Your Diet After Bariatric Surgery: Nutrient-Dense Foods

Dietary guidelines after bariatric surgery don’t need to be overly complicated. It is very important for you to make a commitment to following the complete pathway to success after having weight loss surgery, as your health after weight loss surgery will depend on the nutrients that you are able to get.  While it is true that detailed preop education, a thorough assessment of your strengths and opportunities, and consistently building this newfound knowledge into habits will give you tremendous strength to succeed following bariatric surgery, sometimes if you attempt to focus on the details this can feel confusing or overwhelming.

 The reality is that after getting weight loss surgery, fitting the process into an overarching framework allows for a simpler strategy to help guide your diet plan and fit all the details into a concept that will be more practically useful. Largely to the focus should be on quality.

Your Diet after Bariatric Surgery

 After having weight-loss surgery you will not be able to eat as many things as you did before, and that is kind of the point! The goal of having weight loss surgery is that it will decrease the amount you can eat in a given meal and also reduce your hunger between meals decreasing the number of calories you eat every day.

 So whereas before you might have had 3000 calories in a day and been able to eat plenty of snacks without getting a nutrient deficiency, now you’re going to be eating a fraction of that; and if you aren’t careful about what nutrients you’re putting in your body, then you can find yourself feeling fatigued with a weakened immune system and declining health.

 Dietary Guidelines after Bariatric Surgery: The Breakdown

 The trick to staying healthy after weight loss surgery is to eat a diet that is rich in nutrient-dense food rather than empty calories. Nutrient-dense foods are foods that are rich in macronutrients like protein and micronutrients like vitamins and minerals. Micronutrient-rich foods include superfoods like leafy greens and bright red, orange, and yellow vegetables.

 Vegetables and unrefined plants are rich in iron, magnesium, and potassium, in addition to protein. These foods pack a lot of nutritional value into a small serving, which means that you can load up on the nutrients that your body needs before you get too full. For example, sautéing spinach can give you a huge pack of nutrients in super small portion sizes, which will allow your body to accept that full serving of nutrients without you getting full too quickly. Additionally, these foods are rich in fiber which is very important for weight loss.

 The most important macronutrient to watch after weight loss surgery is protein. Protein plays a huge role in your weight loss journey. It is the building block of your main calorie-burning machine, your muscles, and it is needed to help maintain your muscle mass as you’re losing weight. Maintaining muscle mass helps to support a higher metabolism rate, which supports more weight loss—so an appropriate amount of protein is important when it comes to losing weight. However, too much protein or highly refined protein like protein shakes is just excess calories and can result in weight gain or ineffective weight loss.

Ways that you can get healthy protein in your diet, including eating lean meats. While long-term solid sources are best, early on in the first 6 weeks you will need to utilize supplements such as protein shakes. Most weight loss doctors will recommend utilizing natural whole foods to get your nutritional needs met rather than primarily using supplements although additional vitamins will certainly be needed. If you can focus on lean meats, vegetables, and other whole foods to make up a balanced diet then you will be optimizing your health after surgery.

A diet that follows that kind of structure will also help you maintain your weight loss long-term. However, it is incredibly important that you are meeting your dietary goals especially when it comes to protein and vitamins. For this reason, vitamin supplements will be needed long-term to support balanced nutrition.

Protein shakes can be especially helpful in getting you to your daily protein goals right after weight loss surgery when eating tough meats will be too hard on your stomach. But long-term these should be traded for lean solid protein sources to maximize weight loss.

 Prior to weight loss surgery, your weight loss surgeon will set you up with a plan for how to approach your meals after surgery to ensure that you get all the nutrients that you need.

Measure out your protein serving and make a point of eating that first. This way if you get full before you finish your meal, you will still have gotten the protein that your body needs. After you have finished your protein serving move on to the vegetables, especially those vegetables that are loaded with vitamins and nutrients like green and purple vegetables.

Fruits do have vitamins and nutrients in them and are also an important part of maintaining health after bariatric surgery but in responsible portions. Fruits also contain dietary sugar and eating too many fruits or refining fruits into smoothies or juice can lead to ineffective weight loss.

If there are going to be any starches or carbs in your diet, those should generally be eaten last and should only consist of unrefined carb sources. Unprocessed carbs like quinoa are handled very differently by your body than processed carbs. The last thing that you want to do is fill up on processed carbs like bread, which don’t really offer your body any nutritional value. It’s great to think about your dietary choices, but if you are thinking about making changes to your planned post-bariatric surgery diet plan, please consult with your weight loss surgeon first. For more information about the best dietary choices after weight loss surgery, contact us.

Dr. Joshua Long headshot

This page was medically reviewed by Dr. Joshua Long, MD, MBA, FACS, FASMBS. Dr. Long is a double-board-certified bariatric surgeon and bariatric medical director for Parker Adventist Hospital.
Full Bio: Dr. Joshua Long, MD, MBA, FACS, FASMBS
Page Updated: January 3rd, 2023

Are You a Candidate for Weight Loss Surgery?

Take Our 60 Second Assessment.

Start Assessment

*Please note that individual results can vary and are not guaranteed.