Preparing for a Smooth Recovery From Plastic Surgery
Once you book your surgery, it is time to start preparing for the procedure and recovery. While recovery from cosmetic procedures takes patience, there are steps you can take to ensure prompt recovery times and improve outcomes, including the reduction of noticeable scars. We spoke to Dr. Gregoy Buford, MD, a member of the American Society of Plastic Surgeons and author of Eat, Drink, Heal, to discuss how your eating habits and self care leading up to and after surgery can impact your healing process.
Preparing for the Procedure
Dr. Buford’s method “is very similar to athletes preparing for a competition in that patients need to get their bodies as optimized as possible from a nutritional standpoint and they also need to recover.” Getting your head in the game ahead of surgery will really pay off once you enter the healing period. This means not only researching procedure-specific requirements but also adjusting your lifestyle as a whole, starting around three to four weeks prior to surgery. One of the most important lifestyle changes to make as early as possible is to stop smoking. If you think you may struggle with this, discuss options with your physician as they will have resources to help with the cessation.
Ideally, your practitioner will discuss pre-surgery dietary recommendations with you, however, as it is not a traditional topic to cover during consultation so you should also prepare questions to ask the doctor. Dr. Buford has explained, "there is a slow but upward change in attitude with more medical schools adopting programs aimed at teaching young physicians about the importance of proper nutrition," which translates into better patient education. You will need to be in optimal physical and mental shape in order to bounce back from surgery as quickly as possible. Most surgeons will require you to pass a physical exam prior to the procedure. During this consultation, inquire if your physician has any specific recommendations regarding medication or any supplements that you are taking or planning to take prior to your surgery.
Three weeks before your surgery date, you should start adjusting your diet to be eating more fruits and vegetables. To get the optimal amount, you can juice or blend them to make it easier and more convenient to consume. In addition to eating larger quantities of fruits and vegetables, you should also be increasing your protein intake (can be animal or non-animal protein).
There are also specific foods you should avoid. For example, it is commonly recommended that patients avoid foods rich in salicylates. Salicylate is a naturally occurring chemical that is the base of aspirin medications and acts as a blood thinner. Common foods that are high in salicylates and should be avoided prior to surgery, include:
- Fruit: fresh apricots, most berries, apples, grapes, oranges, strawberries, avocado
- Vegetables: gherkins, peppers, radish, broccoli, eggplant
- Herbs and Condiments: black pepper, cinnamon, cumin, mint, mustard, turmeric, wine and cider vinegars, chilli powder
- Beverages: fruit-flavored drinks, peppermint tea
Sometimes it can be beneficial to take additional vitamins, like vitamins A and C, and/or supplements, like bromelain and arnica, ahead of surgery. “To optimally heal, proper building blocks need to be made available, not only after surgery but also before surgery so that each patient is adequately prepared for the procedure itself,” Dr. Buford says. Discuss any procedure-specific supplements with your physician during your pre-surgery appointment to maximize your surgery’s outcome. Two weeks before surgery, you should do one final check-in with your plastic surgeon or physician.
Preparing for Recovery
Take some time to ensure everything is in place for the days and weeks following surgery. Your surgeon and physician will have discussed the amount of downtime you will need following the procedure, so make sure to check your schedule and adjust as needed. Check your activity restrictions with your practitioner, as these vary depending on the plastic surgery procedure. Additionally, make transportation arrangements to and from the procedure, either with a friend, family member or a reliable transportation company (most physicians will have details of recommended suppliers).
It is also a good idea to start preparing your home for post-surgery. Make sure the space is comfortable and fully equipped with everything you will need during recovery (think: Netflix, good books, and easy access to the restroom)! Prior to the surgery, here are a few steps you can take to make your recovery more comfortable:
- Special Pillows: Believe it or not, there are pillows specially made for different procedure types. For example, elevation pillows are recommended for rhinoplasties and other facial surgeries and molded pillows are available for a Brazilian Butt Lift.
- Skincare Products: Prior to surgery, gather your favorite skincare products to leave near your bed. Gentle cleaning wipes and water sprays can help keep you feeling fresh in the days following surgery. You can also keep your favorite lip salve, moisturizer, and hand cream to keep your skin hydrated.
- Scar Gel and Silicone Strips/Sheets: If your doctor has recommended it, stock up on scar gel and/or silicone strips/sheets to minimize scarring.
- Meal Plan: If you plan to prepare your own food, consider investing in a juicer, blender, and/or slow cooker to make food preparation easier. On the other hand, if you would prefer not to cook during your recovery, you can research food delivery options. Regardless of what you decide, remember to make sure that the food complies with your dietary requirements.
What to Expect After the Procedure
Before anesthesia, make sure to ask any last questions as you will likely be a bit too groggy to ask after the surgery. There will be close guidelines for you to follow in the days and weeks following your procedure.
In order to reduce scarring, you may want to discuss if silicone sheets or strips would be appropriate for your scar. These can be used for many common procedures such as facial plastic surgery and breast augmentations in order to reduce tension on the incision site and thus minimize scarring. If this is not suitable for your circumstances, ask the nurse or surgeon about other wound healing tips specific to your surgical procedure, like vitamin E oil, lasers, microneedling, etc.
It is natural for the first couple of days after you leave the hospital to be a bit uncomfortable. Make sure you follow your prescribed pain relief schedule in order to keep any pain under control and take the opportunity to truly relax and rest. If you do not feel like your energy levels have improved after a couple of weeks post-surgery, it is worth contacting your physician or plastic surgeon.
Sometimes [people can feel down or depressed following surgery so it is critical to eat clean and track your mood. Try not to compare yourself to others too much, the time it takes to heal after plastic surgery can vary for each person.
Following these steps will help your body optimize recovery, but your body has still gone through a surgical procedure and possibly anesthesia so it is normal for recovery to take some time. It is also possible that you may see some weight loss during this period, which can be normal depending on your surgery. You will likely experience bruising and swelling following the majority of procedures, this can be helped with natural supplements such as arnica. Patience is key.
In the months after surgery, it is a great idea to use the preoperative clean eating habits to kick-start a healthier lifestyle. "Many patients return long after they have healed and tell me that they have adopted many of the nutritional strategies discussed before their procedure," Dr. Buford says. Good skincare is important to minimize scarring. You may even consider consulting a dermatologist to ensure your skincare routine is adapted to your post-surgery skin. And remember that it is possible that you may have occasional days when you feel tired again for a little while after surgery, this is normal and should pass with time as your body recovers.