Mimosas and bloody Mary’s for brunch on Sundays. Happy hour after work. A beer while watching the game or a glass of wine at dinner. Let’s face it. Alcohol has become a staple of our culture.
For many of us, a drink or two now and again is no big deal. Millions of people do it and their lives are minimally affected. Only when you overindulge can problems occur. Turns out, when you have bariatric surgery, it doesn’t take much for a little to become too much.
Because of the digestive changes that occur during popular weight-loss surgeries like the gastric sleeve and gastric bypass, your tolerance to alcohol may shift. It may take way less for alcohol to have a major effect.
As a bariatric patient, it helps to understand how your body will respond to alcohol post-surgery and the problems to watch out for. You should tell your bariatric surgeon if you experience any complications after surgery, particularly if they relate to certain habits like drinking.
Do you have to become a teetotaler after weight loss surgery? The answer is no, but you’ll get far more significant results by abstaining from drinking entirely. Drinking can make otherwise boring moments entertaining and there’s a good reason it’s described as a social lubricant. To keep you safe and avoid complications, here is what you should keep in mind the next time you reach for the bottle or glass and consider tipping one back.
How Much Alcohol Can Bariatric Surgery Patients Drink?
When it comes to imbibing, everyone is different. The amount you can drink depends on a few factors, including your body weight, genetic makeup, and the type of surgery you had.
The gastric sleeve involves the removal of up to a third of your stomach tissue. The remaining tissue is formed into a banana-like sleeve that holds the food you eat. With the space available for food significantly diminished, you are forced to eat less. The removal of your stomach tissue also affects some hormones in your body, particularly the ones involved with hunger and satiety. With you consuming less food and since you feel less hungry overall, the weight comes off quickly and safely following the gastric sleeve procedure.
Gastric bypass surgery expands upon the gastric sleeve. After your stomach is made smaller, your stomach is rerouted to your lower intestine. This gastric configuration helps you drop unwanted weight in three ways. You feel less hungry, you eat fewer calories, and your body absorbs fewer nutrients from the foods you eat. Gastric sleeve patients can lose up to 70% of their excess weight. Because of the fact you are consuming fewer nutrients, you will be advised to supplement your diet to maintain optimal health.
These are the two most common bariatric surgeries and, as you can see, your digestive system will be altered. These changes may affect how alcohol interacts with your body. When you drink, you may experience the following as a bariatric surgery patient.
Alcohol can irritate your newly formed stomach sleeve. The more you drink, the more digestive issues you can experience.
Goes Against Your Goals:
Alcohol is sugar. The more you drink, the more empty calories you consume, which can sabotage your healthy eating plan. To make matters worse, many mixed drinks are filled with sugary additives like fruit juices, which can cause weight stabilization or, even worse, weight regain.
Carbonation Can Cause Complications:
Drinking beers and carbonated alcoholic drinks (such as rum and coke) can cause irritation to your stomach following bariatric surgery. The bubbles can stretch the skin of the stomach. This can cause discomfort and long-term complications such as a reversal of the changes made during the original surgery.
Do You Have to Quit Alcohol After Bariatric Surgery?
The fact is, just because you had bariatric surgery does not mean you need to do away with all of life’s indulgences. Most patients find that they can tolerate some alcohol following their procedures. Moderation is key. Drink slowly and see how you feel after a few sips. Once you get an idea of how your body will process and be affected by alcohol, you’ll be empowered to make better decisions regarding your alcohol usage as it pertains to your health.
Do Gastric Bypass Surgery Patients Have to Quit Alcohol?
Gastric bypass patients have special considerations when it comes to alcohol. Any procedure that modifies the small intestine, such as gastric bypass surgery, can cause the patient to become inebriated faster while drinking. As you drink, the alcohol goes straight into the bloodstream through the thin membranes of the intestine, which enhances the speed of blood alcohol absorption.
Bariatric patients are already told to beware of experiencing dumping syndrome, which is the rapid emptying of the gastric system after eating foods high in fat and sugar. Gastric bypass patients are given similar warnings about alcohol, as it can be all too easy to overindulge.
Low Blood Sugar in Bariatric Patients
Fast weight loss and lowered carbohydrate intake can cause bariatric patients to experience reduced blood sugar levels (glycogen). When you drink alcohol, your glycogen levels deplete further, which can put you at risk for developing a condition known as hypoglycemia.
Hypoglycemia is a dangerous ailment that can lead to complications like brain and nerve damage, loss of consciousness, and death if it’s not treated. When drinking, at home, or with friends, be on the lookout for symptoms of hypoglycemia like lack of coordination, poor vision, confusion, and slurred speech.
If you ever do experience these symptoms, there are steps you can take to immediately raise your blood sugar levels. You can drink diluted juice or take a glucose tablet along with a snack filled with complex carbohydrates and protein. Be sure and call your doctor or seek medical treatment if these symptoms occur frequently, even without adding alcohol to the mix.
How Bariatric Surgery Patients Can Drink and Stay Safe
We cannot overstate that refraining from alcohol is the best course of action after bariatric surgery. However, if you must drink, here are some guidelines to follow.
- Avoid alcohol for the first six months following your bariatric procedure. This allows your body to heal without complications.
- Start slowly by sipping drinks and seeing how they make you feel.
- Practice moderation.
- Remember that even small amounts of alcohol can cause extreme intoxication and low blood sugar.
- Avoid carbonated beverages and sugary mixers like sodas and juices.
- Try sipping your drinks with meals to avoid rapid alcohol absorption.
- Watch your calorie consumption when drinking.
- If at any time you find yourself drinking to cope with difficulties, emotions, or stress, consult with your doctor right away.
Alcohol and Addiction Transfer – Are You Trading One Habit for Another?
There is one more consideration that has to do with alcohol and bariatric surgery and that’s a phenomenon known as addiction transfer. Some bariatric surgery patients found that they had an addiction to food before surgery allowed them to have more control. However, instead of the addiction merely going away, the energy behind that habit often gets transferred to another, such as drinking alcohol. You may find it easy to overindulge with beer, wine, or liquor because you no longer compulsively overeat.
Being cognizant of your addiction is one of the first steps to combating the problem. You should be sure and seek help if you find yourself developing any type of addiction after bariatric surgery, such as shopping, gambling, sex, drugs, or alcohol.
What About Smoking After Bariatric Surgery?
For some, having a drink and taking a drag off a cigarette go hand in hand. We ask bariatric patients with smoking habits to quit at least six weeks prior to surgery. Quitting smoking can protect your health before and after bariatric surgery and allows you to heal unimpeded by preventable complications.
A few patients may decide to continue their smoking habits after they’ve healed from surgery. While an occasional cigarette may not bring you immediate harm, any amount of smoking is highly discouraged. Smoking cigarettes can increase your risk of diabetes and heart disease, which are two comorbidities patients are usually trying to eliminate with bariatric surgery.
Talk to your surgeon about your relationship with alcohol and cigarettes to determine how they may affect your results as a bariatric surgery patient.
Alcohol can be one of life’s enjoyments, but it’s easy to go too far. Bariatric surgery seems to intensify the effects of alcohol. At the wrong moments and in improper amounts, alcohol can cause discomfort and long-term damage. Alcohol can even cause your weight to stall or pile back on.
If you must drink, talk to your doctor about ways to do so safely. The guidelines above should help also.
For other questions about bariatric surgery, including how gastric sleeve or gastric bypass could help you lose unwanted pounds, contact Health Life Bariatrics in Los Angeles, California – (310)694-4486.