The Pre-op Phase – How Important Is It?

If you have a date booked for your weight loss surgery, then you might be starting to think about your pre-op diet phase, the very low calorie diet, or VLCD. This can be both an exciting and nerve-wracking time, but by being prepared and following your plan closely, you will be setting yourself up for success.

A surgeon we work closely with has recently faced some unexpected challenges. There has been an increase in patients who have gained weight in the lead up to their surgery. Unfortunately, this makes for a more complicated surgery and puts the patient at increased risk of complications. Your surgery type may have to change, or it may no longer be safe to go ahead. Imagine waking up to learn you have had a different form of surgery to the one you were expecting, or that unfortunately, the surgery was unable to be completed. This is clearly something everyone involved wants to avoid!

So, how can you make sure you are well prepared and minimise any complications?

When you make the decision to proceed with weight loss surgery, you must also commit to preparing your body as best you can. This starts now. Any time leading up to your surgery gives you an opportunity to start working on behaviours that will benefit you both now and into the future. It has been found that individuals who engage in positive lifestyle change prior to surgery tend to get the most out of it.

Next, take your pre-op diet phase seriously. Follow your plan as closely as possible. We know it is not easy. It is hard work; however, you need to remind yourself of the reasons you chose to have surgery and picture the potential benefits it can bring you.

Why is the pre-op diet phase so important?

The VLCD phase prior to surgery helps to shrink the size of your liver and reduce the amount of fat around your stomach. This makes it much easier for the surgeon to manoeuvre your liver and gain access to your stomach to perform the surgery. A liver that is storing too much fat can be difficult to move and has been described as trying to pick up jelly with chopsticks! By appropriately shrinking the size of your liver, your surgery will be less complicated and you will be under anaesthetic for a shorter amount of time. This makes the surgery smoother for the surgeon and makes recovery much easier for you.

How does the pre-op diet accomplish this?

A VLCD moves your body into a state of ketosis. This occurs when your body doesn’t have enough carbohydrate to burn for energy, so instead it turns to burning your fat stores. This process produces ketones which your body can then use for fuel. In turn, the size of your liver is reduced as well as the fat around your stomach making for a smoother surgery process.

Can you ‘cheat’ on the pre-op diet phase?

There is a lot of misleading information that is circulated amongst weight loss surgery patients, so it is important to listen to the advice of your surgical team. ‘Cheating’ only prolongs the time it takes for your body to reach ketosis, or if you are already in a state of ketosis, then cheating can take your body back out of ketosis. It can be challenging, but please, just stick with the advice you are given.

Tips to keep you on track

  • Be aware that the first three or four days will be the hardest. You may experience hunger, fatigue, nausea and headaches. But keep in mind that once your body reaches that state of ketosis, your appetite will be reduced and you will be feeling much better.
  • Get organised. Check out some delicious veggie recipes that use low energy vegetables, such as the Opticook website or Your Complete Guide to Weight Loss Surgery. Also stock up on diet jelly and other allowances to help make the beginning of your journey easier.
  • To distract you from hunger in the earlier days, try going for a walk, stretching or taking a bath to help you relax and get your mind off things. You can even check in with that friend you’ve been meaning to call and see how they are going.
  • Stay hydrated by regularly sipping water throughout the day. Thirst can sometimes be mistaken for hunger, so managing this can also help manage your appetite. Add reminders on your phone and keep water bottles at your desk or in your bag.
  • If you are getting tired of having the same products each day there are plenty of ways you can make your VLCD products more exciting (included in Your Complete Guide to Weight Loss Surgery). Some ideas include flavouring your shakes with a flavour essence (eg. coconut, lemon or hazelnut) or adding a teaspoon of coffee. You could also freeze a shake and eat it with a spoon or add chopped fresh veggies and curry powder to your soups.
  • Surround yourself with people that will motivate you and help you to achieve your goals. Sometimes this makes all the difference!

Your Complete Guide to Nutrition for Weight Loss Surgery really is a ‘must have’ when embarking on your journey. Get a sneak peek into it here.