Weight Plateau After Bariatric Surgery

After bariatric surgery, the rate of weight loss depends on an individual’s age, health conditions, starting weight, etc. It’s very common to experience weight plateaus throughout your weight loss journey. Bariatric surgery produces exceptional outcomes, but it’s only a tool for weight loss. It’s your responsibility to maintain healthy habits regarding eating, physical activity, and supplements for life. 

The basics of weight loss

First, you must understand how weight loss works. 

  • Caloric deficit: the calories you consume are less than the calories you burn
  • Implementation of physical activity, healthy dietary habits and caloric deficit 

There is no magic pill for losing weight. Successful weight loss is achieved when the work is put in and maintained. 

What is a weight plateau?

Rapid weight loss after bariatric surgery can be motivating and exciting, but you have to remember that the body requires calories as fuel to survive. When nourishment is lacking, the body will find alternative sources for energy. This results in the breakdown of fat tissue and muscle tissue in order to provide energy for normal body processes. Over time, this can lead to a weight plateau. It should be expected because the body does what it can to protect your organs and maintain health as a survival mechanism. This is a completely normal process and can occur multiple times throughout your weight loss journey lasting for a few days to a few weeks. Natural factors that can lead up to a weight plateau are:

  • There’s no longer a caloric deficit: calories burned, equals calories consumed
  • Breakdown of muscle tissue for energy (muscle burns more calories than fat, even while the body is at rest)
  • The body is kicking into survival mode in order to adjust to rapid weight loss 

Understanding your body

Don’t get discouraged! Most of the time, a weight plateau is not occurring because you did something wrong. Here are some things to think about if you’re experiencing a weight plateau:

1. Evaluate whether or not you’ve been following a consistent exercise regimen and lifestyle change.

2. If you know you’ve gone back to some old habits, recognize the issue, and adjust. No one is perfect and it’s okay to ask for help. Food can be tempting, so utilize the support system that you have to get back on track (bariatric support groups, family, friends, bariatric healthcare team).

3. If you have been consistent with a healthy lifestyle, then it’s time to stop relying on the scale and look at some other ways to measure progress:

  • Recognize how your clothes fit
  • Start taking measurements every few weeks
  • Compare old photos: do you have more definition in your arms and legs or are you starting to see some toning (remember, 160lbs of fat is going to look a lot different than 160lbs of muscle)

6 factors that may be affecting your weight after weight loss surgery

1. Water intake

  • Consume at least 48-64oz of fluid throughout the day
  • Aim for unsweetened, carbonation-free, calorie-free, and caffeine-free beverages
  • Fluids are a necessary factor in fat loss
  • Avoid drinking fluids with meals 
  • Avoid alcohol

2. Protein intake

  • Important for healing and preservation of muscle
  • Recommend 60-80g protein/day 
  • Protein preserves muscle tissue, which is more metabolically active than fat tissue

3. Consistent exercise routine

  • Your body can adapt to a exercise regimen and will not burn the same amount of calories it once was
  • Increase the intensity and duration of your exercise routine 
  • Include variety, such as resistance training (push ups, lunges, squats, etc.) and aerobic exercise (walking, hiking, biking, swimming, skating, etc.)

4. Track food intake

  • Increases awareness of nutritional intake 
  • Highlights areas of improvement 
  • Practice mindful eating, avoid grazing 
  • Use a smaller plate to better gauge portions
  • Try meal prep to save time and understand portion size

5. Sleep

  • Inadequate sleep can contribute to food cravings
  • Aim for 7-8 hours of sleep every night

6. Medications

  • Some medications used to treat diabetes, high blood pressure, mood disorders, depression, seizures, migraines, use of steroids, etc. can promote weight gain
  • Do not stop taking medications without consulting with your healthcare provider

Don’t fall for a fad diet  

A weight stall can cause someone to panic and search for ways to lose weight. The internet doesn’t always provide accurate information. Make sure you know the facts:

  • Studies have shown that restrictive diets or trending fads are difficult to maintain and are unsuccessful in long-term weight loss
  • You should never eliminate an entire food group unless under the supervision or recommendation of a healthcare professional, such as a dietitian

Try not to get discouraged with weight fluctuation after bariatric surgery. Focus on the bigger picture and continue to do what you can to take care of your body by staying hydrated, consuming healthful foods, adequate protein intake, adhering to a bariatric specific multivitamin regimen, getting adequate sleep, managing stress, etc. If you would like further information on topics related to weight loss after bariatric surgery, check out the Bari-Heart-of-it Podcast and some of our other blog posts