Rise of the Bariathletes

You’re probably familiar with the idea of weight loss surgery, but as more and more people are going under the knife to lose weight, a new breed of post-surgery success stories are coming to light. These are the bariathletes, people who have undergone bariatric surgery and then pursued serious physical fitness.

What Is Bariatric Surgery?

Bariatric surgery — also called weight loss surgery or obesity surgery — is a procedure for people who are severely overweight. There are several different kinds of bariatric surgery, including gastric bypass and lap band, but they all help people lose weight by limiting the amount of food they can eat. In some cases, these surgeries also reduce a person’s weight by changing the way they digest or absorb foods.

One Woman”s Success Story

In 2010, Nurse Kristen Barbee underwent bariatric surgery. At 338 pounds, she had longstanding issues with her weight, which had increased after she had children. As her fortieth birthday approached, she decided to undergo weight loss surgery for the sake of her health and her family. The surgery helped her lose 100 pounds.

Becoming a Bariathlete


Soon after her surgery Barbee decided she was going to do something more with her success. “I’d never been athletic, at all,” she says. “And I thought to myself, ‘Okay, what do you think of as an athlete? Well if I can do a triathlon, I will be an athlete.’” In 2011, she competed in her first sprint triathlon. Although she was proud of her achievement, Barbee knew she could do better, so she reached out to Lea Crosetti, a registered dietician and founder of BariAthletes.

The Challenges Ahead

Lea started the organization to help post-operative bariatric patients who struggled to fuel their newfound active lifestyle. “If you’re looking at sports nutrition and bariatric nutrition, they couldn’t be more opposite,” says Crosetti.

Nevertheless, diet is an important piece of every athlete’s preparations, and those who have undergone weight loss surgery have unique dietary limitations.

Many athletes take in large portions and lots of carbohydrates. Post-bariatric surgery, people’s stomach are about the size of an egg, so large portions are out of the question. These people are also prone to dumping syndrome, where undigested foods move too quickly through the small intestine and can cause nausea, cramps, and diarrhea. Dumping syndrome can be triggered by eating too many simple carbs or too much sugar, which is often found in the sports drinks and gels popular among endurance athletes.

Instead of the classic athlete’s diets, bariathletes are generally advised to focus on lean proteins, healthy carbs, whole grains, and veggies. For Barbee, the biggest help has been learning that food is fuel.

Crossing the Finish Line

With Crosetti’s help, Barbee lost another 30 pounds and just completed an Olympic distance triathlon. She is scheduled for another in September and plans to compete in an Ironman in 2014. “If you can dream it, you can do it,” Barbee says, “But you’ve got to put in the work.”


Photos courtesy of BariAthletes