Eating Healthy

Is Eating Healthy After Weight Loss Surgery Too Expensive?

December 2, 2019

Many things change after weight loss surgery, particularly all things food-related. These changes can be overwhelming and difficult to incorporate into your new lifestyle. Some challenges in eating healthy may include a lack of hunger, difficulty adjusting to the preparation of smaller portions, or feeling like you must eat differently than the rest of your household.

Anyone who says surgery is the easy way out has not done their research. It typically involves months of preparation, many appointments with a variety of healthcare providers, tests, and so much more! All of this comes with a price tag as well. Out of pocket costs could range upwards of $4,000 with copays/coinsurance/deductibles, and that’s assuming your health insurance even covers surgery.

Taking the step to have surgery is a major life decision and investment. What if all that hard work and money goes out the window?

One of the most common complaints that I get from patients post-operatively is that they don’t see a reason to cook just for themselves, and so they turn back to convenience or fast foods. Let’s explore some of the reasons to make long-term changes, and some practical tips to set yourself up for success.

A Common Scenario After Weight Loss Surgery

Let’s look at a common scenario after weight loss surgery. Your appetite is still low, and your stomach capacity is only about a half of a cup. It’s difficult to find the motivation to cook when you eat so little, so you start buying meals out. Initially, you stick to protein-rich items, such as a cup of chili, grilled chicken nuggets, or just some eggs. You find it is pretty inexpensive to eat this way, only spending about $2 and still have leftovers! Plus, you’re still losing weight!

Over time these same items get boring, and you look for more variety. So you get a burger or breakfast sandwich, but only eat a quarter of it; chicken tenders but only eat one, or maybe you start including that side of fries in your order. You notice a steady increase in your food expenditures. Now you’re back to spending $5-$10 on a single meal, and the items on the dollar menu are not generally the healthiest (I’m looking at you, Frosty). You’re also noticing your portions getting larger and larger, and the weight loss slowing down or stopping altogether. It may even start creeping back up. How does this make you feel?

Seeing a reversal in your previously successful weight loss and health journey can be very demotivating. It may cause a decrease in confidence, self-esteem, and you may even find yourself depressed or ashamed. From a health perspective, you may find your blood pressure or blood sugar increasing again or worsening of sleep apnea or joint pain. This may lead to having to resume costly medications, increased healthcare visits for monitoring, or more work absences.

Quality of Diet Versus Quantity

Weight loss surgery is a lifetime commitment. Developing a new lifestyle is no easy task, though. You may be combatting decades-worth of habits, and those can’t be changed overnight.

Try to start as you mean to go on, though, and use your healthcare team and resources to guide your way. From the dietitian perspective, we want to look at the quality of diet versus quantity, so I’ve identified some of the best choices for eating out when that is the only option, as well as some tips and recipes for food preparation at home.

Coffee shops can be tempting in the morning, but that latté can set you back several dollars and hundreds of calories. Opt instead for the egg white and red pepper sous vide bites on your morning Starbucks drive-thru.

Lunch breaks generally require quick options. Taco Bell has 10 items to choose from in its dollar menu, including Cinnabon delights. Stay strong and spend just a few extra cents to get pintos n cheese or black beans. These will keep you full for longer and are much less guilt-inducing. You could also swing through Chick-Fil-A (or another chicken joint) and get some grilled nuggets. Still craving some Mexican food? Chipotle, though pricier, can offer you salad options-have them load you up on veggies and sofritas, and use salsa instead of dressing.

Meal Prep and Eating Healthy

Just to be clear, I’m not condoning eating out all the time, but I am realistic in knowing it will happen from time to time. Some ways to decrease the need for this is to spend some quality time doing weekly meal prep. I know it isn’t the most fun way to spend your Sunday, but that work on the front end will alleviate a lot of stress later. Try cooking a large batch of something and freeze smaller portions to quickly defrost and reheat later on. Over time you can stock your freezer with a variety of options to choose from. Some items to try this with could be lean meatballs/mini meatloaves, hearty soups like chili or lentil, pulled pork or shredded chicken to use in a variety of ways-the possibilities are endless!

Investing in a crockpot or pressure cooker may be a great idea as well and are frequently on sale. These gadgets can help relieve some of the tediousness of cooking and allows you to spend more time on other tasks, or just relaxing! Don’t feel like you must cook completely different meals for you and your household, either. Try to find meal options where you can isolate the protein source and pile on some produce on the side for yourself.

My Favorite Go-To Weeknight Dinners

Stir-fries are always a good option. You can put as much or as little work into these as you choose. On my worst days, I’ll pick up a rotisserie chicken, a bag of frozen vegetables, and individual ready rice cups (or leave the rice out altogether). This will provide multiple servings for under $10. If you’re feeling adventurous you may decide to get fresh shrimp and sauté with garlic and ginger, add in some fresh snow peas, julienned carrots, broccoli, roasted peppers, water chestnuts, etc. The family can serve it over rice or noodles.

Frozen vegetables are great to have on hand. They are nutritionally sound and will not go bad as quickly as those mixed greens sitting in your fridge. Try getting a bag of riced cauliflower, beans, and taco seasoning and sauté together and voilà: dinner is served. This will set you back less than $5. Breakfast for dinner is never a bad idea either. Eggs are very versatile and can be livened up with some frozen spinach and peppers. Fresh (or frozen) fish filets are a quick protein source to pair with vegetables for a weeknight sheet pan dinner, too.

There are a ton of meal prep companies to choose from now as well, and most have a calorie-controlled option to choose from. They typically range from $6-$10 per meal, but you may find you’re able to split a single one into multiple meals. These can help reduce the amount of time spent grocery shopping and cooking times tend to hover around 30 minutes from start to finish.

Alternative Lunch or Snack Ideas

Leftovers are always good to have for the next day, but here are some alternative lunch or snack ideas. Stock up on some tuna packets (in water-so many flavors to choose from now!), boiled eggs, protein packs, reduced-sodium/fat deli meats or cheese, individual salad kits, 100 calorie packs of nut butter or hummus, fat-free refried beans, or light Greek yogurt. Pick up a few pieces of fruit or sliced vegetables to pair with these items.

You worked hard to achieve your successes, and it is not worth going back. Stay involved with your healthcare team for additional support, and don’t be afraid to talk to your family and friends about your lifestyle changes and needs. They may take some inspiration from you and even make some changes of their own!

Eating Healthy After Weight Loss Surgery


Emily L. Thevis, RDN, CSOWM, CDE is an Bariatric Coordinator for Memorial Hermann Memorial City Medical Center in Houston, TX. She is also the Metabolic and Bariatric Surgery Clinical Reviewer for Northwest Weight and Wellness in Everett, WA. Emily earned her BS in Nutritional Sciences from Louisiana State University. She is a Certified Specialist in Obesity & Weight Management and Certified Diabetes Educator. She is the 2019 Excellence in Emerging Practice Award winner for the Weight Management Dietetic Practice Group, and a member of the American Society for Metabolic and Bariatric Surgery, Obesity Action Coalition, and the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.

Read more articles from Emily!