Commonly asked questions about weight loss surgery

Bariatric surgery, also called weight loss surgery, is a highly effective, long-term weight loss solution for people who struggle with obesity and are unsuccessful at losing weight through diet and exercise. Since obesity has been linked with serious medical problems, including type 2 diabetes, heart disease, stroke, sleep apnea, and cancer, losing weight can prevent or reverse many of these health risks, and can actually add years to your life. Patients who are interested in bariatric surgery must be committed to making lifelong changes in their approach to eating, nutrition, exercise and other lifestyle behaviors.

What is obesity?

Obesity is a body mass index (BMI) of 35 or more. The disease of obesity interferes with basic physical functions, such as breathing or walking and also has social impact on your life. Long-term effects of the disease include shorter life expectancy, serious health consequences in the form of weight-related health problems (comorbid conditions) such as type 2 diabetes and heart disease, and a lower quality of life with fewer economic and social opportunities.

What causes obesity?

The causes of obesity are multiple and complex. Despite conventional wisdom, it is not simply a result of overeating. Research has shown that, in many cases, significant, underlying causes of obesity are genetic, environmental and social. Studies have demonstrated that, once the problem is established, efforts such as dieting and exercise have a limited ability to provide effective long-term relief.

What is body mass index (BMI)?

BMI is a measurement of your height and weight. BMI allows health care professionals and patients to better understand health issues associated with a specific weight classification (classifications such as obesity and morbid obesity). You can use a BMI calculator to easily determine your BMI.

What is bariatric surgery?

Bariatric surgery, also called weight loss surgery, refers to a minimally invasive procedure designed to help you lose weight and resolve your health issues. At Main Line Health we offer four different bariatric surgery procedures.

How is weight loss surgery different from weight loss dieting?

With typical weight loss dieting and exercise programs, 90 percent of people regain the weight they have lost. Many diet pills have been taken off the market due to safety issues and the fact that they simply don’t work. Bariatric surgery is different because it focuses on three areas diets can’t touch:

  1. Restriction – reduces stomach size
  2. Malabsorption – reduces calorie absorption
  3. Hormones – alters gut hormones that control hunger and fullness

How do I know if I am a candidate for bariatric surgery?

To qualify for weight loss surgery, you must:

  1. Be age 18 years or older
  2. Have a BMI (body mass index) of:
    1. 40 or greater without other risk factors OR
    2. 35 or greater with weight-related risk factors, such as:
      1. Diabetes
      2. Cholesterol
      3. High blood pressure
      4. Sleep apnea
  3. Have weight-related quality of life impairment
  4. Be willing to participate in long-term follow-up care
  5. Be willing to take prescribed vitamins and minerals as needed

Other common guidelines include:

  • Understanding the risks of bariatric surgery
  • Committing to dietary and lifestyle changes recommended by your surgeon
  • Having failed at previous attempts to lose weight
  • Undergoing a complete examination, including medical tests

Is bariatric surgery right for me?

Talk with your surgeon about the different surgical and medical treatments, as well as the benefits and risks.


  • Bariatric surgery is not cosmetic surgery.
  • Bariatric surgery does not involve the removal of adipose tissue (fat) by suction or surgical removal.
  • You must commit to long-term lifestyle changes, including diet and exercise, which are key to your success with bariatric surgery.
  • Problems after surgery are rare, but corrective procedures may be required.

If surgery is not right for you, our medically managed weight loss program can help you meet your goals.

What about insurance coverage for bariatric surgery?

Because every insurance policy is unique, it is important that you thoroughly understand your Certificate of Coverage to know exactly what is and is not covered through your plan. Get in touch with your provider to get the details of your plan.

What can I do to prepare for surgery?

Bariatric surgery is like other major abdominal surgery. You can best prepare by knowing the benefits and risks of surgery, and by closely following your doctor's instructions. Here are some ways to prepare yourself:

  • Learn about the procedure through our free informational or online seminar.
  • Talk to people who have had bariatric surgery.
  • Write down your reasons for having bariatric surgery and outline your plans to maintain your weight loss after surgery.
  • Start a journal in which you record how you feel now, the challenges you face, and the things you hope to be able to do after bariatric surgery.
  • Attend support groups.
  • Ask your family and friends for their support. Talk to them about why you want to have bariatric surgery. It helps to have people behind you, waiting to help.

What will my life be like after the surgery?

Bariatric surgery is not a quick fix. It’s an ongoing journey toward transforming your health through lifestyle changes. After surgery, you will feel satisfied and fuller with less food. Positive changes in your body, your weight and your health will occur if you maintain the diet and exercise routines recommended by your bariatric program. Patients may experience unexpected responses to alcohol after bariatric surgery and should avoid it if possible. We have psychological services available to discuss concerns regarding alcohol intake and other addictive or impulsive behaviors both before and after surgery.

How often will I be able to eat?

After the initial recovery period, most patients are instructed to eat one-quarter cup, or two ounces, of food per meal. As time goes on, you can eat more (as instructed by your medical team). Most people can eat approximately one cup of food per meal (with four ounces of protein) a year or more post surgery. Please review the Bryn Mawr Bariatric Post-Op Handbook (PDF) for more healthy diet information.

When can I go back to my normal activity level?

Your ability to resume pre-surgery levels of activity depends on your physical condition, the nature of the activity and the type of bariatric surgery you had. Many patients return to normal levels of activity within three to six weeks of surgery.

How much exercise is needed after bariatric surgery?

Exercise is an important part of success after surgery. You may be encouraged to begin exercising, limited only by discomfort, about two weeks after surgery. The type of exercise depends on your overall condition, but the long-term goal is to get 30 minutes of exercise three or more days each week.

Is there any difficulty in taking medications?

Most pills or capsules are small enough to pass through the new stomach pouch. At first, your doctor may suggest that medications be taken in crushed or liquid form. As a general rule, ask your surgeon before taking any medication.

What is the long-term follow-up schedule?

Bypass patients typically see their surgeons for three to five follow-up appointments the first year, then once per year thereafter. Over time, gastric bypass and duodenal patients will need regular checks for anemia (low red blood cell count) and vitamin B12, folate and iron levels.

How can I find a support group?

Support groups give patients an excellent opportunity to talk about personal issues. Most patients learn, for example, that bariatric surgery will not resolve personal relationship issues. Most bariatric surgeons will tell you that ongoing support after surgery helps to achieve the greatest level of success for their patients. Patients help keep each other motivated, celebrate small victories together and provide perspective on the everyday successes and challenges that patients generally experience.

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