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Man makes a list of healthy food.||Starting healthy habits like moving your body more

Build Habits for a Healthy Lifestyle

Bariatric surgery can be a helpful tool for losing weight, but ultimately, the best success comes when the patient actively establishes healthy habits and nourishes their body with nutrient-dense foods, mostly including lean protein and vegetables. These foods digest slowly and ensure steady energy release to reduce cravings. They are of high nutritional value and help to prevent nutrition deficiencies for further post-op success.

Establish Healthy Habits Pre-Surgery

In order to provide the highest quality of care and help patients to be successful, we provide nutrition education before surgery that mimics how to eat post-operatively. Studies show that nutrition status before surgery plays a big role in how well patients do afterwards, in terms of vitamin and mineral deficiencies, as well as metabolic health. In other words, good nutrition before surgery helps patients to have the best outcome. When patients take the time to learn and establish a foundation of healthy habits, it is easier to transition and keep those changes going. Ideally patients will start small, focusing on changes that are easily within reach and then build on those small milestones. The ultimate goal is to have a snowball effect of positive changes that work together to make the most impact and get patients to the health they want to achieve.

Reduce Barriers to Progress

One way to begin with the small changes is to plan. Simply think about the steps you will need to take in order to meet your goals. For example, if you want to exercise more but haven’t had a routine in years, what tools do you need to start up again? New shoes? Weights? Time? Figure out the barriers that are in the way of what you want to, and think about how you can eliminate them. This can be the first step in creating a new routine, and no exercise was required! This way, you’re starting off by giving yourself the best chance of continuing.

Healthy Habits Take Time

The next step is a big one - don’t be afraid to fail. It’s going to happen, and that’s totally part of the process. We often don’t start because of the fear of doing something wrong. This can be very debilitating at times. If you told someone that you’re a runner, and they ask "How far do you run?” most of us would feel like a failure if we said “Down the block." We’re afraid they’ll reply "That doesn’t make you a runner." But it’s not up to them to say what makes you a runner. It’s the consistent changes, trying, and the mindset you have that matters.

One way to get over this fear is to, once again, start small. Be okay with only putting on your workout clothes for a week. Then commit to walking for one minute each day. Then two minutes each day. As you are learning to make an activity or behavior a habit, you have to do it consistently. You don’t have to be the best or even live up to the same standards you once had. You just have to be okay trying. It’s okay to be mediocre. Just be mediocre every day and you can achieve your goals.

Meal Planning Is Your Best Friend

In terms of eating more nutritiously, start by making a list of the nutrient-dense foods that you like in these categories:

  • Proteins
  • Beans
  • Nuts
  • Veggies
  • Fruit
  • 100% whole grains

This isn’t even a grocery list yet, just the things you like to eat or are curious about trying. Then find recipes with a few of these ingredients. Write them down, take a screenshot, or print them so you don’t have the barrier of trying to remember where you found it.

Next, make a grocery list, buy, and gather the ingredients that you will need for one meal. Just one. Because if you haven’t meal-planned before, starting with several is overwhelming. Work that one nutrient-dense meal into your routine - it could be something you eat every day or simply make once a week. The important thing is that it works in your life. Once that feels natural and easy to do, add another new recipe into the mix. They don’t even need to be recipes in the traditional sense. A healthy well-balanced meal may be as easy as putting some berries and nuts on top of a container of Greek yogurt - high protein, dairy, fiber, and nutrient-dense carbohydrates in just three food groups. The items you choose don’t have to be complicated, and the timeline of making changes is entirely up to you. Life is complicated, so make the nutrition simple if that’s what you need.

Building habits before surgery is essential for long-term success and those small changes truly add up. Just like in cartoons, we want that tiny snowball of positivity to roll down the hill, gather more snow (healthy habits), plow through the trees (obstacles), and be big enough to swallow up a house (your ultimate health goals). Even if something throws you off-track, having a plan to fall back on will help to get started again - and maybe it won’t be so daunting because you created a well-traveled path to follow.

Reach out to our CHI Health Weight Management team for more info or to schedule a consultation.

Jennifer Thielen, RD
Jennifer Thielen, RD

Jennifer Thielen, RD works on the CHI Health Weight Management team.

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