Information is everything when it comes to eating right following bariatric surgery. And while the lifestyle changes that best facilitate success can seem overwhelming to many patients, this much is clear: The more people understand, the better prepared they are to make positive choices.
Here’s a closer look at four basic attributes of bariatric meal planning, along with tips for embracing them.
As many bariatric patients are well aware, healthy eating doesn’t just happen. In fact, the easiest options are almost always the worst ones. (This is the issue that leads many patients to need weight loss surgery in the first place.) The best bariatric meals share a major commonality: Planning.
Scheduling time out to plan meals, grocery shop, and prepare food may seem time-consuming, but having a system is the best way to stay on track. Also, keep in mind that the process gets better. In fact, meal planning can actually become a time-saver once patients get the hang of it.
Following weight loss surgery, small portions are a must — particularly when you factor in that most post-op bariatric patients need to keep calories below 1,000 a day in order to maintain weight loss.
Recommends the Mayo Clinic: “During the diet progression, you should eat several small meals a day and sip liquids slowly throughout the day (not with meals). You might first start with six small meals a day, then move to four meals and finally, when following a regular diet, decrease to three meals a day. Each meal should include about a half-cup to a cup of food. Make sure you eat only the recommended amounts and stop eating before you feel full.”
One way to minimize planning and prep work while keeping portion sizes in check? Make regular-sized recipes, but separate them into bariatric-sized portions and freeze them for later. In addition to preventing overeating, this method helps avoid bad choices when time is tight. Rather than opting for fast food or an unhealthy snack, post-op patients have bariatric-friendly meals at their fingertips.
Other portion control strategies include using a food scale and serving meals on smaller plates.
The bariatric diet isn’t just about paying more attention to how much you eat, but also about what you’re eating. Says Denise Addorisio, RD, CDN, “First and foremost, remember that your overall dietary goal is to optimize the nutritional value of the small portions of foods you eat so you get the nutrients your body needs to be healthy.”
This means that in addition to being low in calories and sugar, bariatric meals should also be balanced. Continues Addorisio, “Unfortunately, many patients have had limited intakes of fruits and vegetables in their pre-op diet and never consciously thought about their importance to a balanced diet, which is even more important now. Each meal should contain at least one fruit or vegetable, or perhaps one serving of each.”
The takeaway? Quality is just as important as quality. And while many bariatric food product manufacturers will try to sell patients on the ease and effectiveness of weight loss shakes and nutrition bars, most experts recommend against eating these kinds of foods. Why? Because not only are they less satisfying, but they fail to offer the nutritional value of real, whole foods.
At the same time, it’s not always possible to have a home-cooked meal at the ready — particularly for on-the-go post-op patients. In this case, Achieve from Rational Foods offers a smart way to bridge the gap. Made with whole foods and organic ingredients, this portable, shelf-stable bariatric food option nourishes both the short- and long-term dietary needs of weight loss surgery patients.
Supplements are also essential because the post-op body is often unable to absorb ample amounts of nutrition from food.
While protein may fall under the heading of “healthy ingredients,” it’s so critical that it deserves a category of its own. According to Kimberly Mahoney, MS, RD, LDN: “WLS patients, who have undergone the BPD/DS, are often at a higher risk of developing protein malnutrition. However, all WLS patients, despite the procedure, who do not comply with the recommended dietary guidelines are at risk.”
Adds Addorisio, “Protein is the most important nutrient in the bariatric diet. Foods high in protein should be eaten first, in case you feel full and cannot finish your meal. While the best sources of proteins are eggs, poultry, meats, fish, cheese and milk, other protein sources to consider include beans, lentils and soy products such as soy burgers.”
While relearning to eat after weight loss surgery isn’t easy, adherence is possible. These four components of bariatric meal planning can help post-op patients set themselves up for weight loss success.