Holiday Eating Tips That Won’t Leave You Feeling “Hangry”

Yes, you can still eat, drink and be merry after weight loss surgery.

1 / 7

The holidays are all about family, friends and food, of course. For many of us, a loaded buffet table can lead to overeating, a little bellyache and a few extra pounds by New Year’s Day. For those who have had bariatric surgery, the consequences of overindulging could be a bit more severe, and much more uncomfortable.

There are different types of weight loss surgery, each with its own risks and complications. After certain procedures, like gastric bypass, eating even a single meal that’s too large, or loaded with sugar or fat, can cause nausea, abdominal cramps, vomiting and diarrhea. Knowing which foods to choose and how much to eat could mean the difference between a holiday you’ll always remember, and one you hope to forget.

If the season falls just a few months after your procedure, you won’t likely find holiday ham or a slice of pie on your plate. Your healthcare provider will prescribe a specific diet for three or four months following, which will consist primarily of liquids and soft foods.

If you’re past this post-op period, follow along as Mustafa Alibhai, MD, a bariatric surgeon with Medical City Las Colinas in Irving, Texas, offers simple tips for eating well after weight loss surgery. 

Medically reviewed in September 2019.

Don’t Go To The Party Hungry

2 / 7 Don’t Go To The Party Hungry

Snacks are a great way to sate between-meal hunger, and well-planned snacking can be part of a healthy weight loss plan. What’s more? Light noshing can help prevent overeating at mealtime.

For those with bariatric surgery, it may not be best to graze all day long, but eating throughout the day is advised. Everyone is different, and it’s important to work with your healthcare provider to set up the best plan for you, but eating six small meals per day is common advice. 

To curb the desire to overload your plate, enjoy a small snack, or one of your allotted meals, a few hours before you get to the holiday party or family gathering. Choose foods high in protein, like nonfat plain Greek yogurt, a low-fat string cheese or scrambled egg whites. Protein is essential for the health of nearly every part of our body, and helps promote muscle and tissue repair after surgery. Protein can also help you stay fuller for longer, so you’ll be less likely to overdo it when the festivities begin. 

Make Lean Meats and Veggies The Star of the Show

3 / 7 Make Lean Meats and Veggies The Star of the Show

Lean protein, like skinless chicken and turkey breast and fish, and a variety of colorful veggies should be part of any healthy diet. These eats are also staples if you’re looking to slim down.

When building your plate for a given meal, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) recommends filling half of your plate with fruits and veggies and a portion of the other half with lean protein. This leaves little room for unhealthy side dishes, like buttery mashed potatoes and carb-heavy stuffing, which we tend to overeat. Your doctor can best recommend the right amount of food for you, but limiting meals to a half-cup and 1-cup serving of food is a good start. 

Choose Your Favorites

4 / 7 Choose Your Favorites

While it’s best to keep meals small following weight loss surgery, that doesn’t mean you must skip all of your holiday favorites.

“Don't restrict yourself to the point where you make your holiday miserable, just be very strategic about your eating,” Alibhai says. Avoid overeating by choosing a few of your absolute favorites, and helping yourself to a small spoonful of each.

In addition to creating the potential for stomach trouble, overeating at each holiday gathering from Thanksgiving to the New Year can spark an unhealthy tendency, even after the season is over. Research suggests habits take an average of 66 days to develop, and a holiday season full of unhealthy eating will take you well into that two-month period. 

Steer Clear of Sugary Foods

5 / 7 Steer Clear of Sugary Foods

Sugar-rich foods, like pie, and carb-heavy dishes, like stuffing, are staples on most holiday tables, but they may not be the best options for those who have had a bariatric procedure.

Alibhai recommends avoiding sugar-based foods, like frosted cakes, fruit drinks or soft drinks, and carb-heavy items like bread and pasta. Why? Foods high in simple carbohydrates up your risk for something called dumping syndrome in those with gastric bypass. This complication occurs when food passes from the stomach to the bowels too quickly, and can result in bloating, abdominal pain, fatigue and diarrhea. 

“Avoiding things that cause you an upset stomach is probably smart. It would ruin the fun anyway,” he says. If you’re concerned about the spread, offer to bring a dessert and give one of these low-sugar recipes a try. 

Take Your Time

6 / 7 Take Your Time

Eating too quickly can also cause discomfort, and may lead to eating more than you should. We’ve heard it time and again: eating slowly can help reduce the amount of food you consume in a sitting, and research suggests this may be true.

One small study of 30 women suggests lengthening mealtime not only affects the number of calories you take in, but also how full you feel afterwards. Women who ate more slowly consumed fewer calories, but felt fuller than those who rushed through their meal. “Take small bites and chew your food well,” Alibhai adds.

How slow should you go? Give yourself about 20 or 30 minutes to enjoy each meal. 

Make Smart Drink Choices

7 / 7 Make Smart Drink Choices

Food is typically at the center of any holiday gathering, but we mustn’t forget about seasonal cocktails. Alcohol is loaded with calories, and certain tipples are packed with sugar and carbohydrates, too.

Alibhai recommends avoiding cocktails for the first six months following surgery. If your gathering falls after this post-op period, you might be able to share in the holiday cheer—in moderation, of course.

Regardless of when you had your weight loss procedure, it’s best to avoid sugary drinks, like regular beer and cocktails made with fruit juice, soda and mixers. “During the holidays, if you have a glass of wine, that's not unreasonable, and if you have a beer, make it a light beer,” says Alibhai. 

Continue Learning about Weight Loss Procedures and Surgeries

Bariatric Surgery Doubles Older Guys Survival Rates
Bariatric Surgery Doubles Older Guys Survival Rates
Since Governor Chris Christie of New Jersey shut down his internal food lane with bariatric lap-band surgery, his actual weight loss (85 pounds and co...
Read More
Is bariatric surgery effective for long-term weight loss?
Menorah Medical CenterMenorah Medical Center
Bariatric surgery is effective for long-term weight loss. Bariatric surgery alone has been the only ...
More Answers
Dispelling 6 Weight-Loss Surgery Myths
Dispelling 6 Weight-Loss Surgery MythsDispelling 6 Weight-Loss Surgery MythsDispelling 6 Weight-Loss Surgery MythsDispelling 6 Weight-Loss Surgery Myths
We're separating fact from fable when it comes to bariatric surgery.
Start Slideshow
Am I a Candidate for Weight Loss Surgery?
Am I a Candidate for Weight Loss Surgery?