I'm someone who calms their anxiety and nerves through planning and preparation. I've been through bariatric surgery (aka weight loss surgery) a few times and had countless friends and family go through the process. Every surgeon and program should have a manual or guidance, but I find it helpful to hear from others about what worked for them. In some cases, little hacks get you through the tough recovery times. Be sure to check that my recommendations align with what your doctor and their team have recommended. Nothing written here should substitute medical advice.
Here are the top 8 things I'd found helpful to have on hand during recovery:
1. Clear liquids: Right after surgery, nearly all surgeons require clear liquids for at least a few days and full liquids to go easy on your new small stomach or pouch. Stock up on:
Sugar-free popsicles (like these)
Sugar-free gelatin (aka Jello)
Broth (i.e. vegetable, clear beef, chicken)
Sugar-free, non-carbonated sports drinks (e.g., Gatorade Zero, Powerade Zero)
Hot or iced coffee (check if your medical team recommends caffeine and if yes, a daily limit)
Hot or iced tea (check if your medical team recommends caffeine and if yes, a daily limit)
Some programs allow no-sugar-added fruit juices
2. Protein Shakes: My favorite protein shake considering taste, calorie to protein ratio, sugar content, and availability/variety is Premier Protein. Most flavors are about 180 calories and 30 grams of protein. They are also available in bulk from places like Costco, but you can find a variety of 4-packs and flavors at Target, Kroger, Walgreens, and more. My favorite flavors are Cookies and Cream, Cafe Latte (has caffeine, though!), Vanilla, and Strawberries & Cream. Try the Caramel in an unsweet iced coffee for a protein-rich coffee hack.
3. Loose-fitting clothing: You'll have several laparoscopic incisions on your abdomen. Think function over fashion for a few weeks and pick things that fit loosely around your stomach, including nightgowns, pajamas, or sweats. You may feel gassy or bloated following the procedure. Comfort is key.
4. Long phone and tablet charger cords: While you recover you'll likely spend a lot of time resting. Be sure to get in walks frequently, but to avoid leaning over or stretching while healing, pick up some 6 foot+ charging cords that fit your phone make and model (great for hospital stays too).
5. Easy to eat protein that's gentle on your new stomach: High protein sources when you're in the pureed (think baby food consistency), soft, or early solid foods stage will come in handy. You won't be able to eat much early on and so getting your water and protein should be your eating and drinking goal. Protein goals will vary based on your health, procedure, and height, but most women need at least 60 grams. If you have the procedure type of DS or SADI you'll need more, but work towards it. Verify your nutritional needs with your medical team. Some good protein ideas:
Eggs (cooked or hard-boiled)
Greek yogurts (look for lower sugar options)
Cheese slices w/lunch meat
Tuna or chicken cans or packets
Low-fat cottage cheese (tip: mix with tuna or chicken packets with salt and pepper!)
Hummus (raw veggies are hard to digest and you should be cleared before eating those -- so try spreading on sliced meats/cheese or dipping the string cheese)
Strained creamed soups (you can also put flavorless protein powders)
You can buy protein-rich bariatric versions of soups too, such as these from Celebrate Vitamins
Whitefish you can easily break up with a fork (e.g., tilapia, cod)
I'm personally not a fan, but baby foods can also be a good choice, especially if you're on the go a lot.
Your protein options will expand once you're fully in the regular foods. Things like jerky, chicken, beef, and more will be available to add back into your routine.
6. Water Bottle: A nice water bottle for sipping your daily water is a good reminder to stay hydrated (I still need this reminder more than 10 years out). It will be difficult to get the recommended 60 ounces at first (potentially more), but work to increase it over time with guidance from the doctor's office. I like a vacuum-insulated type, such as Hydro Flask, because it stays cool all day, but there are plenty of dupes/cheaper versions out there. They keep my water cold for my hot yoga workouts too!
7. Measuring Cups and/or Food Scale: Your eyes will be bigger than your stomach. You'll want to make sure you're measuring early on and until you are sure of portion sizes. I was never a food scale fanatic, but I used measuring cups a lot. Here's a set for $4 on Amazon, but you can snag these at pretty much any place that sells kitchen goods. If you have a food scale you swear by - drop it in the comments!
8. Vitamins - Lean on your surgeon and their team for vitamin recommendations. In some cases, you will start them right away while others will advise you to wait a couple of weeks (follow their guidance). I'll do a more in-depth post on vitamins in the future, but your list will be based on your procedure, current levels (based on comprehensive blood work), and other medication. Expect your vitamin needs to evolve. Get regular lab work. It is much easier to prevent a deficiency than recover from one (and you'll feel the effects on your energy/health if you become deficient).
My vitamin list is below, but this is based on my procedure/absorption and tailored based on my complete lab work that I get every 6 months. It might not be right for you.
Bariatric Advantage Ultra Multi-Vitamin w/iron - 3/day (I keep this on auto-ship.)
Bariatric Advantage Calcium Citrate – 1,500 mg – 3/day
Vitron C Iron - 45 mg - 1/day
Vitamin D3 - 125 mcg - 1/day
Nature Made Vitamin E - 400 IU/180 mg– 1/day
Zinc and Copper – Pacific Natures Brand – 2/day - 50mg as Zinc Gluconate + 2mg Copper Sulphate Pentahydrate
Bariatric Advantage Vitamin A – 6,000 mcg- 3/day
Folic Acid - 400 mcg - 2/day
Thorne Vitamin D/K2 Liquid Drops – 15 drops a day (put in water)
Devrom – (over the counter) 2x/day - helps with gas due to SADI/DS bariatric surgery, but not considered a vitamin (called an "internal deodorant). It's cheaper to buy direct from the company than Amazon and shipping are reliable.
Nice to Have Items:
- Pill organizer: for all of your vitamins and other medications you might take. I sort all of mine for two full weeks using two of these from Walgreens.
- Blender: for the pureed stage before you get back on solid foods.
- Pillows, cozy blanket, and robe: feeling comfortable and cozy will feel great while you're recovering (tip: take a nice pillow for the car ride home from the hospital)
- Slippers or sticky socks: Also great to have in your hospital bag. Make sure the slippers don't slide off your feet. Safety will be important, especially as you're healing!
- Lipbalm: you will love to have this in the hospital and as you get your fluids back up you might have dry and cracking lips -- have it on hand!
- Body and hand lotion: Again, you might have dryer skin than normal (be sure to avoid incisions)
- Journal/Paper and pen: Keep track of any questions or emotions that come up to ask your doctor or therapist. It's good to process with a pen and paper or a blog, etc. Find a community online or locally for camaraderie with people who understand where you are at in your journey and to talk with ongoing. I highly recommend seeing if your surgeon's office has a support group or joining organizations like the Obesity Action Coalition.
- Recliner: for sleeping the first few nights home and recovery. Most surgeries are done laparoscopically with small incisions and anecdotally many find sleeping in a bed comfortable pretty quickly.