Foods for WLS Recovery

After bariatric weight loss surgery, whether you have an adjustable gastric band put in place or undergo a more complex operation such as the gastric sleeve, gastric bypass, or duodenal switch procedure, it will take time for your body to heal. As your body recovers from surgery, it is essential for you to follow the specific eating guidelines given to you by your bariatric surgeon or dietician. The bariatric recovery diet is set to ensure that your body heals properly and obtains adequate nutrition.

Weight Loss Surgery Post-Op Diet
Your weight loss surgery diet will slowly progress from liquids, to purees, to solid food during the recovery period.

Protein is Priority

Even before you undergo weight loss surgery, your diet will change to both prepare your body for surgery and help you transition to your post-op diet. The pre-op and post-op bariatric diet will focus on protein, which is needed by the body to function properly, improve wound healing, maintain muscle tissue, and avoid unnecessary hair loss.

Protein, unlike fat and carbohydrates, is not stored by the body and must be consumed in sufficient quantities every day. Protein will be the top diet priority during recovery and for the rest of your life following weight loss surgery. During recovery, you will need to use liquid protein supplements to ensure adequate amounts of protein. The daily minimum protein requirement is 50 to 60 grams for women and 60 to 70 grams for men.

Many bariatric patients continue to use protein supplements as a convenient source of protein even after they progress to a regular diet. Some of the popular choices for liquid protein supplements include portion-controlled protein shakes, fruit drinks, smoothies, soups, and puddings.

Liquids and Hydration

It will be important to drink plenty of liquids after surgery to keep your body hydrated. The aim is to drink 64 ounces of water throughout the day. After you can tolerate water you will also be able to drink other low-calorie liquids, such as tea or artificially sweetened non-carbonated drinks.

Liquids should be sipped slowly, only about 1 to 2 ounces over a 30 minute period. Also, do not use a straw as it adds air to your stomach. You will want to get in the habit of carrying a water bottle with you at all times.

While it is essential to drink plenty of liquids throughout the day, it is equally important that you do not drink anything with your meals or for 30 minutes either before or after eating. Your new stomach is too small for both food and liquids at the same time.

You will want to choose your liquids carefully and avoid those high in calories. Consuming high calorie drinks will add calories to your diet without making you feel full and undermine your weight loss efforts. Carbonated drinks should also be avoided as they can cause bloating and stretch out the small stomach pouch.

Post-Op Diet Progression

Following weight loss surgery, you will not be able to eat much of anything. The post-op recovery diet will slowly progress from clear liquids to full liquids, pureed food, soft foods, and then you will finally be able to start eating solid foods. Do not add foods to your diet until your surgeon has given the okay. Specific diet plans will vary depending on procedure, patient healing and tolerance, and surgeon guidelines.

Diet Phases:

  • Phase 1 (1-2 weeks) - Liquids
  • Phase 2 (3-6 weeks) - Soft foods
  • Phase 3 (7 weeks and beyond) - Solid foods

Clear Liquid Diet: At first, you will only drink clear liquids. Clear liquids are liquids that you can see through, such as water, tea, diluted non-acidic fruit juices (apple, grape, cranberry), broth (beef, chicken, vegetable), protein fruit drinks, sugar-free gelatins, and artificially sweetened non-carbonated drinks.

Full Liquid Diet: After the first phase you will progress to full liquids, which are fluids you cannot see through, such as low-fat cream soups, protein shakes, skim milk, yogurt, sugar-free pudding, and sugar-free Jell-O.

Pureed Food Diet: Pureed foods are foods that do not contain any chunks and have been blended into the smooth consistency of baby food. Chunks of food can get stuck in the stomach opening and cause pain and vomiting. To puree foods, combine high-protein foods with broth, skim milk, or low-calorie sauces in a blender and puree until smooth. Other options might include blenderized soup, cottage cheese, and cream of wheat.

Soft Food Diet: As you transition to soft foods, which are foods with texture but tender and easy to chew, you are learning to chew your food thoroughly and to eat slowly. Aim for about 30 chews per bite so that the food turns to mush and about 30 to 60 minutes for each meal. Soft foods might include ground or finely diced meats, canned or soft fruit, cooked vegetables, rice, pasta. Meals should always include high-protein food items such as lean meat, yogurt and eggs.

Solid Food Diet: Once your body has healed, your bariatric surgeon will put you on a regular bariatric diet. Most bariatric diets allow 1000 to 1200 calories per day with meals focused on lean sources of protein, whole grains, fruits, and vegetables. All meals should be eaten slowly and food should be thoroughly chewed. Allow enough time for meals and choose healthy foods. Eat the protein foods first as these are the most important. When you feel full, stop eating, even if you haven't finished your meal.

Recovery Time following Weight Loss Surgery

The amount of time it takes to recover from weight loss surgery can vary between procedures and patients. Gastric band patients will usually recover faster than gastric sleeve, gastric bypass, or duodenal switch patients; patients undergoing a laparoscopic procedure will typically heal faster than patients having open surgery.

  • The recovery time is about 2 weeks for gastric band surgery, 3 to 4 weeks for gastric sleeve, and 9 to 12 weeks for gastric bypass surgery.

No matter the procedure, it is important to progress gradually through the post-op diet so your body has time to heal from surgery and you can adjust to the changes. If you don't follow the post-op diet progression plan provided by your surgeon and/or dietician, you can disrupt the healing process, increase the risk of surgical site complications, experience more pain, cause vomiting, or dislocate the band (gastric band patients). Take time to heal and don't try to rush recovery.

Bariatric Surgery Shopping List

Before your surgery date, it will be helpful to prepare for your recovery and have food items and nutritional supplements at home that you will be able to eat and drink when you first return home.

Some suggested bariatric surgery shopping list items for post-op recovery:

  • flavored waters (sugar-free and non-carbonated), tea (unsweetened or artificially sweetened; iced or hot; black, green, or herbal), sport drinks (low-sugar varieties), chicken broth/bouillon, beef broth/bouillon, skim milk, low-fat yogurt, sugar-free popsicles, sugar-free gelatin, sugar-free pudding, Almond milk, protein powder, chewable Tums, and chewable multivitamin/mineral supplement.

Although these are some of the commonly recommended items for post-op patients to consider, your bariatric surgeon and/or dietician will provide you with a personalized diet plan that will work best for you based on your health status and type of bariatric surgery.