As a weight loss surgery nutritionist, a frequently asked question that I am regularly asked is: „Will I be able to eat all kind of foods after surgery?“ From my experience working with bariatric surgery patients, I want to encourage patients‘ mindset to focus on healthy choices that are bariatric-friendly food options.
All patients are different, and after surgery, you need recovery time and your stomach needs it as well. This recovery time for your stomach will mean a special post-op diet in which you will start nourishment by ingesting clear liquids, followed by complete liquids, then progress to pureed food and finally to a complete solids diet.
At the beginning of the complete solids diet, you may be able to start eating a normal healthy diet. Depending on each patient, there could be foods you may not be able to tolerate. Your stomach will go through the healing process, and for a few months, it will be a bit swollen, so there are some foods that can cause discomfort during this time.
Focus on Bariatric-Friendly Food Options
A bariatric patient needs to have the following considerations in mind about food choices after surgery.
- Eat and drink slowly
- Avoid drinking drink liquids while eating; either 30 minutes before or after meals
- Drink still water or a non-caloric flavored water; no carbonated water
- Chew very thoroughly
- Focus on protein and vegetables
- Avoid high-fat and high-sugar content foods
- Avoid caloric liquids
- Avoid candy
A common misconception is that after this initial post-op diet, patients are able to relax about their food choices and what they eat. Many post-op patients hold the misconception they can eat whatever they want including „junk“ food or fast food, skip exercise routines and still be on track. Truth be told, bariatric surgery needs to be understood that it is a tool, a powerful tool, but is not a miracle fix, to their weight loss and obesity-related issues.
Most importantly, patients need to learn how to eat post-bariatric surgery. Bariatric surgery patients need to learn how to make healthier life choices, exercise regularly, and choose the right food in order to make their surgery results last.
Sure, there will be times when you’re away from home and it won’t be possible for you to prepare a proper meal. In those cases, you just need to know how to make better choices. Fast food is not by any means the ideal option after having weight loss surgery, especially due to the excessively high-calorie options from their menus. How can a bariatric patient or, any of us for that matter, choose the healthier option out of a fast food menu?
Focus On Healthy Food Choices
With the mindset of making healthy food choices, you’ll be able to eat according to your dietary plan regardless of where you are, even at fast food restaurants.
First and foremost, think PROTEIN. Protein“ must be the priority in all bariatric patients diets why you are now eating less and need to provide your body with nutrients it needs.>
Especially since patients eat in smaller portions after surgery, food choices need to be packed with nutrition.
Without paying attention to nutritional food choices, there’s a risk of malnutrition and/or certain vitamins and minerals deficiency,“ especially if you only eating fast food which is mainly comprised of carbs fat and salt.>
So, whenever the only available options are fast food restaurants, choose the option with the leaner, richest protein.
Low-fat protein sources:
- Egg whites
- Chicken breast
- Fish filet
- Lean red meat fillet
Important note: A person can eat a large quantity of food, however, it does not mean he/she will be well-nourished.
Vegetables are a great option since they are packed with nutrition. Vegetables provide our bodies with vitamins and they are lower-calorie food choices. Always favor low-fat meal preparations, such as steamed, grilled or broiled; avoid fried options; the same principle applies to vegetables, the less oil used for cooking meals the healthier.
Protein and vegetables should fill almost all of your plate (considering that for a bariatric patient the portions are smaller than those of a person that hasn’t had bariatric surgery). For example, let’s deconstruct an all-time favorite meal of the traditional hamburger which generally is 2/3 carbs (bread/bun) and 1/3 protein (meat; usually not very lean, high in fat).
Preferred cooking methods for protein and vegetables are broiled, steamed, poached, and baked. Broiling doesn’t require cooking oil. Steaming has a nutritional advantage because it retains the highest amounts of nutrients and doesn’t require fat nor oil to cook our meals.
Remember it is easier to drink calories than to eat them! Fluids pass easier through the stomach and empty quicker which make you feel ready to drink more. Avoid high-calorie content drinks. Liquids won’t satisfy your hunger and will leave you with lots of empty“ calories>. Creamy milkshakes, juices, flavored and sweetened waters are a clear example of high caloric drinks.
Many fast food places feature a “healthy option” on the menu. However, most of the time those options are not nearly as healthy as they promise to be. Let’s take a salad as an example, you can turn a healthy salad into a high-calorie meal if served with a high-calorie dressing along with other high-calorie toppings. If this type of dressing and toppings are used, you can cover a big percentage of your daily calorie intake in one seemingly healthy meal.
Suggestions for Eating at Restaurants and Fast Food
If you ever find that there are no healthy/low-fat options in the menu of the fast food restaurant you are in, of course, you need to be flexible yet make the best food choices you can.
Some things to watch out for are fried foods, selecting the best dressing from the ones they have, drinking lots of calories, high-carb choices, and desserts.
It is common to find French fries in fast food restaurants, but it is best to avoid them. French fries are full of carbs, saturated fats, and Trans fats, and no protein. The same can apply to chicken tenders. Chicken, is a healthy food, especially chicken breasts, which are the lean part of the chicken. However, when the deep-fried cooking method comes into play, it turns this healthy protein into an unhealthy choice of carbs and fat.
Many of the salad dressings out there contain excess fats and calories, such as ranch, creamy caesar, bleu cheese, etc. If you eat salads with these types of high-calorie dressings, they can quickly take away the healthy part of your meal.
Milkshakes, sodas, and juices
As mentioned before, these types of beverages contain primarily empty calories that your body will just absorb with minimal nutrition, if any.
If the composition of your meal is mainly carbs (coming from bread, pasta, tortillas, or rice), rather than protein, you may want to avoid them or, give priority to the protein. Let’s say you’ll be having a hamburger, you may want to eat the hamburger without one of the bread covers. Another idea is if you order a bowl of rice with chicken and vegetables, start by eating the chicken and the vegetables first to avoid getting filled up with the rice.
Don’t make a dessert your priority. Remember, you eat smaller amounts than before. Be sure to nourish your body first, then you can take a small taste of your friend’s dessert just to end with a sweet taste on your mouth. Don’t try to finish a dessert. Sugar-free desserts may be a good option, but keep in mind that it doesn’t necessarily make them a healthy option.
It is important to remember that fast food eaten on a regular basis can compromise your weight loss goals and ptoentially cause weight regain.
Weight loss surgery is an amazing tool to develop life-long healthy habits. The trick to staying on track after many years is making your own healthy habits that are smarter lifestyle choices after surgery. Even if you are not eating at home, those healthy habits and switching your mindset“ can support you to choose the best food options even when are at a fast place.>
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
AnaKaren“ vargas> is one of ALO Bariatrics nutritionists and patient coordinators. AnaKaren graduated with her licensure in Nutrition in 2010 from the University of Valle de Atemajac in Guadalajara, Mexico. She has continued her specialized training in sports medicine, obesity nutrition & psychology, and orthomolecular nutrition (the study of nutritional supplements). She establishes best practice guidelines for the nutritional management of bariatric patients.