Published on October 21, 2019

Why It’s Important to Lose Weight Before Bariatric Surgery

At first, it may seem surprising: One step you’re asked to take before bariatric (weight-loss) surgery is losing a few pounds. Isn’t the weight supposed to come off afterward?

It turns out that a relatively small weight loss prior to bariatric surgery can make a big difference in what happens later.

Head Start on Weight Loss

There are three main reasons for losing a little weight prior to bariatric surgery.

Learning healthy habits. You may be asked to take part in a doctor-supervised weight-loss program for a few months before surgery. Many health insurance plans require this as a condition of coverage. It’s a chance to learn about the healthy lifestyle changes you’ll need to make after your operation. You can practice choosing nutritious foods and working more physical activity into your day.

Reducing surgical risks. For the last few weeks before surgery, you might need to consume a special diet. It might include low-calorie shakes in place of some meals. This type of diet not only helps take off pounds—it can also shrink your liver and reduce fat inside your abdomen, which makes surgery safer.

In a study of more than 350 bariatric surgery patients, people aimed to lose at least 8 percent of their excess weight on this kind of preop diet. Those who reached that goal:

  • Spent less time in surgery, compared with those who lost less weight beforehand
  • Had shorter hospital stays

Potentially improving results. In the same study, patients who reached their preop weight loss goal also did better after surgery. A year later, they had lost 7.5 percent more excess weight than those who didn’t reach their preop goal.

Strategies for Preop Success

In the run-up to surgery, you’ll typically have a whole team of health professionals supporting you, including a dietitian and behavioral health specialist. Don’t hesitate to ask questions or discuss challenges with your team.

Keep your eye on the long-term rewards. Your efforts up front can help you prepare for a lifetime of better health after surgery.