You’ve just had gastric sleeve surgery. Now it’s time to adjust to life after. This is your complete guide to gastric sleeve recovery.

Gastric sleeve surgery, also known as sleeve gastrectomy or vertical sleeve gastrectomy, has surpassed gastric bypass as the most popular and commonly performed bariatric procedure. There’s a good reason for this: The surgery works. The average person who has a sleeve gastrectomy can expect to lose more than 60 percent of their excess weight—and keep it off.

However, the amount of weight you lose will depend heavily on your actions and choices after your surgery. To help you get off to the strongest start possible, we’ve put together the ultimate guide to gastric sleeve recovery: what to expect, how to eat, how to exercise and when to see your doctor if you need some extra help.

What to Expect Immediately After Gastric Sleeve Surgery

You will wake up in a hospital bed, most likely feeling groggy due to the anesthesia. You’ll be hooked up to an IV drip through which IV fluids and pain medication are administered. Initial pain will be moderate, and your stomach will be sore, like you’d done a vigorous abdominal workout a day or two prior.

Your surgeon may want you to get up and move for brief periods throughout the first day. It may be uncomfortable, but moving now will reduce soreness in the following few days. It should begin to let up after about a week.

You will most likely have to stay in the hospital at least overnight. You’ll likely be discharged on the second day.

Here’s something you won’t have to expect after your sleeve gastrectomy: extensive scarring. Most gastric sleeve surgeries are performed laparoscopically. Surgeons make four or five small incisions through which they insert their tools and a flexible camera called a laparoscope attached to a video monitor. The laparoscopic nature of most sleeve gastrectomies contributes to their short recovery time.

Diet After Gastric Sleeve Surgery

Gastric sleeve surgery is considered a restrictive procedure. This means that since 80 to 85 percent of the stomach is removed, the patient can eat less and feel fuller. The other broad classification of bariatric surgery is malabsorptive, meaning the that the procedure prevents a portion of calories (as well as some vitamins and minerals) from being absorbed into the body.

While sleeve gastrectomy is not considered a malabsorptive procedure, it is recommended that people who have the procedure supplement some vitamins and minerals, including:

  • Calcium
  • Folic acid
  • Multivitaminms
  • B12

Part of what makes the gastric sleeve procedure so effective is that removing such a large portion of the stomach also removes cells that produce the hormone ghrelin. Ghrelin tells the brain that the stomach is empty, causing a feeling of hunger. That means that not only does the stomach hold less food and therefore consumes fewer calories, but the patient does not have a sensation of hunger gnawing at them.

You’ll be on a liquid diet immediately after your surgery. On the day of your surgery and for the next two weeks , you’ll be limited to clear liquids. While you’re recovering in the hospital, your surgeon will likely allow you to have one or more of the following:

  • Broth
  • Jello
  • Juice
  • Soup (no chunks of anything)

In the first two weeks after discharge, you may be able to add clear protein shakes to that list. In weeks two through four, you can add more food but it will have to be pureed. This can include:

  • Cheese
  • Meats
  • Vegetables
  • Yogurt
  • Pudding
  • Mashed Potatoes
  • Apple Sauce

After about a month, you’ll be able to start adding solid food back into your diet. It will have to be either soft or finely chopped or diced. Meat, fruits and vegetables will be allowed if they are boiled, steamed, ground or otherwise easily consumed.

Approximately six weeks out from the surgery you’ll be able to begin resuming a normal diet; however, this is the new normal of post-gastric sleeve life. Start adding new food slowly, one at a time until you see how your body reacts to it. You may find that spicy or starchy foods are difficult to tolerate.

At this point you should be working with a registered dietician, which we have available in our office, to help you get used to life with a sleeve gastrectomy. And, it is incredibly important to stay properly hydrated starting immediately after surgery. People who have not had sleeve gastrectomies obtain a large amount of water from their food, but you are no longer able to do so thanks to your smaller stomach.

Activity After Gastric Sleeve Surgery

Exercise can be an important factor in losing weight and keeping it off after gastric sleeve surgery. Always follow your surgeon’s recommendations and guidelines regarding exercise after surgery.

Start with walking when you get home from the hospital. Begin with 10 minutes a day and gradually increase the distance and time you walk until you’re hitting the CDC-recommended guidelines of 150 minutes per week. Rest when you need to—and you’ll need to frequently at the beginning, thanks to limited calories consumed and the fact that you’ve just undergone major surgery.

After about a month your surgeon may clear you to add in different low-impact activities such as swimming or biking. Depending on your job, you may be back at work at this point. However, most surgeons recommend waiting at least six weeks.

Remember, gastric sleeve or any other weight loss surgery is not an instant, easy weight loss “trick.” It takes work and commitment. You must buy into a total lifestyle overhaul if you want to get the most out of your surgery.

If you are considering sleeve gastrectomy or another form of weight loss surgery, request an appointment. We’ll help you make informed decisions every step of the way, properly educate and prepare you for surgery, help you recover quickly and efficiently, and provide the support you’ll need to live your best life, free from obesity.

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