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Eating After Surgery

From the bariatric nutrition team at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center

After surgery, how long before you can eat solid food?

Patients are asked to progress through a series of diet stages to avoid complications and promote healing of their new anatomy. A few weeks after surgery, patient's food choices are advanced to a ground, soft consistency, such as ground turkey and applesauce. Then about two months after surgery when the healing process should be complete, patients can then gradually experiment with solid foods. Keep in mind many people may struggle to eat raw vegetables, bread, pasta, rice, or red meat after the surgery. A registered bariatric dietitian can safely guide patients throughout the entire diet advancement process.

After I recover from surgery, how will my diet change compared to now?

We discourage people from following a "diet" after surgery. Those considering surgery have not been successful with traditional "diets." Therefore, the long term nutrition goal is to find a balance of food that is nutritious, pleasurable, and effective in maintaining the lost weight.

It is important to understand that in the months and years following surgery, overeating is still possible and can cause the small stomach pouch to stretch. The surgery does not protect people from gaining weight when consuming a large number of calories from unhealthy food choices, frequent snacking/grazing, large meals or not being active on a regular basis. However, the surgery does help most patients to keep overall calorie intake in check, resulting in weight loss and most importantly long term maintenance of a healthy body weight.

What happens if I eat too much or eat the wrong things?

Patients may experience vomiting, excessive salvia production, pain and/or a pressure in the chest if the eating pace is too fast, portions are too large or if the food is too tough and/or dry. People who have the gastric bypass may also experience "dumping syndrome." Dumping syndrome can occur when foods high in simple sugars and fat enter the small intestine very quickly. This causes the release of hormones, which can result in a group of unpleasant symptoms including dizziness, heart palpitations, sweating, nausea, vomiting, cramps, and/or diarrhea.

What is the most difficult part of post-surgery eating?

Most people find the new eating techniques needed for success a real challenge. After weight loss surgery patients must take 20-30 minutes to eat meals, chew thoroughly, sip instead of gulp liquids and avoid eating and drinking simultaneously. In our American culture everything is fast paced and on the run. When is the last time you went to a restaurant where they didn't serve you a drink with your meal? I also remind patients, the number of years in your life is how many years of eating habits you have to break. In other words, changing behavior does not happen overnight.

How do I know if I'm ready to change my eating habits?

It is important to understand all patients who have weight loss surgery must be committed to following a carefully prescribed program of nutrition and exercise. This is a lifelong commitment designed to help you achieve and maintain weight loss as safely as possible. Patients must have the right support and enough time in their current life to commit to making healthy behavior changes (i.e. if you can't find time to exercise now, how will you fit it in after surgery? Does your job require frequent eating out? How do you plan to handle this?). Think about your goals and your reasons for having surgery. I recently asked a few patients this question and the responses included: wanting to play with grandkids, being able to fit on an airplane comfortably, tried everything else without success, and avoiding death. Ultimately, patients who are appropriately prepared mentally, physically, and emotionally are the most successful after surgery.

Above content provided by Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center. For advice about your medical care, consult your doctor.

Posted January 2010

Contact Information

Weight Loss Surgery Center
Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center
Shapiro Clinical Center, 3rd Floor
330 Brookline Avenue
Boston, MA 02215