How Long After Surgery Can You Eat Solid Food? It’s a question on everyone’s lips when they have surgery, operating theater patients are often keen to know how long after surgery can they eat solid food. In the run up to your operation you may have to prepare yourself with clear liquids and soft foods. On the day of your surgery, eating before your operation is generally discouraged but there may be exceptions if you have a lengthy procedure or one that will require general anesthesia. Many people who have undergone surgery will tell you that the worst part was having to wait for solid foods again. After all, we’re grown adults, not babies. The truth is that it takes about two weeks for food to reach the stomach and this food will then pass through the digestive system in a matter of hours. Truth be told, it is recommended that people do not eat until 24 hours after their surgery has concluded. This staggering two-day gap between completion of medical procedures and being able to consume solid food is not only because you may still feel dizzy or sick but also your body needs time to rest after having had an invasive surgical procedure.
Before you go in for surgery, your doctor will probably have you stop eating solid foods for 24 to 48 hours before your procedure. Additionally, you may not be able to eat solid foods for several days after surgery. Your body needs plenty of time to heal, and having solid foods in your system may delay normal healing or make you sick. Even though you cannot have solids, your surgeon may hook you up to an intravenous fluid drip, or IV, or allow you to consume clear liquids, so that you get the nutrients you need.
If your surgery requires you to go under general anesthesia, you may not be allowed to eat solid foods for a few hours after surgery. When your body awakens after anesthesia, your digestive system also needs some time to adjust. Filling your belly with solid foods shortly after surgery may cause you to feel nauseous and might lead to vomiting. Your physician may allow you to have lemon-lime soda, juice or plain crackers, but you should not have anything else by mouth for at least a few hours after you awaken from anesthesia.
Surgeries that are invasive to your gut, such as gastric bypass surgery, require you avoid consuming anything by mouth for several days. Eating solid foods causes your stomach and intestines to stretch. This process may rip stitches and further delay healing. Follow your surgeon’s instructions carefully and avoid consuming solid foods until he instructs you to do so.
Clear Liquid Diet
Even though you may have to refrain from eating solid foods for days after surgery, your doctor may allow you to have clear liquids. These foods provide essential nutrients, energy and electrolytes to keep you going, but are mild on your digestive tract. Clear liquid foods include anything that you can see through, such as ice pops that do not have fruit chunks, clear soda, apple juice, broth, gelatin and black coffee.
Once your doctor tells you to start eating, he may suggest switching to a full liquid diet. This type of diet is different from a clear liquid diet. When you are placed on full liquids, you can have milk, pureed soups and ice cream. Switching from a strict clear liquid diet to a full liquid diet gives your body the opportunity to gradually adjust to digesting different types of foods. After following a full liquid diet for several days, your physician may allow you to slowly start adding solid foods back into your diet.
The Return to Solid Foods
Once you’ve progressed through the four stages of modified foods after bariatric surgery you will be ready to start eating solid foods again. The speed at which you reach this phase of your diet will depend largely on form of weight loss surgery you had and your body’s ability to handle solid foods.
Many patients can begin reincorporating solid foods after the fourth week of recovery, but others may take eight weeks or longer. Dr. Taylor will determine when you are ready for a full return to a healthy diet of conventional foods.
Add Solid Foods Slowly
Eating solid foods again can be a welcome return to normalcy, but it’s important not to rush. Though the pureed stage of your diet will help your body readjust to solid foods, your stomach may have trouble handling them at first. Each food will need to be introduced slowly to ensure that it will be tolerated by your body.
As you transition back to a solid food diet, you will likely still need to make soft foods a significant part of your diet. To help your body adjust to eating solid foods again, it is important to:
- Cut them into bite-sized pieces and chew thoroughly.
- Eat meals two to three hours apart so that about four to six meals are consumed each day.
- Continue drinking 40 to 64 ounces of liquid every day (the majority of which should be water).
- Drink liquids 30 minutes after eating and avoid drinking during meals.
Choosing Solid Foods
When picking solid foods, you’ll need to consider their nutritional value and how your body will tolerate them. You will need to eat proteins first to keep yourself from getting full before you’ve eaten enough. You can still enjoy a variety of foods after weight loss surgery, but in general, your diet should consist mostly of lean meats, beans, vegetables, fruit and low-fat dairy products. You should minimize the complex carbohydrates and starchy foods you eat, as these higher calorie foods may slow down your weight loss considerably.
Red meats, as well as dry or overcooked meats, will need to be avoided to prevent discomfort. Your best bets are low-fiber meats like pork, chicken, turkey and seafood.
Fruits and Vegetables
These can be added as your body is able to tolerate them, but the skins of fruits may cause discomfort and will need to be eaten carefully to test your body’s reaction. High-fiber vegetables like celery and asparagus can also cause problems.
You will likely need to avoid foods like:
- Dried fruit
Any high-fiber grain will be difficult to digest and should therefore be avoided. You should also try to steer clear of carbohydrates that include refined flour and/or sugar.
Due to their relatively high caloric content, you will need to minimize the consumption foods like:
- White rice, white potatoes, corn-based foods (chips, crackers, etc.)
- White bread
Other Foods to Avoid
Your return to solid foods will help you enjoy foods you ate before surgery, but many will still be off limits.
- Sugary foods of any kind will need to be avoided, as they will add empty calories to your diet and cause dumping syndrome in gastric bypass patients.
- Fatty foods can cause discomfort and should be avoided. This includes fatty meats and foods that are battered or fried.
- Spicy and acidic foods can cause upset stomach and heartburn. This includes tomato-based products.
- Trigger foods may have contributed to stress eating or emotional eating before weight loss surgery and should be avoided to prevent overindulgence. Trigger foods will be specific to you and it is important to try to determine what specific foods may lead you to overeat.
You’ll be put on a diet immediately after surgery!
- For the first few days you’ll only be given liquids (clear soup, yoghurt, tea). After that, you’ll progress to mashed or soft foods and finally, after 3 or 4 weeks, you’ll be able to eat solid foods again.
- This type of food intake after surgery is important, as it gives your body time to heal. Adhesions develop during this period, which are necessary to hold the band in place in the long-term.
- Patients, who eat solid food too soon after their operation, run the risk of dislocating the band. This can necessitate another surgical procedure.
- Some kinds of food will be more difficult to eat after the operation, and will need to be chewed thoroughly. This depends on the size of the opening between the two stomach parts. There is a direct correlation between the size of this opening and the amount of weight you would like to lose.
Eating habits after surgery
2-3 days after surgery only liquid or semi-liquid (porridge-like) nourishment may be consumed
- Fruit juice
- Vegetable juice
- Lean/non-fat soup and puréed sauces
- Fruit pulp
- Dairy products, quark
- Buttermilk, yoghurt or whey drinks
After the first three days the patient may change from semi-liquid to soft foods:
- Minced meat
- Puréed vegetables, soft-cooked vegetables
- Soft-cooked pastas (ribbon noodles, or any type of small/thin pasta)
- Mashed potatoes or dumplings
- Baby food
- Compote, bananas, berries
- Semolina or rice pudding, custard
- Sliced bread with no crusts
- Low-fat quark, cheese spread, paté or terrine
During this phase, it is extremely important to forgo the consumption of raw fruit (except bananas) and raw vegetables as well as abrasive, coarsely ground full-grain products.
Do I need to change what I eat and drink after GI surgery?
Yes. After surgery you may not be able to eat or drink right away. When your
body is ready, your doctor will likely tell you to follow a clear fluid diet for
1 to 3 days. This means you will not be able to eat solid foods.
Sometimes your doctor will tell you to follow a full fluid diet before eating
solid foods. Your doctor suggests you follow a full fluid diet for days.
What is a clear fluid diet?
A clear fluid diet only allows you to have items that are easy for your body
to break down. Clear fluids leave little or no food in your GI tract.
Clear fluids include clear liquids and some liquids with colour. A clear fluid
diet can include:
• Clear fruit juices (such as apple, grape or cranberry juice)
• Tea and coffee without milk or cream
• Sport drinks (such as Gatorade or Powerade)
• Bouillon and consommé (clear soup)
• Clear carbonated (bubbly) liquids (such as club soda), if your body can
• Honey and plain sugar
What is a full fluid diet?
A full fluid diet includes all the items that you can have on a clear fluid diet
and also includes:
• Yogurt (plain or flavoured)
• Strained creamy soups
• Hot cereals like oatmeal or cream of wheat
• Nutrition supplements like Ensure or Boost
When can I return to my normal diet?
Your health care team will tell you how to change your diet over time and
when you can restart your normal diet. Not all people will restart their
normal diet at the same time.
After you are able to manage a clear fluid diet, you can start back on your
Here are some tips to help you go back to your normal foods.
- Eat smaller portions at meals. Large portions are often hard to manage
after GI surgery.
- Have a snack in between meals. Snacks can help you meet your
nutrition needs during the day.
- Eat slowly and chew your food well. This will help you digest your food
- Drink plenty of fluids each day. This will help you stay hydrated (when
your body has enough water). Each person needs a different amount of
Aim to drink 1.5 to 2.5 liters (6 to 10 cups) of fluid per day or .
- Have protein with each meal and snack. Protein will help your body
heal and help prevent infection. Good sources of protein are:
• Lean meat, fish and poultry
• Tofu, or soy-based drinks
• Cheese, yogurt and milk
• Nut butters
• Legumes (such as chickpeas, lentils and kidney beans)
What are some side effects I may have after surgery?
After your GI surgery, you may have some of the side effects listed below:
• Reduced desire to eat and weight loss
• Diarrhea (loose or watery poo) and dumping syndrome
• Feeling full
• Vitamin and mineral deficiencies (shortage)
• Pancreatic insufficiency (when your body cannot break down food)
• Malabsorption (when your body cannot use the nutrients from food)
Read more to learn more about each of these side effects and what you can
do to help manage them.
Reduced desire to eat and weight loss
What is this?
• When you do not feel like eating
• When you lose weight without trying
What you may notice about your body:
• You skip or miss meals
• You do not feeling hungry
• You eat less than the amount you often eat
What can you do to help manage this?
• Try to eat 5 to 6 small meals or snacks during the day
• Have high calorie, high protein foods and liquids
• Eat your favourite foods more often
• Try oral nutritional supplements (drinks) like Ensure or Boost that give
your body calories and nutrition. You can also make your own smoothies.
Diarrhea and dumping syndrome
What is this?
• Diarrhea is when you have loose or watery stool (poo)
• Dumping syndrome is when food moves out of your stomach too quickly
What you may notice about your body:
• Diarrhea (loose or watery poo)
• Stomach cramps
• Throwing up
• Low blood sugar after meals. This may feel like shaking, flushing, fast
heartbeat, hunger, feeling weak or feeling confused.
What can you do to help manage this?
• Try to eat 5 – 6 small meals or snacks during the day
• Drink liquids 30 – 60 minutes before or after meals.
• Have a source of protein (such as tofu, meat, or dairy products) at each
meal or snack
• Do not have foods and liquids that have a lot of sugar (such as juice,
candy, sodas, honey, jam and jelly).
What is it?
• When you feel like you just ate even when you did not eat
• It takes a small amount of food to make you feel full
What you may notice about your body:
• You are bloated (your stomach appears swollen or bigger than normal)
• You have stomach discomfort
• You eat less than normal because you feel full
What can you do to help manage it?
• Try to eat 5 – 6 small meals or snacks during the day.
• Choose high calorie, high protein foods and liquids. Do not choose low
fat, light or diet products. They do not give you as many calories.
• Try to drink oral nutritional supplements or make your own smoothies.
• It may be easier for your body to break down liquids rather than solids.
• Avoid foods that give you gas (such as legumes, broccoli, cauliflower,
onions, garlic or cabbage). These foods can make you feel more full.
• Avoid liquids that give you gas (such as fizzy or bubbly liquids like sodas).
Bubbly drinks can make you feel bloated and full.
Certain foods can be beneficial after an operation to aid in recovery and healing. As a general rule of thumb, know that you will likely need more calories, protein, fluids, vitamins and minerals during the recovery process.
Once your doctor has cleared you to consume solid foods after a surgery, consider including the following in your diet:
1. Protein-rich food
It is important to eat an adequate amount of protein after surgery as your body requires more protein for wound healing. Protein also helps to build your muscles and improve the immune system. Examples of protein sources include:
- Lean meat, skinless poultry, fish
- Soy and soy products like tofu, tau kwa, fortified soy milk
- Milk and dairy products like yoghurt
- Beans and lentils
2. Whole grains
Carbohydrates are a main source of energy for your body. Instead of refined carbohydrates, choose whole grains as they are rich in fibre, help prevent constipation and also provide important nutrients that support post-surgical wound healing. Examples of whole grains include:
- Wholemeal / whole wheat bread
- Brown rice
- Whole wheat noodles / pasta
In addition to fibre, fruits contain important nutrients such as vitamin C for rebuilding collagen and soft tissues, as well as for wound recovery. Eat more orange, red and green-coloured fruits. Foods that are high in vitamin C include:
- Berries (e.g. strawberries, blueberries)
Rich in vitamins and minerals, vegetables are also an essential source of fibre, which is needed to prevent constipation. Examples of high-fibre vegetables include:
- Green leafy vegetables
- Bell peppers
5. Healthy fats
Like carbohydrates, fats are another good source of energy. It is advisable to consume an adequate amount of healthy fats after an operation. Healthier options (that are lower in saturated fat and higher in unsaturated fat) include:
- Olive oil
- Canola oil
- Peanut oil
- Sunflower oil
- Sesame oil
6. Iron-rich food
Iron is a major component of haemoglobin, a type of protein in red blood cells that carries oxygen from your lung to all parts of the body. Insufficient iron may lead to fatigue or weakness. Consider including iron-rich food in your post-operation diet to replenish red blood cells. Examples of iron-rich food include:
- Meat (especially beef)
- Organ meats
- Fortified breakfast cereals
- Nuts and seeds
- Enriched bread
8. Calcium-rich food
Calcium is critical for strong bones and teeth. Additionally, it also plays an important role in blood clotting, helps in muscle contraction, and regulates normal heart rhythms and nerve functions.
Milk is one of the most widely available sources of calcium. Other good sources of calcium include:
- Dairy products like yoghurt
- Soy milk and soy products (e.g. tofu, tau kwa)
- Canned fish (e.g. sardines with bones)
- Calcium-fortified products (e.g. cereals, orange juice)
- Green leafy vegetables
Last but not least, it is important to stay well-hydrated after an operation, as your body will need more fluid during the wound healing process. Dehydration may cause your skin to be more susceptible to breakdown. Consider drinking more:
- Fortified soy beverages
- Fruit / vegetable juice
Here Are the Main Foods to Eat After Surgery
When your surgery has passed, it is necessary to follow general instructions in terms of nutrition:
- You are allowed to drink regular non-carbonated water for the first day after surgery
- As you recover, you can only consume liquid food after surgery for some time
- Eat six, if not all seven times a day in small portions
- The temperature of the dishes offered must not exceed 113 degrees
After gastric bypass surgery, the following products should be eaten for three days:
- Sweet tea, caffeine-free
- Freshly squeezed juices from fruits and vegetables
- Low-fat milk
- Sugar-free gelatin or popsicles
You should eat at least seven times a day. It is desirable to eat no more than one cup of liquid food at once. Not densely, of course, as such a diet prevents creating an additional load on the digestive system operated on. After three days, the post-surgery food diet becomes more diverse.