What to Eat After Bariatric Surgery

Bariatric surgeries, such as gastric sleeve and gastric bypass, are also called weight-loss surgeries. They help many people overcome obesity. They change the size of your stomach and how you digest food. You will be given a special diet after surgery to support weight loss and recovery. This guide covers the basics of what a diet after bariatric surgery might look like.1

Why is a special diet needed after bariatric surgery?

Bariatric surgery results in dramatic changes to the stomach and intestines. Generally, the stomach and its attachment to the small intestine will be much smaller after surgery than before surgery. This means you will only be able to digest tiny amounts of food. It is critical to follow your post-surgery diet to prevent complications.1

Diet phases after bariatric surgery

It takes time for your stomach to heal after bariatric surgery. You will slowly be able to eat more food. Getting enough fluids and protein is critical in the first few weeks. Protein gives you energy and helps your body heal.1-4

There are 4 basic diet phases after weight-loss surgery. How fast you move from 1 phase to the next will depend on how quickly your body heals. Most people are back to eating small amounts of regular food about 6 to 8 weeks after surgery.1,3-5

Step 1: Clear liquids

Start soon after surgery. Goal: Stay hydrated.1,3-5

  • Sip on clear liquids
  • Options:
    • Water
    • Broth
    • Gatorade Zero
    • Crystal Light
    • Herbal tea
    • Unsweetened juice
    • Sugar-free gelatin

Step 2: Full liquids

Start 1 to 3 days after surgery. Goal: Get enough protein.1,3-5

  • Drink protein shakes and milk products throughout the day
  • Continue drinking clear liquids

Step 3: Soft diet

Start about 2 weeks after surgery. Goal: Rebuild your ability to digest food.1,3-5

  • Slowly introduce pureed food
  • Start with 4 to 6 tablespoons of blended food with no solid pieces
  • Eat 6 to 8 meals a day
  • Avoid beef and grains
  • Do not drink fluids 30 minutes before or after you eat
  • Eat and sip slowly – 30 minutes per meal
  • Options:
    • Applesauce
    • Yogurt
    • Milk
    • Cottage cheese
    • Scrambled eggs
    • Tofu
    • Soft pureed fruits like banana or unsweetened canned fruit
    • Cooked and pureed squash, sweet potatoes, carrots, and spinach
    • Strained cream soups
    • Pureed meat, poultry, and fish

Step 4: Regular diet

Start about 7 weeks after surgery. Goal: Transition to your new regular diet.1,3-5

  • Try small pieces of tender, easily chewed foods
  • Chew each bite to baby-food consistency before swallowing
  • Eat 3 to 6 small meals a day
  • Eat slowly – 20 to 30 minutes per meal
  • Stop eating as soon as you start to feel full
  • Slowly increase the variety of low-fat, low-sugar, and low-calorie foods

Your bariatrics team will give you detailed instructions about the amounts and types of food you should eat at each stage of your recovery.2,4

Tips for eating after bariatric surgery

Here are 5 tips to help support your recovery:1

  • Go slow. Eat and drink slowly.
  • Chew well. Take small bites, and chew food to a pureed consistency before swallowing.
  • Avoid overeating. Eat small portions several times a day.
  • Time fluids. Do not drink within 30 minutes of eating. Sip fluids between meals.
  • Choose food carefully. Focus on protein, and avoid foods high in fat and sugar.

Foods to avoid after bariatric surgery

Some foods and drinks can be hard to swallow or cause discomfort. Chewing gum should be avoided. You should also avoid:1,6,/sup>

  • Bread
  • Raw vegetables
  • Tough meats, especially steak
  • Popcorn, nuts, and seeds
  • Fibrous vegetables, such as celery, broccoli, corn, and cabbage
  • Fried or spicy foods
  • Carbonated, sweetened, and caffeinated drinks

Drinking alcohol after bariatric surgery can be dangerous. After surgery, your body will absorb alcohol much faster. This can make alcohol’s effects much stronger.3,6

Risks of not following the bariatric diet

Follow the advice of your bariatrics team to reduce your risk of the following complications.1

  • Dehydration. Aim to drink 64 ounces of fluids per day.
  • Dumping syndrome. Eating too fast, overeating, or not chewing well can cause nausea, throwing up, dizziness, sweating, and diarrhea after eating. Avoid foods high in fat and sugar.
  • Blockages. The new opening connecting the stomach and small intestine is much smaller than it was before surgery. Eat small portions, take small bites, and chew well to avoid blockage.

Supplements after bariatric surgery

Your body will not absorb nutrients well after surgery. You will need to take daily supplements for the rest of your life. Follow your dietician’s advice on how much of each vitamin you will need. Cut pills into small pieces if possible. You can also use a vitamin patch or take liquid or chewable vitamins.3,4

The following vitamins are essential to staying healthy:3,4,7

  • Multivitamin: Take a high-potency, daily multivitamin with iron, folic acid, selenium, copper, and zinc.
  • Calcium: Take 1,200 mg to 2,000 mg daily. Split this into 2 doses a day of 600 mg to 1,000 mg to help you better absorb the calcium.
  • Vitamin D: Take 800 IU to 1,000 IU daily. Split this into 2 doses a day of 400 IU to 500 IU taken with your calcium supplement.
  • Vitamin B12: Take 500 mcg daily.

Some women may need extra folic acid or iron.3,4,7

When to call the doctor

Call your doctor if you:6

  • Have persistent vomiting or belly pain
  • Have frequent diarrhea
  • Feel tired all the time
  • Have dizziness or sweating
  • Gain weight or stop losing weight
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