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For up to a year after your weight loss surgery, shedding pounds is smooth sailing. You lose weight rapidly and can get away with eating what you crave without penalty. Patients leave surgery riding high, feeling great about the path to their goal bodies. It appears that the surgery has not only worked, but that it was all you needed. Diet? Exercise? Who needs em’?

While this may sound like the perfect scenario, think again. The honeymoon period is not only a critical time to shed initial pounds, but a time during which patients can establish post-op habits surrounding food and fitness that will allow them to lose and maintain their goal pounds and keep them off for life. If, however, you give in to the temptation to rely on the surgery alone to take care of your losses, plan to face frustration when the honeymoon inevitably ends. After about a year post-op, weight loss slows down and relies on the good habits you now wish you had established. Without a new lifestyle in place, many patients face a devastating plateau, at which time a reboot diet and possibly additional surgery may be required.

Why not use this time to transform your diet, exercise, and self-care regimen? Utilize the following strategies to optimize this period and lose the most weight possible while your body goes into pound-shedding overdrive:

• Follow your doctor-prescribed bariatric diet to the letter.

• Establish a moderate exercise regimen and stick with it. Find activities that you enjoy and that motivate you to break a sweat. Bonus points for any fitness regime that features attainable goals, such as beating your record for walking or jogging a mile, lifting increased amounts of hand weights, or even participating in a 5k or triathlon. Push yourself and the rewards will include increased self-esteem and improved cardiovascular and muscular strength.

• Attend bariatric support groups on a weekly basis to maintain accountability and make friends with peers who understand your new lifestyle.

• Keep periodic appointments with your doctor and support staff. These appointments are critical to keeping you focused and on the path to success. In the WeightWise Bariatric Program, these appointments include the following:

-2 weeks post-op: Attend post-op diet class.

-6 weeks, 3 months, 6 months, 9 months, and 1 year: See all providers, including  your doctor, dietitian, & exercise physiologist.

-6 months: Meet with staff psychologist.

The honeymoon period after bariatric surgery can provide an opportunity to create supportive new habits or reinforce destructive patterns. By working hard to stay on track and seeking support, you can build a lifestyle that supports your weight loss goals and continue to see results during your first year post-op, and beyond.