Help Garth – how do I handle Christmas and the holiday season???? This is a frequently asked question by our patients both pre and post operatively. So we thought it was timely, with Christmas fast approaching, to give a guide to getting through this time of year, safely and happily.

Many issues can arise around this time of year. These can be roughly broken down to:

  • Those related to the anatomical and metabolic changes following surgery
  • Those related specifically to alcohol
  • And the big one- psychosocial stressors (arising from personal and social interactions with family, friends and work colleagues)

We can address these each in turn.

Portion sizes

Social events, family dinners, work events- these invariably involve food (and usually alcohol too) and frequently lots of it! Society in general puts a heavy emphasis on food and participating in its consumption in many, many situations. This is so very true around Christmas.

People often notice (and feel the need to comment on) how little weight loss surgery patients may eat. How you respond and react to this will depend on your individual circumstances. Some patients disclose their surgery and others, as is their right and prerogative, choose not to. If your surgery is not a secret, then a simple explanation is all that is required.

“That’s all I can eat, but damn it tasted so good…!”

If you have not disclosed then the options are yours for the picking. Family member/ friend/ work colleague: “Is that all you’re going to eat?” YOU: “Yes….” Smile and move on with conversation. Or “Yes, I’m restricting my caloric intake as part of my new healthy lifestyle” which is completely true. It just happens to be mostly due to the surgery.

Or slightly inflammatory “Yes, do you feel I need to eat more…??”– likely to end the conversation pretty swiftly! See how you go.

tapas meals

An approach to treat food at Christmas and the holiday season

You can only eat a small amount so make it count nutrients-wise. And remember you can still have a few treats. It’s what you usually eat that will determine your weight, not what you occasionally have (at a social event for example). These events often have finger food, which is perfect for WLS patients (as is Tapas when you’re eating out). What you should remember is that with the sleeve, and the bypass, you should still be able to enjoy quality food, just in markedly reduced amounts. So being part of celebrations and gatherings around the holiday season is still on your repertoire of social interactions.

So what about alcohol?

We tell ALL our patients that alcohol absorption following WLS is variable and unpredictable. Therefore avoid alcohol for at least 6 weeks, and ideally twelve weeks, after your surgery. If you did drink alcohol before you may find your ‘tolerance’ is much less after the new plumbing. For this reason we recommend to patients that the first time they try alcohol with the new anatomy they should do this at home, in a safe environment, with people they can rely on. The last situation you want to find yourself in is at a work event, intoxicated and dancing on the table, after ½ a glass of Chardonnay!! And remember, alcohol is very calorie rich with little to no nutritional value.

Handling relationships and social stress

The third issue encountered is psychosocial stressors. These have already been touched upon in discussing eating at social events. In addition to this it is not uncommon to get negative feedback from friends, work colleagues, and, unfortunately, even family members.

As a patient starts to lose weight, feels better and healthier, we find their whole attitude changes to one of wellness. They become more confident. They are more assertive. They are more responsible for themselves. They start to look after number 1, something they may have neglected for years, or even decades. This can be all too confronting for some people in their social circles. Jealousy also creeps in.

It is also statistically likely, given the proportion of overweight and obese persons in society today (over 2/3), that a proportion of people in their social group are also overweight or obese. This can put a strain on numerous interpersonal relationships. How you choose to deal with these will depend on your own unique circumstances. You may have a support network, partner, close friend, Facebook page, a counselor or psychologist. How ever you manage this, be aware just how important it is. Not just in the short term but very much in the long run. Your success may very well depend upon strong support networks, even for the strongest and most resilient of patients.

So embrace your choice for good health. Love your new lifestyle. And have a great Christmas holiday.