Vegan eating after bariatric surgery isn’t impossible but it is not without some challenges. Even today, after decades, resources and support are limited for those interested in plant-based eating after undergoing weight loss surgery.
Every year, tens of thousands of people living with morbid obesity turn to weight loss surgery in hopes of finding a solution to a problem that is not only threatening their way of life but life itself. The most common reason why people seek out and receive weight loss surgery is to drastically improve existing health problems. Obesity, along with other chronic diseases, increases risk of further complication. Successful weight loss after surgery can slow this progression or even resolve it.
Coaches need to be familiar with the unique considerations of those who have had bariatric surgery. It is important to recognize that bariatric surgery is not the easy way out. There is nothing easy about this.
People may rapidly experience the loss of a great amount of weight after bariatric surgery. For many, the loss of excess body weight just happens naturally for the first year after surgery.
Nutrient deficiencies can be a common problem after surgery as the stomach is reduced. Gastric bypass creates a pouch about the size of a golf ball which bypasses a portion of the small intestine. This bypassed portion of the small intestine is where vitamins and nutrients are normally absorbed. Following a gastric bypass or sleeve surgery, the body’s ability to absorb B12 and iron is severely impaired and supplementation is important. Protein is also very essential following bariatric surgery and during the initial weeks. Unfortunately, there has not been much research on the effect of countering malabsorption with a plant-based diet.
It has been eight years since I had my gastric bypass surgery and one year after my revision surgery. Gastric bypass was the final solution to my lifelong battle with obesity. I was in my 60’s, weighing 250 pounds and rising. Not only that, I was at a borderline risk for serious health conditions and my lab results were very abnormal. After surgery I wasn’t told I had to eat meat. I could be vegetarian, if I wanted, and eggs and dairy were encouraged for my protein needs. There was no mention or support for a vegan diet. We were told it was impossible to maintain a vegan diet because our new digestive tracts would not be able to synthesize the recommended amounts of protein from plants. I then went on my own quest to figure it out. The best source I found was Dr. Garth Davis, a vegan bariatric surgeon, from his book, Proteinaholic.
Is it possible to go vegan following bariatric surgery? The answer is YES. Living this way takes a lot of effort and planning. It is a new nutritional course, and it is more than making healthier food choices; the task is discovering the body’s relationship with food, how tolerated and digested. My meals no longer follow a regimen of an animal protein and two veggie sides. Most meals are built on the foundation of beans or lentils with fruits and vegetables. I rarely eat rice and pasta because of the difficulty in digestion with my pouch.
Patricia Campana is a December 2019 graduate of MSVA. She is also a licensed marriage family therapist in California and Arizona, as well as a registered dance movement therapist and expressive arts therapist. She currently lives with her cat Sofia in San Diego, Ca. Patricia enjoys going to the gym, dance classes, church and volunteering at farm animal refuge in Campo Ca. She specializes in private and group coaching and counseling for new and aspiring vegans, weight loss and control, people considering or have had bariatric surgery, and seniors.