The Bariatric Patient's Holiday Survival Guide

broken holiday ornament

For someone who is trying to lose weight, is preparing for bariatric surgery or has had bariatric surgery, the winter holidays can be one of the most challenging times of the year. 

Unlike other food-centric holidays like Halloween, Thanksgiving and Valentine’s Day, this one lasts for weeks. There are parties, potlucks, cookies and treats. With all of the gift buying, decorating, party-throwing and party-hopping, the stress and lack of time makes it a lot easier to give in to temptation and a lot harder to take the time to cook healthy meals for yourself and keep active.

For this reason, we wanted to offer some advice for how to stay healthy and still enjoy yourself during the season.

Stick to people who will keep you on track

There is strength in numbers. Enlist a buddy to be your personal cheerleader – or nagger, if necessary.

“A strong, supportive group of family members and friends can play an important role in long-term success after bariatric surgery,” says David Sarwer, PhD., professor of Psychology in the Psychiatry and Surgery departments at Penn and member of the Bariatric Surgery Program. “Ideally, you should surround yourself with people who will support your healthy eating and activity habits.”

You’re not the only one heading into the holidays with weight on your mind. Don’t be afraid to ask for help. You are always welcome to come to one of Penn Bariatric Surgery’s support groups or to reach out to your bariatrics care team.

Make a holiday wish list

Your friends and family may struggle with the right gift for you. They know you're going through a weight-loss journey; they will want to support your healthy goals and lifestyle, but they also need to be mindful of the challenges and emotions that you're naturally experiencing. If you're asked what you want for the holidays, request gifts that will be enjoyable as well as practical.

Are there any healthy restaurants you want to try? Or perhaps, you need a new cookbook? You know, there are actually specific cookbooks for bariatric surgery patients.

There are a ton of fun kitchen supplies in the market right now. Shaker bottles for protein shakes, juicers or blenders with a to-go cup, ice-pop makers, crock pots and vegetable steamers are all awesome. 

There’s a good chance that your clothing size is changing or will change. Ask for a gift card to your favorite store. It’s easy for your friends to get, and you’ll be able to pick out exactly what you want – it’s a win-win.

Ask potential gift givers to avoid certain gifts

Foods with sugar are often a big part of the holidays, but sugar can negatively impact health and weight status. If you've had bariatric surgery, you know that your body can no longer accommodate large amounts of food, and you need to eat ones that are rich in protein and low in fat and sugar. It is completely okay to give your family and friends gift suggestions. You should tell them to skip candy, desserts, alcohol or holiday-specific food treats.

If someone ends up presenting you with an insensitive gift, such as a gym membership or item that hints strongly at more exercise, try not to take offense. Yes, it will probably feel annoying and belittling, especially from someone who hasn’t been there. Obviously you know that you need to be healthier and you’re working on it.

Just try to keep in mind that this person cares about you and is trying to help. If it’s someone close to you, like a sister or best friend, you may want to address it directly and explain your feelings.

Pack your own treats

People who have a plan and keep their goals in mind are the ones who eventually attain them. When you know you have a dinner or party to attend, have a game plan. Volunteer to bring the vegetable platter or another healthy dish that you’ll enjoy eating. That way, you’ll have your own food options, you won’t feel out of place by not eating and you won’t give into temptations. Moreover, you’ll look thoughtful to your hosts.

If you work in an office where your coworkers are constantly bringing in their extra cookies or venders are sending in sweets, avoid the break room areas. Stock up on nutritious snacks and protein powders that you can whip out whenever you get a craving.

Keep a positive outlook

The holidays aren't just about food and presents. Try to enjoy the little moments – spending time with family and friends, fun activities, the beauty of all the lights.

We hope our suggestions will help lessen some of the stress. If you need any more information or support, please do not hesitate to reach out to your dietitian or program coordinator. From the entire Penn Metabolic and Bariatric Surgery program, we wish you the happiest of holidays.

About this Blog

Learn about bariatric surgery and get the support you need to continue on your weight-loss journey. We offer workouts, recipes and tips from Bariatric Surgery program team members, and stories from patients like you.

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