After bariatric surgery, your body undergoes massive changes. For example, those who undergo gastric bypass surgery often lose between 60 and 80% of their excess weight. As your body adjusts post-surgery, you'll want to settle into a diet plan that prevents you from regaining weight. In addition, your new diet should taste good, keep you healthy and vibrant, and remain an enjoyable aspect of your life.
Luckily, by following some key bariatric diet tips, you can easily design an ideal post-surgery diet plan. By planning ahead, communicating with friends and family, using resources, and paying attention to each meal, you can make healthy eating a natural and intuitive aspect of your lifestyle.
Diet Tips for a Healthier Life After Bariatric Surgery
After bariatric surgery, your capacity to consume food and absorb nutrients will be limited. This means it's more important than ever to prioritize healthy foods over empty calories. Not only will eating the wrong things in the wrong quantity stretch your stomach and contribute to weight gain, but it can also cause dumping syndrome — vomiting, nausea, and diarrhea following a meal.
To avoid negative outcomes, follow these bariatric diet tips that will help you achieve a healthier life after surgery:
1. Stick to Small Meals
Procedures like the Roux-en-Y gastric bypass promote weight loss by creating a smaller stomach pouch, which means your body can only accommodate small amounts of food at a time. Overdoing it can make you sick and stretch your stomach out over time. With this in mind, it's absolutely pivotal to stop eating once you feel full.
Though everyone is different, you should aim to eat no more than 4 oz of food at each meal. To keep on track, it's a good idea to invest in a food scale. When bringing food to work, make sure you pre-measure ahead of time so that you can enjoy your portion without stress.
2. Start with Protein
Because you now have a smaller stomach capacity, it's important to prioritize certain crucial nutrients like protein. Your body needs protein to thrive, and it cannot be stored in the body — which is why you need to get it with every meal. By doing so, you'll help support your body's natural healing processes, keep your muscles functioning well, and improve the look of your hair and skin.
Aim for 60 to 80 grams of protein a day, and try to stick to healthy protein sources like:
- Cottage cheese
- Lean beef
3. Keep a Food Diary
In our busy day-to-day lives, it's easy to lose track of what we're eating, when we're eating, and how much we're consuming. But after bariatric surgery, it's crucial to pay close attention to meal times. Nourishing yourself with healthy food should become a priority in your life — and keeping a food journal is one of the best ways to keep track.
Keeping a designated food journal doesn't have to be an exhaustive or time-consuming process. Simply jot down the type and amount of food that you eat at each meal and snack. Tracking meals in this way can help you feel confident about your progress, as well as motivate you to stay on track with your diet.
4. Focus on Low-Carb Vegetables and Fruits
For the first few months after bariatric surgery, you should avoid raw fruits and vegetables as they can be aggravating to your digestive system. As your body heals, you can gradually start reintroducing fruits and vegetables back into your diet. Though it's important to eat your protein first, veggies are packed with nutrients like antioxidants, vitamin C, and folic acid, and potassium that can help keep you healthy.
Try to focus on low-carb veggies like broccoli, cauliflower, and green beans. Practice moderation when it comes to carb-heavy vegetables like sweet potatoes and corn. As you incorporate veggies and fruits into your diet, have fun with it. Go to your local farmers' market and try out a vegetable you've never tried. Experiment with novel fruit combinations in your morning smoothie. Add in herbs like basil, parsley, and oregano to bring your veggie dishes to life.
5. Hydrate the Right Way
Hydration is a pivotal aspect of your overall health, and you should drink at least 8 cups, or 64 ounces of water every day.
Before bariatric surgery, you probably didn't give much thought to having a big glass of water with each meal. After bariatric surgery, however, it's important to space your eating and drinking appropriately — since drinking water will now fill you up too quickly. To prevent this, avoid drinking water for 30 minutes after eating food, and don't drink water while you're eating.
6. Substitute Bad Foods With Healthy & Delicious Options
After bariatric surgery, it can sometimes feel like you're inundated with a long list of foods that you can no longer eat. And in fact, cutting unhealthy, calorie-dense, nutrient-poor foods from your diet is a crucial element of long term success post surgery. Here are some foods you should avoid (and substitutions to try):
- Pastries and sweets. It's important to avoid sugary foods with extra calories. Try replacing donuts, cookies, and ice cream with healthier options like fruit smoothies. Creating your own ice pops from low-sugar juice is a great substitute for ice cream.
- Starchy foods. Pasta and other starchy foods can fill you up fast, without the benefit of nutritional value. Try healthy substitutes like cauliflower rice and zucchini pasta when you're craving a starchy meal.
- Sugary and caffeinated drinks. The sugar in soft drinks can contribute to dumping syndrome, while caffeine can lead you to dehydration. For healthier — and still delicious — pick-me-up, try iced herbal teas like peppermint.
- Your metabolism changes after weight loss surgery, so your blood alcohol content can spike very quickly — and remain elevated for longer. In addition, alcohol contains tons of empty calories. Substitute alcohol with water or a low-sugar juice alternative.
7. How to Eat: Slow, Steady, and Thorough
It's important to ensure that all the food you're swallowing is adequately chewed. Not only is this easier on your stomach, but chewing food also helps you absorb more nutrients from your meals.
In addition, get into the habit of eating your food in a slow, steady, and measured way. Not only does this help you enjoy each meal to its fullest, but it also gives your brain enough time to register that you're feeling full. Keep in mind that you will feel full more quickly post-surgery than you did before.
8. Use Resources to Keep Eating Fun
There are plenty of bariatric diet tips out there that tell you what not to eat and which nutrients to get, but it's important to focus on actually enjoying the food you eat. Here are some resources that will help you keep your diet fun, flavorful, and varied:
- Check out cookbooks for inspiration, like the Fresh Start Bariatric Cookbook or Eating Well After Weight Loss Surgery
- Download apps like Baritastic to help update you with recipes and keep you on track
- Follow recipe blogs like Bariatric Cookery and stay constantly inspired with new recipes
Above all, don't be shy about including friends and family in the fun. Eating should be a pleasant and enjoyable activity in your life, not something to stress over.
9. Plan Ahead for Social Events
For many post-bariatric patients, it is particularly challenging to dine out at restaurants or at the homes of friends and family. One of the best ways to prevent awkward situations is to simply communicate and plan ahead. For example, if you are going to be attending a party at a friend's house, offer to bring a high-protein, low-carb dish. This way, you'll know ahead of time that a healthy option will be available for you. Plus, this might help you ease into a conversation about your dietary considerations.
When going out to eat, there are plenty of modifications you can make in order to stick to your diet. For one, try to avoid appetizers. These can fill you up prematurely and ruin the rest of the meal. Choose water instead of a sugary beverage. And when it comes to choosing sides, try to stick to a steamed vegetable or a salad option instead of starchy foods like french fries or potato salad.
A Healthier Diet, A Healthier Life After Bariatric Surgery
Getting bariatric surgery can help you lose weight, regain confidence, and stay healthy. By following simple bariatric diet tips — like chewing your food thoroughly, starting with protein first, and keeping a food diary — you can make healthy, nutritious eating an intuitive part of your everyday life. Want to learn more about how weight loss surgery could change your life? Contact your local medical weight loss facility to get started.