What Should You Avoid After Bariatric Surgery?

Drinking alcohol after gastric sleeve surgery is a complicated issue. It has been medically proven that drinking can cause havoc on your digestive system and other organs because of the risk for weight regain.

The main thing to keep in mind is moderation and avoiding things like high-fructose corn syrup or other sugars, which will likely make you put on weight again. 

Drinking alcohol should be done with caution if you are unsure how it might affect your body after surgery. Talk to your doctor about what's best for you!

Recovery in the Hospital

Patients spend an average of two to five days in the hospital following bariatric surgery or longer if complications develop. Patients who undergo laparoscopic bariatric surgery usually have a shorter hospital stay.

When you return to your hospital room after surgery, you will be closely monitored by your nurses. Along with periodic monitoring of your vital signs — blood pressure, pulse, temperature and respiration — your nurses will encourage and help you to perform deep breathing, coughing, leg movement exercises and to get out of bed. These activities can help prevent complications. In addition, report any symptoms of nausea, anxiety, muscle spasms, increased pain or shortness of breath to your nurse.

To varying degrees, it is normal to experience fatigue, nausea and vomiting, sleeplessness, surgical pain, weakness, light-headedness, loss of appetite, gas pain, flatulence, loose stools and emotional ups and downs in the early days and weeks after surgery. Please discuss any concerns you have with your doctors and nurses.

 

How Can You Care for Yourself at Home?

Activity

  • Rest when you feel tired. Getting enough sleep will help you recover.
  • Try to walk each day. Start by walking a little more than you did the day before. Bit by bit, increase the amount you walk. Walking boosts blood flow and helps prevent pneumonia and constipation.
  • Avoid lifting anything that would make you strain. This may include heavy grocery bags and milk containers, a heavy briefcase or backpack, cat litter or dog food bags, a vacuum cleaner, or a child.
  • Avoid strenuous activities, such as bicycle riding, jogging, weight lifting, or aerobic exercise until your doctor says it is okay. Do not take part in any activity where you could be hit in the belly. This could be sports or playing with children.
  • Hold a pillow over your incision when you cough or take deep breaths. This will support your belly and decrease your pain.
  • Do breathing exercises at home as instructed by your doctor. This will help prevent pneumonia.
  • You can shower if your doctor okays it. Pat the incision dry. Do not take a bath for the first 2 weeks or until your doctor tells you it is okay.
  • Ask your doctor when you can drive again.
  • You will probably need to take 2 to 4 weeks off from work. It depends on the type of work you do and how you feel.
  • Ask your doctor when it is okay for you to have sex.

Diet

  • Your doctor or dietitian will give you specific instructions about what to eat after the surgery. For about the first 14 days, you will need to follow a liquid diet. Bit by bit, you will be able to add solid foods back into your diet.
  • Talk to the dietitian on your bariatric surgery healthcare team about changing from a liquid diet to a solid one and what will work best for you.
  • When you begin adding soft solid foods, start with only a small portion of solid food at one time (about 2–3 bites).
  • Eat small portions at least 4 times each day. If you're eating very little, you may need to eat 5 to 6 times each day.
  • At first, you may tolerate softer, moist foods better. Here are some you can try: eggs, fish, cottage cheese, mashed potato, soft, fresh fruit (peeled).
  • Try one new food at a time. If a food causes discomfort, write it down in your journal and try it again. Keep eating the foods that work for you.
  • Some foods may cause discomfort because the texture of the food is difficult to chew well after surgery—for example, tough, chewy, stringy, sticky, or gummy foods. Your tolerance to different foods may or may not change over time.
  • Separate solids foods and liquids. Don't drink with meals and snacks. Wait 30 minutes after eating solid food before drinking. Sip on fluids between meals.
  • Avoid carbonated beverages, such as pop, mineral water, and beer.
  • Avoid drinking with straws. This may help you swallow less air when you drink.
  • Check with your doctor before drinking alcohol. Your body may absorb alcohol more quickly after surgery.
  • If you have concerns about your bowel movements or constipation, talk to your healthcare team.

Medicines

  • Your doctor will tell you if and when you can restart your medicines. You will also be given instructions about taking any new medicines.
  • If you take aspirin or some other blood thinner, ask your doctor if and when to start taking it again. Make sure that you understand exactly what your doctor wants you to do.
  • Take pain medicines exactly as directed.
  • If the doctor gave you a prescription medicine for pain, take it as prescribed.
  • If you are not taking prescription pain medicine, ask your doctor if you can take an over-the-counter medicine.
  • Do not take two or more pain medicines at the same time unless the doctor told you to. Many pain medicines contain acetaminophen, which is Tylenol. Too much acetaminophen (Tylenol) can be harmful.
  • If you think your pain medicine is making you sick to your stomach:
  • Take your medicine after meals (unless your doctor has told you not to).
  • Ask your doctor for different pain medicine.
  • If your doctor prescribed antibiotics, take them as directed. Do not stop taking them just because you feel better. You need to take the full course of antibiotics.

Incision Care

  • If you have strips of tape on the incision, leave the tape on for a week or until it falls off.
  • Wash the area daily with warm, soapy water and pat it dry. Don't use hydrogen peroxide or alcohol, which can slow healing. You may cover the area with a gauze bandage if it weeps or rubs against clothing. Change the bandage every day.
  • Keep the area clean and dry.

What Are the Possible Side Effects?

There are potential short-term and long-term complications from having weight loss surgery. Long-term risks vary depending on the type of surgery. Approximately 40% of people experience some complication. Less than 5% have serious complications. If you do have any problems that concern you, check in with your doctor.

Some Common Side Effects Include:

  • Constipation is common after weight loss surgery. Your doctor can let you know how to handle it. Avoid granular fibre (Metamucil or psyllium), which can cause obstructions.
  • Dumping syndrome happens after eating high-sugar meals after weight loss surgery. Sodas or fruit juices are often to blame. The sugary food rushes through the stomach and can cause nausea, vomiting, and weakness.
  • Gallstones are common when you lose a lot of weight quickly. Up to 50% of patients will develop gallstones after gastric bypass surgery, which are usually harmless. Sometimes, gallstones can cause nausea, vomiting, and abdominal pain. About 15% to 25% of people need surgery to remove their gallbladder after gastric bypass surgery.
  • Wound infections can happen up to 3 weeks after surgery. Symptoms include redness and warmth, pain, or thick drainage (pus) from the surgical wound. Wound infections require antibiotics and sometimes further surgery.

Recovery at Home

Discharge

Your surgeon will decide when you are ready to leave the hospital based on your progress. Before your discharge, you will be given specific dietary and activity instructions, along with information about certain precautions and when to notify your surgeon. If you have any concerns about returning home, discuss them with your nurse or discharge coordinator.

When you return home, plan on taking things easy for a while. Your body will be recovering from major surgery and weight loss during the recovery period.

Planning Your Recovery at Home

It is important to think about your living environment and how you will manage it after surgery. Are there any steps in your home? Is your bedroom upstairs? How accessible is your bathroom? Please tell the hospital staff about your living environment, as they can prepare your going home plan with your specific needs in mind. For example, a rubber shower head with a detachable hose, long sponge stick or kitchen tongs, and toilet lift are all useful items.

Follow-Up Appointments

We care about your progress. Keep in communication with us, and we will do our best to ensure your recovery is as smooth as possible.

Your first office visit with your surgeon will be scheduled for 10 days to three weeks after surgery. After that, your discharge instructions will tell you when to return to the office for follow-up.

You will continue to see your surgeon periodically after the initial follow-up visit — usually six weeks, three months, six months and nine months after surgery. After that, you will have an annual appointment. Please call your surgeon's office with any surgical concerns between scheduled visits.

It is also important to keep your primary care doctor informed of your progress. Be sure to contact them with any medical concerns as well.

Recommended Activities

During the first several weeks after surgery, you may feel weak and tire easily after activity. However, light activity, such as frequent short walks, is recommended. Gradually increase the distance. The more physically active you are, the better. It will enhance your recovery and ultimately give you more energy.

Continue walking at least four times a day so that you are walking 30 to 45 minutes per day by the sixth week. By your six-week office visit, you should be regularly walking two miles a day or more unless you have specific problems with your weight-bearing joints. If so, water exercises are recommended. You can begin these about three weeks after surgery.

Staying Hydrated

You may be tired, weak or nauseous or may experience vomiting the first few weeks after surgery. Keep up your fluid intake with small, frequent sips as necessary. We recommend drinking 1.5 to 2 litres of water each day.

Travel

You can resume travelling short distances as soon as you feel strong enough to make the trip. However, do not drive a motor vehicle until you are no longer taking prescription pain medication, usually about one week after surgery.

Personal Hygiene

Most patients like to have someone home with them the first few days after surgery for moral and physical support. Due to the nature of abdominal surgery, you may need some help using the toilet.

Flushable baby wipes, a peri-bottle or a small sports top water bottle, are gentler for personal hygiene. A long sponge stick can also be helpful.

Wound Care

Your wound should need minimal care. If sutures were used, they would most likely dissolve, so there is no need to remove any stitches.

You may notice some tape on your wound. This tape is called "steri-strips" and should fall off on its own.

If surgical staples were used, they would have to be removed, usually around the tenth day after surgery. This should not cause any pain.

No matter how your wound is closed, keeping it clean and dry is important to promote faster healing. Unless otherwise prescribed, you should shower, wash with soap, rinse and dry thoroughly. If the wound is oozing or catching on clothing, you may cover it with a very light dressing, but otherwise, leaving the wound open to air whenever possible may help prevent future infection.

After about three weeks, it is usually safe for your incision to get completely wet. Ask your surgeon for the official "go ahead" before taking a bath. As you feel stronger, you may enjoy a swim or a soak in the tub.

Despite the greatest care, any wound can become infected. For example, if your wound becomes reddened, swollen, leaks pus, has red streaks, has yellow/green purulent or odorous drainage, feels increasingly sore, or you have a fever above 100.5˚F, you must notify your surgeon right away. These may be signs of an infection.

Do not use any antibiotic ointment or another occlusive ointment on your incision unless your medical team has instructed you to do so.

Smoking and Alcohol

Patients who have chosen to undergo a major surgical procedure to make themselves healthier need to quit smoking for the rest of their life.

However, quitting can be very difficult and primary doctors and surgeons can assist by giving tools to help patients stop smoking. Most bariatric surgery programs will require patients to stop all nicotine products before surgery.

This is because tobacco use can cause multiple problems besides just lung cancer. Nicotine use worsens the body's ability to heal from surgery and puts patients at risk for heart attack, pneumonia and blood clots immediately after surgery.

Alcohol use after bariatric surgery can have serious consequences. Alcohol is absorbed more quickly into the bloodstream after surgery, and bariatric surgery patients will have higher alcohol levels in their system for a longer period after drinking than before surgery. These and other factors can lead to an increased risk of alcoholism in bariatric surgery patients.

It's important to follow the eating plan your doctor provides for you both before and after gastric sleeve surgery. The foods you are allowed are designed to help your body recover and pave the way toward a healthy eating lifestyle for life. Exercise is also a vitally important element.

You should also eat more protein, vegetables, and high-fibre foods. Your meal plan will be different depending on what kind of surgery you have undergone, but there are some general guidelines that apply to most bariatric patients. It’s important to stay hydrated with water throughout the day because your stomach may not produce enough hydrochloric acid for digestion after weight loss surgery.

And if you’re following a liquid diet while adjusting to new eating habits post-surgery, make sure it is well balanced by adding supplements like calcium citrate powder or sodium bicarbonate tablets according to directions from your doctor. For other helpful tips about how you can get back on track after gastric sleeve surgery visit this link.

Gastric Sleeve Surgery FAQs

The decision to get gastric sleeve surgery is a significant one that can be full of anxiety and fear and hope and anticipation. For many people, a gastric sleeve is a lifeline. It's not an easy road to travel, but it can be an extremely rewarding one. However, once the surgery is over, emotions shift. The surgeon's job is done, and now the patient must do the hard work.

As you step into your post-op journey, you're likely wondering what you can and should be doing to increase your chances of success. Many of these thoughts are related to foods and beverages or, more specifically, what is and is not off-limits now. For example, alcohol often gets brought up in discussions of post-op diets, and bariatric patients need to understand how a gastric sleeve and alcohol affect each other.

A percentage of people develop an alcohol use disorder after gastric sleeve surgery. Some resources suggest that in many cases, obesity is caused by an addiction to food. After bariatric surgery, the addiction is still present but is transferred to another substance, such as alcohol; however, if that were true, most if not all bariatric surgery cases would end in addiction or substance use disorders.

The reality is that the number of gastric sleeve patients who report alcohol use disorders is small compared to the total number of bariatric surgery patients. Furthermore, most of them report that they struggled with an alcohol use problem before surgery, reinforcing the theory that gastric sleeve and alcohol use disorders are unrelated.

Drinking alcohol with a gastric sleeve is a personal choice and can be safe when done in moderation and with caution. After you've gone through the initial healing period, there's nothing that contraindicates moderate and responsible alcohol use after gastric sleeve surgery. Before you fill your glass, though, it's always a good idea to consult with your surgeon to discuss alcohol use in your specific case.

Many of our patients ask us if they are allowed to drink alcohol after surgery. As with many of the questions we are asked regarding post-surgical care and habits, we have to say that it all depends on the procedure, how you've recovered and your particular health circumstances. But, generally speaking, alcohol is discouraged after surgery for three very good reasons:

  • First of all, alcohol can irritate the stomach pouch, causing the patient to feel discomfort, sometimes significant.
  • Secondly, alcohol is sugar itself, plus most alcoholic drinks have added sugar in the form of secondary ingredients. Therefore, alcoholic drinks, in general, are not conducive to efficient weight loss after the surgical procedure.
  • Further, beers and other carbonated alcoholic drinks also irritate the gastric pouch. The bubbles can cause stretching, which can be very uncomfortable and, over the long-term, can cause complications, including weight to regain. 

Ultimately, however, bariatric surgery is not meant to eliminate all of life's small enjoyments and indulgences. Most patients can tolerate some alcohol in moderation. If you intend to consume alcohol after surgery, we suggest that you start with just a few sips and see how the beverage affects you. Once you understand how your body processes alcohol, you will decide whether it is right for you and in what quantity.

As a special note, it is important to remember that procedures that modify the small intestine, such as the gastric bypass, have special considerations. Patients may become inebriated more quickly than they did before surgery due to increased alcohol absorption into the bloodstream through the sensitive lining of the small intestine. Just as high fat and high sugar foods can cause dumping syndrome (rapid gastric emptying), so too can alcohol cause quicker alcohol absorption and intoxication.

Scroll to Top