If you’re struggling to lose weight, weight-loss surgery could help you shed the extra pounds and improve your health. But you may wonder what you can eat after bariatric surgery.
Lauren Pellizzon, a registered dietitian with Banner Estrella Weight Loss Center in Phoenix, said, “The biggest misconception about eating after bariatric surgery is that people need to be on a ‘diet.’ The truth is that you need to adopt permanent lifestyle changes to be successful long-term. Diets are short-term and generally difficult to stick with. Lifestyle changes are permanent and more easily managed.”
You may think that you lose weight after bariatric surgery because your stomach is much smaller, so you are eating less food and losing weight. But there’s more to it than that. “We know that sometimes weight loss is not as simple as ‘eat less food and exercise more,’” Pellizzon said. There’s a metabolic reset effect that is part of the reason people lose weight after surgery. But surgery is only a tool that can help. You need to make the right lifestyle changes to succeed.
Pellizzon answered some questions about the foods that can help you meet your weight loss and health goals after surgery.
What should you eat right after weight-loss surgery?
In the earliest days after your bariatric surgery, you want to focus primarily on two things: Protein and fluids. Protein helps you heal and build muscle and provides energy. Your health care team will let you know when you can have lean, soft protein sources such as most chicken or fish, Greek yogurt, cottage cheese, tofu and beans. “It’s a good idea to pair your protein with a non-starchy, cooked vegetable,” Pellizzon said.
Fluids help you stay hydrated—that’s important because if you get dehydrated soon after your surgery, you might need to be readmitted to the hospital. Water is best but avoid carbonated water after surgery since the bubbles can be irritating. Choose fluids that are free of caffeine, sugar and alcohol.
Pellizzon recommends tracking your food intake and fluids with a log, either on paper or digitally. Your health care team will help you set protein and fluid goals, and your log can help you make sure you’re on track to meet those goals.
Do you need supplements after bariatric surgery?
Yes. Because your body may not absorb nutrients as well after weight-loss surgery, most people will need to take a bariatric-specific multivitamin and extra calcium for life. Bariatric-specific multivitamins contain vitamin A, vitamin B1, vitamin B12, folate and vitamin D. “Bariatric patients are at risk for deficiencies in these nutrients after surgery,” Pellizzon said. You should talk to your bariatric surgeon or dietitian for personalized guidance regarding supplements.
What portion sizes can you eat?
“Every patient is a little different,” Pellizzon said. In general, you’ll be able to consume about a quarter cup of food following surgery. As time goes on, you can increase the amount of food you eat. At first, you may prefer to eat several smaller meals per day rather than three larger meals. Many people find they can eventually eat about one to one and a half cups of food per meal. Because of the changes in your digestive system, your portion sizes will likely always remain smaller after bariatric surgery than they were before.
How does what you can eat change over time?
As you recover from surgery, you can gradually add in servings that are a little bit larger. You can also begin to incorporate more difficult-to-digest foods, such as tougher cuts of meat, raw vegetables and nuts. As you increase your activity level, you can also include some starchy vegetables and starchy carbohydrates.
What should you avoid eating and drinking after bariatric surgery?
You should steer clear of refined carbohydrates and sugars like breads, crackers, pasta and dessert. “These types of foods can slow down your weight loss, and they don’t provide the protein you need,” Pellizzon said. Because you’re eating smaller portions after bariatric surgery, you want to maximize the nutrients you get from your food. So, it’s wise to avoid these foods as much as possible for the rest of your life.
The bottom line
To succeed with bariatric surgery, you need to incorporate the right foods to fuel your body and support your weight loss. Your care team can help you learn how to get the protein, fluids and nutrients you need.
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