What Can You Eat After Bariatric Surgery?
September 20, 2023
Most people who get weight loss surgery wonder what foods they can and can’t eat after surgery. Aviv Ben-Meir, MD, a board-certified general surgeon specializing in bariatric and metabolic surgery, shares more about healthy eating after weight loss surgery.
How much can you eat immediately after bariatric surgery?
It varies by surgery type. Gastric sleeve reduces the size of your stomach by about 85%. Gastric bypass reduces the size of your stomach by about 95%. However, the amount of food that can fit into the pouch is the same for both gastric bypass and sleeve because a gastric bypass pouch empties a little while you are eating.
With a Roux-en-Y gastric bypass surgery, the volume of food that can fit into your new stomach (also called a “pouch”) right after surgery is between ¼ – ½ cup (about 2 – 4 ounces). As swelling goes down, patients will be able to consume larger volumes of liquids/foods. A normal volume of food that will fit into the pouch further out from surgery is about 1 cup. This amount may vary a little from person to person.
What does a typical meal look like for a post-surgery patient?
- Right after surgery, you will be on a non-carbonated fully liquid diet for 2 weeks. Your typical meal will consist of fluids (water, broth, tea) and protein drinks.
- After full liquids, you will advance to the puree phase for two weeks. A typical meal during this period could include dishes like pureed chili, pureed cottage cheese, thinned Greek yogurts, low-fat ricotta with marinara (such as a noodle-free lasagna), and high-protein puddings. Although this may not sound the most appetizing, it is usually a warm welcome after full liquids. You will need to have a blender at home for this phase.
- After purees, you will transition to a soft diet for 2 weeks. All meals will be very soft and moist in texture. A typical day could include eggs for breakfast, tuna salad for lunch and baked cod with cooked carrots for dinner.
- At day 45 in your new diet, you will transition back to regular food. Foods that are harder to tolerate, like bread, rice, pasta, beef, pork, nuts and carbonated beverages can slowly be reintroduced in the following months.
Can you eat at restaurants after bariatric surgery?
The good news is you can still find dishes at most restaurants that fit with your post-surgery diet. Your best bet is to prepare ahead of time. Know where you plan to eat out and look up the restaurant’s menu online. Most menus now list ingredients and calorie counts for their dishes. Identify some good options that fit your post-surgery diet.
Your entree should be comprised mostly of lean protein and non-starchy vegetables. Eat until you have satisfied your hunger, then box up the rest to bring home. A good tip is to ask for a box at the same time you order your dish, so you have an easy way to set aside the extra food. You can also split a healthier entrée with another person at your table if the dish is a larger portion than what you should eat.
If you don’t see a healthy entrée option, try ordering a side instead. For example, you can order a side of grilled salmon with a side of fresh seasonal vegetables. This allows more flexibility in how you put together your meal and prevents you from receiving foods you don’t want.
Many restaurants are happy to be flexible with menu swaps. If there’s an entree you want, but not the suggested side dish, request a healthier alternative, such as steamed asparagus instead of rice.
Can you still eat dessert?
Prior to surgery, patients are encouraged to find healthier alternatives to their favorite desserts. That way, you can still enjoy special treats on occasion but avoid regaining weight after surgery. An example of a healthy dessert alternative is a sugar-free popsicle in place of ice cream. We encourage patients not to keep unhealthy dessert foods in the house. To avoid further temptation, patients can ask their family members to not bring dessert foods home.
Do you need to eat breakfast as soon as I wake up?
Our patients often ask if they should start eating right away in the morning to jump-start their day. Eating first thing in the morning is not as important as making sure you space your meals out during the day. After bariatric surgery, you should be eating three high-protein meals a day. Each should help you feel full for around four hours.
If you wake up at 7 a.m. but are not hungry until 9 am, it’s fine to eat then. It may make more sense for you to eat around 9 a.m., 1 p.m. and again at 5 p.m. based on your schedule.
- Your first meal does not need to be immediately after you wake up, but do not wait until you are very hungry to eat. This could lead to overeating or making poor food choices. Food prep is one tool to help you make good choices for any meal.
- Do not eat your last meal right before bed. The purpose of a meal is to provide you energy so you can keep going. If you are tired, it is best to just go to sleep and get rest!
- Try to stick to a schedule. If you eat your meals at the same time every day, your body will get used to this and it will help keep you from getting hungry between meals.
Changing your diet long-term
Once bariatric surgery patients are able to physically tolerate all foods and drinks, they must keep in mind that although their stomach can accept these foods, they may not be best for weight loss. Bariatric surgery patients will often have room for only their protein dish, which should be consumed first. If patients have additional room in their pouch, they should eat non-starchy vegetables second. Dietitians can help you create a realistic dietary plan that works for your lifestyle and taste preferences.
Whatever your weight loss goals, University Hospitals has a solution that will work for you. Our programs include weight loss surgery, non-surgical weight loss procedures, nutrition and diet-based programs. Our comprehensive team of experts can help you find the right program to achieve your weight loss success. Learn more.