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

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

Medically reviewed in October 2022

Updated on October 26, 2022

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For many people, the holidays are all about family, friends, and food. But the all-too-common 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 weight loss 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 within a few weeks after your procedure, you’ll likely need to skip the holiday ham or slice of pie. Your healthcare provider (HCP) will prescribe a specific diet for the first several weeks following your surgery, which will consist primarily of liquids and soft foods.

If you’re past this post-op period, follow these simple tips for eating well after weight loss surgery. 

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Don’t Go To The Party Hungry

For those who’ve had bariatric surgery, eating throughout the day is advised. Everyone is different so it’s important to work with your HCP to set up the best plan for you, but eating four to six small meals per day is common advice. 

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

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Make Lean Meats and Veggies The Star of the Show

Lean protein, like skinless chicken, 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 fatty, carb-heavy side dishes, like buttery mashed potatoes and stuffing, which we tend to overeat. Your HCP can best recommend the right amount of food for you but limiting meals to a 1/2-cup and 1-cup serving of food is a good general guide. 

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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,” says Mustafa Alibhai, MD, a bariatric surgeon in Irving, Texas, offers. 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 can spark unhealthy habits that persist into the new year.

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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 weight loss surgery.

Alibhai recommends avoiding sugar-based foods like frosted cakes, fruit, 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,” Dr. Alibhai says. If you’re concerned about the spread, offer to bring a dessert and give one of these low-sugar recipes a try.

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Take Your Time

Eating too quickly can also cause discomfort and may lead to eating more than you should. Eating slowly, however, can help reduce the amount of food you consume in a sitting—and research suggests this may be true.

One 2020 study published in Nutrients looked at self-reported eating speed, calorie intake, blood pressure, and other cardiovascular disease risk factors in a group of over 7,000 Asian adults. They found that those who reported a faster eating speed ate 105 extra calories a day on average than those who ate slower. Faster eaters also tended to have a higher body mass index and significantly higher blood pressure than slower eaters. “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. 

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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 it can be 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. 

Slideshow sources open slideshow sources

Sherf Dagan S, Goldenshluger A, et al. Nutritional Recommendations for Adult Bariatric Surgery Patients: Clinical Practice. Adv Nutr. 2017 Mar 15;8(2):382-394. 
Cleveland Clinic. Dumping syndrome. Last reviewed June 7, 2022. Accessed October 12, 2022.
Medline Plus. Your diet after gastric bypass surgery. National Library of Medicine. Last reviewed July 20, 2020. Accessed October 12, 2022.
The Nutrition Source. Protein. Harvard School of Public Health. Accessed October 12, 2022.
Make protein a priority after weight loss surgery. Penn Medicine. Published March 18, 2018. Accessed October 12, 2022. 
US Department of Agriculture. Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2020-2025 – Making Every Bite Count with the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, Ninth Edition. Accessed October 12, 2022.
Dumping syndrome after gastric bypass surgery. University of Rochester Medical Center. Accessed October 12, 2022.
NIH: National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. Definition & Facts for Dumping Syndrome. Last reviewed January 2019.
Teo PS, van Dam RM, et al. Association between self-reported eating rate, energy intake, and cardiovascular risk factors in a multi-ethnic Asian population. Nutrients. 2020 Apr 13;12(4):1080.
UCLA Health. Holiday eating tips. Accessed October 12, 2022. 

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