One of the first questions patients ask about gastric sleeve surgery is, “Will my stomach stretch after surgery?” And its a very important question.
The reason you are having gastric sleeve surgery is to shrink the size of your stomach. This makes you feel full faster and eat less food. The surgery has a nice benefit of reducing the hunger inducing hormone ghrelin. But ultimately, it’s the restrictive nature of a smaller stomach that leads to weight loss.
So it’s normal and smart to ask, “What happens if my stomach stretches and I gain weight back?”
Your Stomach Can and Will Stretch After Surgery
Our stomachs have the amazing ability to stretch and expand as a result of our food intake. The walls of our stomach are made up of folds of tissue called ‘Rugae.’ These are folds in the stomach wall that expand and contract as a direct response to food entering and flowing through your stomach.
Hunger and How Food Flows Through Our Stomach
When we eat food it enters through our mouths, gets chewed and swallowed. It then flows through our esophagus into our stomach where acid starts the process of breaking the food down. As we continue to eat, more food enters the stomach and joins the rest of the food – all of which is waiting to be broken down by stomach acid.
Our stomachs expand to accommodate all of this food. When our stomachs expand far enough a signal is sent to our brains telling us, ‘That is enough food, I’m full now.’ After you’re done eating, the food is slowly broken down by your stomach acid and then the folds in your stomach contract to push the food into your intestines where digestive juices further digest your food.
The reason many people are overweight is not because they like food more than the rest of us. Its because their hunger and full signals are broken.
Once you continue to stretch out your stomach by overeating on a regular basis the signals your stomach sends to your brain indicating fullness and hunger start to get skewed. After a while your stomach only says, ‘I’m full,’ after its severely stretched out. And it may start saying ‘Feed me,’ when its still half-full. This is why losing weight is so difficult.
When Overeating Leads to Stomach Stretching
After gastric sleeve surgery it’s important to keep your stomach away from the overeating cycle that can lead to a stretched stomach. If you ate too much on Thanksgiving your stomach will stretch. If you binged one night on KFC, your stomach will stretch. Your stomach is just doing its job. The good news is that it will contract.
However, if after a large meal, your next meal is a large meal and you continue this on a regular basis you risk permanently stretching your stomach. The danger is not in the size of your stomach. The danger is that you will skew the triggers for hunger and fullness. This will lead to a continued cycle of overeating, which will then lead to weight gain.
How to Prevent the Stretch After Gastric Sleeve Surgery
Eating one or two large meals will not lead to a permanently stretched stomach or issues with your hunger and fullness triggers. However, doing this multiple times can lead to issues.
The list below hi-lights key points to reduce the risk of stretching your stomach after gastric sleeve surgery.
- Limit volume not sweets. Instead of totally limiting every aspect of your diet, give yourself a reward once a week with a special treat limited in size. But do not go out and eat a large meal – regardless of the type of food.
- Reduce the amount of fluids that you drink when you eat. Its not a bad idea to drink before you eat so that you feel full faster. But its better to drink your fluids an hour or two before eating and/or an hour or two after. This lets the fluids digest and they won’t increase the amount of gas that can build
- If you do have a bigger than normal meal, make your next meal small and make sure you don’t make larger meals a habit.
- If you are always feeling hungry, then eat small amounts of healthy snacks in between meals. Almonds are a delicious and healthy way to feel satisfied in between meals.
- Get a good book with healthy recipes that are geared for people who have gone through gastric sleeve surgery. We’ve got a list of our favorite books here.
- DO NOT get discouraged. If you fell off the wagon and binged one or two meals or even the entire previous week. The stomach and the mind is an amazingly resilient thing. Start over and start eating normal meals again. Call your surgeon and ask for help before it gets too far out of hand.
- Get on the online forums and ask others for help. Don’t be embarrassed to ask for help. Here is a list of our favorite forums.
So stretching your stomach after gastric sleeve surgery is not a myth. It can happen and it does happen. Be aware of it and prevent it. Remember how hard the surgery and recovery was? Remember what a big decision you made? Its never too late to change your habits and get back on the right track.