How to Eat

How to Eat for the Long Haul After WLS – Part 1

September 25, 2023

Wondering what’s next? You’ve made it through the first 6-8 weeks after bariatric surgery, but you’re not sure what or how to eat now. You know one thing for sure. You don’t want to regain the weight after all you’ve been through. I hear you. No worries, I have 10 helpful tips on how to eat with five of them in this article and five more to come soon.

Think how your diet has morphed over the last 6-8 weeks. From clear liquids progressing to a soft diet, congratulations, you did it. Now you are ready to prepare for the long haul. Learning how to eat and eat well for a successful journey. Your decision to have bariatric surgery was a big deal. It’s not over with surgery but just the beginning of a healthy lifestyle that lets you feel the best you’ve felt in a long time. You are now ready to transition to a healthy way of eating and let’s not forget…a tasty way of eating. I always mention tasty because yes, food nourishes the body from a nutrition standpoint, but food also nourishes the soul and is about enjoyment of life. It’s the time and tasty meals shared with family and friends where food is often center stage. I want you to feel comfortable in these situations and know how to make smart food selections and feel good about them.

Moving on from soft foods to regular foods is so important and critical to your success. You’ve had surgery, yes, and you will eat less because of it, true, but you will still eat regular nutritious foods that help provide your body with energy, A-Z nutrition and satiety or that feeling of fullness.

Momentum Moment

You’ve had surgery, yes, and you will eat less because of it, true, but you will still eat regular nutritious foods that help provide your body with energy, A-Z nutrition and satiety or that feeling of fullness.

Why is it so important to progress from liquid meals and soft foods? Because regular foods help prevent the weight regain you do not want. Here’s how. Regular food, especially food that contains protein and fiber is more filling and satisfying than liquids. This means you feel full on less. Let that soak in. You feel full on less food. Also, and equally important to your long-term journey is that we’re talking about the rest of your life. Diets never work and never will for the long-term. They are a short-term fix that typically leads to weight regain. Learning to eat well and make smart choices does work. It may not sound sexy or trendy but who cares when it gives the results you want. A bariatric diet is not a “diet’ from the standpoint of drop the “t” and you feel like you’re going to die. Instead, it should be thought of as a bariatric lifestyle of behavior changes and tweaks. The end result is that what you choose to eat will prevent weight regain, will allow you to eat real food that the rest of the family eats, and you won’t feel deprived. Real food is not diet food.

Start with these five tips to move forward in the right direction for long haul eating:

Tip #1

Small bites and chew, chew, chew

It’s so easy to take big bites of food and a habit most of us could benefit from changing. Be aware of your bites and make them small. Chew them well. Start to practice mindful eating, which means be in the moment and pay attention to these details such as bite size. Especially, since liquids are consumed 15-30 minutes before a meal and 30 minutes after. This is much easier to do if you sit down, relax and enjoy your food versus a gulp and go.

Tip #2

Stop eating when you’re comfortably full not stuffed

I know…it’s a hard habit to change as we are used to eating until we feel stuffed. Feeling stuffed will make you feel miserable and can have a negative effect on your surgical outcome. Begin to pay closer attention and listen to your body. Another mindful eating technique. If you teach yourself to eat slowly, you’ll start to become aware of how much you’ve eaten and when you’ve had enough but are not stuffed.

Tip #3

Divide your food into 3 meals and 1 or 2 snacks

These meals and snacks together will total somewhere between 1000-1200 calories per day or more. Maybe quite a bit more. Your calorie level depends on your physical activity level, type of workouts you do, how often, sex, age, surgery progress and what your bariatric dietitian feels is right for you based on your personal health parameters. You may work out hard and need 2000-3000 calories or more a day. This is not a one size fits all, just a starting point.

Tip #4

Monitor your progress and keep yourself on track for success

Some dietitians suggest you track what you eat daily so you know the calories you’ve consumed. Others suggest counting grams of macros, particularly protein and carbs. And yes, others say weigh and measure your food or use portion containers and forget the rest. I’ve found through the years that what works is the method you prefer and will actually do.

I’ve found through the years that what works for monitoring your progress is the method you prefer and will actually do.

All of these options for monitoring can be successful as well as a mix of them. You can use small plates and bowls or products that are marked to help you know and see the portion size. You can track only fluid and protein intake on an app. Decide what is best for you and put it into action. Personal accountability works. Get a bariatric buddy or join a Facebook group for accountability and to help each other.

Tip #5

Eat your protein-rich food first

Your transformation and ongoing success along with the health of your body depend on an adequate intake of protein today, tomorrow and each day to come. Two big reasons to reach your protein intake each day is that protein helps you feel full and supports your metabolism. The more muscle you have on your body, the higher your metabolism rate will be and the more calories your body will burn. Aiming for 60-90-120 grams of protein per day. This amount provides the amino acids in the protein to your muscle mass and the many other body processes where protein plays a role, such as the formation of hormones, enzymes, and immune system antibodies. Remember, you are dividing this total amount of protein over the day. To help you plan: 60, 90 and 120 grams of protein are equal to 240, 360 and 480 calories out of your total daily calories. Again, your needs will depend on age, sex, workouts, activities, etc.

When you eat protein food sources at every meal and snack, you’ll notice that you’re not as hungry and feel comfortably full on less food. You might be wondering about high-protein liquid supplement drinks or powders. I recommend meeting your protein needs with food when possible for the reasons we just talked about, feeling satisfied especially. I also know on some days it’s just not working and is difficult to get the grams of protein your body needs without a protein drink. They’re convenient and make a good snack or backup meal plan. Yes, they will help meet your protein needs but you may not feel satisfied enough. Pay attention and see.   

Remember…mindfulness…pay attention to how you feel as you eat. Listen to your body. This may be totally new to you and that’s ok. Most of us haven’t listened to our bodies as we should, but it’s never too late.

Bariatric dietitian Dr. Susan Mitchell is host of the podcast Bariatric Surgery Success.

How to Eat
Susan Mitchell


Bariatric dietitian Dr. Susan Mitchell is host of the podcast Bariatric Surgery Success. Selected as one of the Best 35 Dietitian Podcasts, Bariatric Surgery Success was chosen from thousands of podcasts on the web ranked by traffic, social media followers, domain authority & freshness. Dr. Susan helps you conquer cravings, emotional eating and weight regain after bariatric surgery with a focus on your nutrition and health, journey and success. Read more articles by Susan!