in the morning. You’ll save money on take-out and be less likely to succumb to vending machine temptation during the afternoon slump.

Day 27: Perfect your posture.  Thanks in large part to technology, desk jobs and long commutes, modern life is filled with opportunities for slumping and hunching.  Spend the day being mindful of walking and standing correctly by contracting your core and stacking your joints. When sitting, try shifting to the front third of the seat to help maintain a natural curve in your lower back.

Day 28: Eat only fresh, unprocessed and homemade foods.  Our fast-paced lifestyles make it difficult to avoid packaged and convenience foods, but for one day focus on foods our great-grandparents would recognize. Bake a loaf of bread, make a pot of soup and snack on fresh veggies or nuts.

Day 29: Make friends with fat. Yes, you read that right. Healthy fats from foods like nuts, seeds, olives, fish and avocados are an important part of a balanced diet. They offer numerous health benefits, support satiety and improve weight-loss efforts when incorporated appropriately. Try swapping those potato chips for a quarter cup of nuts or spread avocado on your wrap in place of mayo.

Day 30: Find your muse. Think about the reasons you want to improve your health and put up a visual reminder where you will see it every day. It might be a favorite photo of yourself, a picture of your children or grandchildren, a motivational quote or a place you’d like to visit someday. Move your reminder around once a week or so to keep it noticeable, or change it every so often if you have multiple inspirations.

Day 31: Keep on trucking. Want to continue working on your healthy resolutions? Making a list of specific goals and creating accountability is the best way to achieve success. Sharing your objectives with a friend, family member or online group will support your efforts and help keep you on track. Non-food rewards are also a great way to celebrate accomplishments and stay motivated.

Dana Babeu, RD, is a registered dietitian at New Jersey Bariatric Center, a medical & surgical weight loss center with offices in Springfield, Somerville, Hoboken, East Brunswick, Hackettstown and Sparta, New Jersey. She provides pre-operative and post-operative nutritional counseling to New Jersey Bariatric Center’s Gastric Bypass, Gastric Sleeve, LAP-BAND (gastric band) and revision patients, in addition to dietary counseling for patients in our Medical Weight Loss program.
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