After surgery, it is common for patients to be apprehensive about socialising and having meals with family and friends, especially around holidays.
Whether you are eating out, visiting somebody or entertaining at your place, there are some simple strategies to put in place to make eating with family and friends easier.
A good rule of thumb is to always cut food into small, bite-sized pieces and chew it well (to a purée consistency) in the mouth before swallowing. This will help to keep portion sizes small and make sure your food is easily digested by the body. Remember, to separate food and fluids by 30 minutes so that your new stomach can cope.
Dietitian Stephanie Greene suggests focusing on eating slowly and mindfully. “Place utensils down between mouthfuls to slow eating speed,” she recommends.
By concentrating on the flavours, textures, smells and temperature of the food you can enjoy your meal mindfully. This will also help you listen to your body’s hunger and fullness clues, which are important for you post-surgery.
Hosting or visiting family and friends
Whether you are entertaining in your home, or visiting friends and family, it’s important to establish an environment that will make it easy for you to consume small portions of nutritious foods.
For example, you can use entree-sized plates and teaspoons (instead of desert spoons), to encourage serving small portions.
When deciding what to serve, choose nutritious food that your family will enjoy and that you can also have in smaller portions. Focus on protein (such as lean meats and legumes); high fibre, wholegrain and low GI carbohydrates; low fat dairy products (or alternatives fortified with calcium) and plenty of vegetables and fruit.
Another option is to create platters consisting of bite-sized portions of healthy foods, so you can dish out a small amount of food to suit your needs.
Eating out is often difficult for anyone with dietary needs, and it can certainly pose a challenge for you after your surgery. However, if you follow some simple strategies, it can be an enjoyable experience that you can share with family and friends.
When ordering, be sure to avoid meals high in refined carbohydrates without any protein, as well as creamy sauces and sugary food. These will not be the most nutritious or satiating options, and the high fat and sugar content in these foods may lead to Dumping Syndrome*, which you will want to avoid.
As with your food choices at home, in restaurants you should choose a protein-based dish, such as grilled fish or chicken, with vegetables. Ask for the sauce on the side, so that you can limit how much of these you consume.
The goal is to keep your portion sizes small, and a simple way to do this is to order entree-sized meals or from the kids menu.
Another option is to choose restaurants with tapas style menus, such a Spanish, Indian, Greek or Asian. This allows you to dish out a small amount of food to suit your needs.
Keep in mind that portion sizes in restaurants are often very large. Knowing this in advance can help you from being tempted to eat more than you need, as can eating slowly and mindfully.
“Remember that it’s okay to leave some food on your plate if you feel full, even after a small portion.” Ms. Greene reminds. “See if you can take any leftovers home with you and have it as another meal.”
Sticking with the strategies of small portion sizes and slow, mindful eating will help you enjoy eating out after your surgery.
What to say to family and friends
It is natural for family and friends to be curious about your new lifestyle, and what you can and can’t eat after surgery. Bringing your partner or an immediate family member along to initial consultations before your surgery is a good idea. This means they can gain an understanding of what nutritional changes to expect after surgery, and can be a support to you through the process.
For other close family and friends, you can explain to them that your stomach size has changed. It used to be the size of a football, but after surgery it has been reduced to about 30 - 80 mL (depending on the surgery type). As a result, you can only tolerate small portions of food and need to eat slowly.
Many people will be understanding of this and will appreciate the explanation. However, if you do not wish to go into that much detail, you can simply explain to family and friends that you are making lifestyle changes to improve your health and wellbeing.
While it can be challenging socialising with family and friends around meal times, if you follow the strategies suggested here it can be an enjoyable experience for all of you.
*Dumping Syndrome is a group of symptoms—including weakness, abdominal discomfort, and sometimes abnormally rapid bowel evacuation—occurring after meals in some patients who have undergone gastric surgery.
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