Your Diet after Weight Loss Surgery
We try to emphasize that what you eat after surgery is not really a diet, but normalizing your caloric intake for a sustainable future at a lower weight. However, for the first few weeks after surgery, you will have a restricted diet, which is meant to both jumpstart your weight loss and give your gastrointestinal system the time it needs to heal after major surgery.
For the few days after surgery, you will be on a clear liquid diet. This means clear broth, water, decaffeinated and unsweetened tea and other transparent fluids that do not contain sugar. Flavorings using artificial sweetener are OK in moderation, but remember that even they are not ideal. Indeed, recent research shows that artificial sweeteners can actually make us eat more and crave sugar.
For a couple weeks thereafter, we will transition you to a full liquid diet. This may include plain, no-fat yogurt, strained low-fat, low-sodium soups, protein meal replacements, skim milk and more.
For the rest of your first month of post-operative dieting, you will be on a soft foods diet. This includes all the allowed foods from previous phases as well as soft meats, fruits and vegetables, a list of which will be provided in your post-surgical instructions. Raw foods and vegetables, seeds, nuts, heavy meats and high sugar, high fat foods are not to be consumed.
You will resume a regular diet by about five or six weeks after your procedure. During this time, and for the rest of your life, you will be taking vitamin and mineral supplements as well as consuming lots of water and protein. Both water and protein are important for continued health and weight loss as well as allowing your body to recover from surgery. Remember to always drink at least eight glasses of water per day, a total of 64 ounces, and be sure to get the recommended amount of protein as well.
Because you will be on a restricted diet (and you won’t want to eat a whole lot), getting enough protein is virtually impossible through meals alone. To hit your targets, you will be drinking low sugar protein shakes up to three times a day. The shakes are meant to supplement your diet with all-important protein while leaving out harmful fats and sugars. While you are free to choose any bariatric-friendly protein shake you wish, there are providers that have developed shakes specifically for bariatric surgery patients.
There is no doubt that in the beginning your new diet will be difficult. You will have ups and downs, cravings, hunger pangs and days where you feel you just can’t stick to the portions prescribed to you. This is perfectly normal. Rest assured that within a short period of time, your body will cease to crave the high-fat high sugar foods that you may have consumed before surgery. Gastric bypass patients may not even be able to tolerate such foods due to a self-limiting condition known as dumping syndrome.
Relearning How to Eat
After surgery, we encourage you to eat five or six small meals rather than the three large meals you were likely used to before surgery. Having the smaller meals regulates your blood sugar and helps keep you satisfied throughout the day. We also don’t want you to skip any meals (to make up for overeating, for example). Therefore, it is important to always bring a healthy snack of some sort, just in case you miss a full meal on a busy day.
Getting Creative in the Kitchen
Many of our patients make the mistake of finding a recipe that they really enjoy and then eating it repeatedly. While this may work in the short term, you will get tired of that one dish. So, we encourage experimentation in the kitchen within dietary guidelines. This can be daunting, especially for patients are not used to cooking. However, every month at our support groups, there are patients who have been in your same position and have a wealth of knowledge to offer you.
Eating Out at Restaurants
Eating out at restaurants will also change dramatically. Unfortunately, it is not only fast food restaurants that cause us to gain weight. Portions are simply too large and even seemingly healthy items are often prepared with unhealthy hidden ingredients. For example, salad is very healthy, but what about the dressing? Or a lean steak with vegetables may seem like a good low-carb option on a celebratory night out. However, many restaurants use lots of butter to flavor the steak and veggies. We won’t even mention the sauces or side items that might come with it. We certainly don’t want you to avoid restaurants, we just want you to know what to expect.
Of course, there will be days where you stray from your diet. It is very easy to beat yourself up afterwards and many patients get frustrated and even flirt with depression. It is important to remember that bouncing back from a bad day is achievement in and of itself. The “damage” you do in one day is nothing compared to what a bout of depression or frustration can do to you over the course of a month. Therefore, you should use your support system to help you through it. This may include our office, support group peers, and friends and family who support you in your lifestyle change.