How to get your vitamins?


A bunch of carrots trumps a bunch of pills.

Eat Your Vegetables After Bariatric Surgery

More than sixteen years ago, after seeing Carnie Wilson on the cover of People Magazine telling the world of her gastric bypass procedure, I came to the harsh reality that my weight and eating habits were way out of control and I would never get out from under the pounds without help. In 2001, weighing nearly three hundred pounds, I was rolled into the operating room for my own weight loss surgery. It was a defining moment for me – one that I knew would change my relationship with food forever. I had no idea just how much! It seemed at the time to be such a simple and uncomplicated solution, but over the years my view of living with bariatric surgery has certainly evolved. It is NOT simple and it IS complicated. 

Those first months after my surgery, I carefully followed the basic outline given to me by my surgeon. I existed primarily on protein shakes and vitamin pills to make up for what I was unable to eat. In the ‘early years of bariatric surgery’ little or no aftercare was provided and I had to learn to survive by experimenting to find foods that I could eat. At my surgeon’s group meetings I helped a lot of people who were even further out in the weeds (dietary guidance is not offered at all practices).

Early bariatric food choices are stripped down to almost nothing, as the habits of anyone needing such extreme intervention leave little to build upon. In less than eighteen months I lost half of my body weight, and for years have maintained the control I gained by living on a quasi AtkinsSouthBeachPaleo program – shakes and vitamin tablets supplemented with chicken or seafood followed by some vegetables.

When we reach our bariatric maturity the dietary burden is solely ours with no one watching. There are millions of bariatric patients out there who are certainly slimmer, but they are not healthy as they have no idea how to eat. Three hundred pound people generally stink at understanding nutrition and the professionals running surgical programs don’t quite grasp that. Most make it through those first hundred pounds thanks to the surgeon, but too many eventually get back in bed with Wendy, the Colonel, and Ronald McDonald. Others develop eating disorders and cannot bring themselves to eat a strawberry.

There are those like myself who rely on an array of vitamin bottles and protein canisters for their sustenance; supplemented by whatever food they care to eat. We attempt to correct our deficiencies by adding an additional capsule or tablet to the pile.

I had my true gastric bypass wakeup call a few years ago after realizing that I just didn’t feel well. I decided that I might have it all backwards and made some critical lifestyle changes. Instead of chasing deficiencies, maybe I needed to be proactive and prevent them by choosing to eat the right foods. What a revelation!

As a former subscriber to well-known diet rules such as the one that states that all movie-related foods, such as Milk Duds and a ICEE Coke, do not add any additional calories to the barrel of butter flavored oiled popcorn, because they are part of ‘The Entertainment Package’, I doubt that I would have had my ‘healthy foods epiphany’ without the extreme drama of bariatric surgery.

I started paying attention to which fruits and vegetables contained the most vitamins and minerals, and began eating the whole foods that bring nutrients to the plate along with flavor! I carefully read the Nutrition Facts on every label – and only buy products that have ingredients like a home cooked recipe. One should note that the best foods are the ones that do not have labels… the fresh foods. 

Popping ten to fourteen vitamin supplements cannot make up for a bad bariatric post-operative diet and taking zero supplements will throw you into a deep dark hole. These days instead of chewing six calcium ‘chalk’ tablets, I prefer to eat Greek yogurt for breakfast (300mg) and sip a Believe protein drink (500mg) in place of my third cup of coffee, so when combined with my Journey 3+3 Multi’s, I easily meet my requirements. Get the idea? The food we eat counts. Food nutrients always absorb better than a pill… this has been figured out for us… it is how we are designed.

In his book, Eat This and Live, Don Colbert, MD, doesn’t pull any punches in his plea for us to recognize the seriousness of the consequences of eating processed foods.

Living foods – fruits, vegetables, grains, seeds, and nuts– exist in a raw or close to raw state and are beautifully packaged in divinely created wrappers called skins and peels. Living foods look robust, healthy, and alive. They have not been bleached, refined, or chemically enhanced and preserved. Living foods are plucked, harvested, and squeezed – not processed, packaged, and put on a shelf. Living foods are recognizable as FOOD.

Dead foods – have been altered in every imaginable way to make them last as long as possible and be as addictive as possible. That usually means the manufacturer adds considerable amounts of sugar and man-made fats that involve taking various oils and heating them to dangerously high temperatures so that the nutrients die and become reborn as something completely different – a deadly, sludgy substance that is toxic to our bodies.

Life breeds life. Death breeds death. When you eat living foods, they flow into your system in their natural state. Dead foods hit your body like a foreign intruder. Chemicals, including preservatives, food additives, and bleaching agents, place a strain on the liver. Your body does its best to harvest the tiny traces of good from these deadly foods, but in the end you are undernourished, overfed, and overweight.

Many bariatric candidates are morbidly obese but malnourished. The foods that grew us to morbid obesity are not know for their health benefits or nutrition – in fact they are known to be unhealthy and deadly.

Each day we all make important decisions to eat either healthy living foods or unhealthy dead foods! Nothing fuels our body as effectively as beautiful whole foods. Plants and real foods have hundreds of compounds that may provide us with benefits we don’t even know of. I know long-term post- ops that have severe nutrient deficiencies who won’t touch a sweet potato, because they believe it has too many carbohydrates.

In our BariatricEating Support Group on Facebook, members fight to eat processed or ‘dead’ carbs for their fifty carb a day allowance – they want to hang on to the tortillas, rice, potatoes, macaroni, chips, crackers, ice cream and sugar. They don’t get that after having your stomach removed those fifty carbs need to be from vegetables. They cannot grasp that the nutrition from the small amount of food we can eat is crucial for their well-being.

We need to supplement even GOOD Bariatric Vitamins with Real Nutrients from FOOD.

If a single tomato and four saltines have the same number of carbs – eat the tomato – it sweeps amazing micronutrients into your body and those few carbs are worth sacrificing. Same for carrots, broccoli, beets, spinach, butternut squash, eat a rainbow of colors. The brighter the better! 

It is just as important that we make these changes in our home for our children. This is the first generation in history that is not expected to live as long as their parents. We need to love them enough to teach them which foods to eat and which to avoid.

In addition to my bariatric supplements, I rely on additional vitamin C from broccoli, red bell pepper, Brussels sprouts, and ripe papaya; vitamin E from chilled unsweetened almond milk, unsweetened peanut butter, and sunflower seeds; beta carotene flows into my body from carrots and sweet potato; my folate and B6 are boosted by garbanzo beans, black beans, and lentils; my B12 levels are lifted by my love of wild salmon, organic beef, and farm raised trout filets.

After this awakening, I now look at every bite as an opportunity to fuel my body for a healthy future. I finally have the balance and perspective in this journey that I have lacked for so long. Have an apple, some carrots or sweet potato – TAKE your vitamins but also, EAT your vitamins! 

about susan maria…

Susan Maria Leach is the author of Before & After – Living & Eating Well After Weight Loss Surgery (HarperCollins Publishers 2012), both a memoir and a cookbook – an intimate account of Leach’s own transformation, as well as a guide for those who have undergone or are considering the procedure. As Susan Maria has learned in the more than nine years since her own RNY procedure, weight loss surgery is not an event with a finish line or a goal weight – it is the beginning of a new way of life. She maintains and manages good post op health, is founder of – and is a former officer for the corporate council of the American Society for Metabolic & Bariatric Surgery.



4 thoughts on “EAT Your Vitamins

  1. Meg R says:

    Well done and well written. This can only come from the wisdom and experience of a ‘living the journey’ bariatric patient.

  2. yadonai01 says:

    I love this article. As a “Reborn Regainer”, I have just figured out that I need to seriously address my lack of adventure when it comes to healthy veggies and fruit. Thank you for the reality check!

  3. Rene Camacho says:

    These writings from you are just great ! We need to read and study this to get it memorized for our life. A lot of experience from you is the way for all to eat , especially us bariatric peoples. Can’t thank you enough ! 😃

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