The First 6 Months: Your Honeymoon Period

If the first month following your gastric bypass is Hell, then you’ll think the months that follow are Heaven.

It’s what’s commonly referred to as the Honeymoon Period. You have no appetite, and weight loss is the easiest it’s ever gonna be. In fact, it’s during this period that you’ll lose the bulk of all the pounds you do shed.

It may last longer than 6 months -maybe as much as 12 – if you have a lot of weight to lose, but however long it lasts expect it to pass almost in a blur. So many new experiences, “wow” moments, and shedding pounds begin to happen so quickly, that you almost have to wait until it’s over to catch your breath.

That being said, there is of course a wide range of experiences, and all of them are normal. When you’re in the moment, sometimes it feels like the scale is moving at an excruciatingly slow pace. But then you look up and realize that while you didn’t see it moving (or didn’t think you did) you’ve actually lost quite a chunk of weight.

It can feel kind of like being Alice in Wonderland. Reality seems a bit warped, and you’re not quite sure if you’re imagining things of not.

Oh My God – Is That My Hair?

Yep, it sure is — clogging up your drain as you take a shower. In piles at your feet in front of the mirror. And tangled in the teeth of your brush or comb.

Anywhere, it seems, but on your head where it belongs.

Hair loss is pretty much inevitable. Some lose more than others, but everyone loses some. It’s especially traumatic for those with shorter hair who’ve perhaps never seen a drain clogged with it.

For me, my hair is very long and I’m used to seeing strands of it everywhere. But when the time came that I could run my fingers through it and come out with a handful, it was still pretty scary.

It usually starts around 2-3 months out, and stops by the end of the first year. In fact, many people have already noticed it begin to regrow by their first anniversary. It often just appears thinner to you, but isn’t even noticible to others. Sometimes it’s a little more severe, and occasionally small bald spots happen. But nobody ever loses all their hair.

Some people swear that extra protein helps, and others insist on biotin. But really, it’s impossible to prove what “would have happened” if someone didn’t take biotin. So no one is really for sure if there’s anything you can do or not.

My suggestion? Take extra good care of your hair during this period. No perms or colors – both of which will damage it further and can make your problem worse. Use good, salon-quality shampoo and conditioner (yes, it really does make a difference to the overall health of your hair, and healthy hair will hide thinness better.) Take your vitamins. And try a good leave-in conditioner made for volumizing. Pretend it’s still the 80′s and style for body (just don’t get too crazy).

At 11 months out, with my hair wet, I can really tell that I’ve lost maybe 20% or more of my hair volume. But once it’s dry and styled, others have told me it looks like I haven’t lost any at all. It’s all in how you work with what you’ve got.

I Don’t Have Anything To Wear

This should be part of the fun of losing weight, but right now it’s actually kind of stressful. It’s stinking frustrating to look at a closet absolutely full of clothes and know that none of them fit you.

But at the same time, anything you buy now will be part of that “too big” pile in a matter of weeks. So unless you’re made of money, there’s no point in hitting the mall just yet.

Yard sales, consignment stores and Goodwill are your best friends right now. And if you must have something more formal (and you don’t happen to get lucky and find it used) you can often find dressier clothes for much less at places like TJ Maxx, Ross’, Marshalls, etc.

Here in the South we have a store called Cato’s. I don’t know if they’re all over the country or not, but they have the most incredible clearance rack you can imagine. I’ve gotten entire outfits for $10 or less – and we’re NOT talking Wal-Mart quality, either.

You’ll also need to figure out what to do with all of your bigger clothes. Perhaps you can hand them down to someone else (be careful – some people get very offended by being offered clothes you’re now too small for) or have a yard sale.

Whatever you do, be sure you keep at least one outfit from your heaviest weight. That way, when it seems the scale isn’t moving and your mind is playing those “I haven’t changed at all!” tricks on you, putting this outfit on will show you in no uncertain terms just how far you’ve come.

Who Is That Person In My Mirror?

During this time your body is changing faster than your mind can keep up with. A few people may take this in stride, but most of us go through some form of body dismorphia. That’s when the image you have of your body does not line up with reality. Anorexics often have this – they see fat on their bodies that doesn’t really exist.

It can be hard to get a handle on exactly how far you’ve come, and how far you still need or want to go. Some of us see ourselves as still morbidly obese. Others think we’re thinner than we are. Some think both at different times. Try to remember that it’s normal – you’re not going crazy, and you’re not developing some deep psychological problem. You’re just changing very rapidly and it’s going to take some time for your brain to catch up.

I still find myself comparing myself to other women and trying to decide if I’m bigger or smaller than them. At this point, it’s not that I want to be better or worse than them, I’m just trying to figure out where I am. What exactly do I really look like? I just want an accurate picture!

But I’m afraid that an actual accurate self-picture is going to have to wait until my weight stabilizes for a bit, then my brain can take inventory and settle on a self-image. So I think that for now, the best thing to do (since I can’t help looking) is to let it be a mild curiosity and nothing more. I’m still in a state of flux, so there’s no point forming a concrete self-image just yet.

I’m Not Done YET, Am I?

Plateaus are evil. I hate them. But they happen to everyone, even those who’ve had gastric bypass surgery.

By 6 months out, you’ll have had at least one, if not more, periods where your scale gets stuck. At first, this drove me absolutely ballistic and I’d do everything in my power to make that scale move again. I think if I’d had dynamite I would have tried it.

And there are a few things you can do to help shorten the time you spend up there on the plateau. They include:

  • Increase your protein intake
  • Drink more water
  • Exercise more, or do something different
  • Be sure you’re getting all your vitamins
  • Increase your calcium

Notice that none of these things include eating less. Because you’re already eating next to nothing, which is one reason we have plateaus. Have you ever heard of “starvation mode?” Basically (and this is true of regular diets as well) when you cut back on calories, your body thinks you’re starving and will begin to hold on to reserves literally for dear life.

I have noticed that one way to break a stall is to eat more for a day or two. Reasonable food, mind you – stuff that it’s OK to eat anyway. Just more of it. And voila – within a few days, scale movement!

Mostly, however, I look at plateaus as my body gathering energy for the next great plunge. Because usually, when they end I lose a chunk of weight – like 5 pounds or so – overnight. It’s kind of like holding your breath before jumping off a diving board.

You also must must must realize that even when the scale doesn’t move, sometimes fat is still melting. That’s why you should do what I never did and measure yourself. Cuz it’s way cool when you realize that even though the scale still says 220, you’re now in an 18 instead of a 20. 

Looking at it that way has really helped me stop stressing over stalls. They happen. They’ll end. When they do, I need new clothes!

The Scariest Moment Of All

At around 6 months, a couple of things often happen that scare the living daylights out of you. And if they happen at the same time as a stall, then my God it’s like the world has ended and you’ve had surgery for nothing because you’re going to be a FAILURE!!!!!!

Well, that’s what you may think, anyway.

Sometime around 6 months you’ll have a very unwelcome visitor. Your appetite. He’ll be back and suddenly you’ll want to eat again. At the same time, your pouch will have healed up from surgery and will decide that more foods are welcome. And since the swelling will have gone down, pouchie will have a bit more room as well.

So out of the blue, you want to eat, you can eat lots of foods and you can eat more of them. The panic!

My husband actually noticed this before I did and commented on it. A few times. “You’re eating a lot all of a sudden – don’t hurt yourself!”

Fortunately, I knew this was coming and for once didn’t have a near nervous breakdown. Now you’ll know, too.

Making The Most Of Your Honeymoon

Like all good things, your honeymoon period will eventually come to an end. It starts with the return of your appetite, then you’ll notice weight loss begin to slow.

That doesn’t mean weight loss is over – you can continue to lose weight up to 18 months or even more after surgery. But it will be slower.

So you want to make the absolute most of your honeymoon period. Use the fact that you’re not hungry to deal with your food addictions. Forge a new relationship with food that’s based on necessity, not comfort or any other deep psychological need.

Spend this time working out the habits that will carry you through the rest of your weight loss period and into the maintenance phase that will last the rest of your life.

Now is also the time to get into the habit of regular exercise. If anyone told you that having a gastric bypass meant that you could lose all the weight you wanted without having to exercise, you have my permission to find them and slap them for lying to you. (Of course, you’re on your own for whatever happens next. Sorry.)

You will lose weight whether or not you exercise, but not as much as you will if you do. And the further out from surgery you get, the more exercise becomes vital if you want to keep the weight off.

You didn’t go through a life-threatening surgery and change so much just to put the weight right back on, did you? No. This is to be permanent. So get out there and get moving!

You only get one honeymoon period. Use it wisely!

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Bariatric Living and Recipes is managed by Frances Osborne, Austin Texas