Holiday Eating Tips After Bariatric Surgery

A gingerbread person cookie wearing measuring tape around their stomach.

It’s holiday time again! Unlike last year when the pandemic kept most of us from celebrating together, many people are planning to spend time with friends and family this year. Traditional gatherings often mean fun and plenty of food; however, it can be challenging for those who have had weight loss surgery and those preparing for life after surgery, or for anyone who’s trying to maintain healthy nutrition habits throughout the season.

Remember, you can enjoy most foods but do so in moderation. Here are some tips to help you get through the holiday season:

1. Stick to a schedule.

Skipping meals to save calories is an easy way to overdo it when the food is served (especially sweets). Try to stick to a regular eating schedule to avoid going to social gatherings hungry, which can lead to overeating.

2. Exercise regularly.

Even when things get busy, don’t let your exercise routine fall by the wayside during the holidays. If the weather permits, exercise can be as simple as going for a walk to enjoy the holiday lights displayed in your neighborhood.

3. Continue to follow the basic meal rules.

A holiday meal should be looked at as your typical, everyday meal. Prioritize your meals! Start with your protein first, chew the food well and eat slowly. Remember to keep your eating and drinking separate by at least 30 minutes.

4. Drink plenty of water.

Stay hydrated and mindful of your alcohol intake. Alcohol is absorbed by the body much faster after weight loss surgery and since you are unable to eat and drink at the same time it will have a heightened effect. Remember alcohol is also full of empty calories.

5. Bring a dish to share.

This way you know there will be a healthier option available that you will be able to enjoy. You will still be able to participate in the festivities and not feel out of place because there is nothing for you to eat.

6. Pack your own treats.

Stock up on nutritious snacks you can bring so you will have less temptation around all the cakes and cookies. As co-workers often bring treats to work to share during the holidays, avoid the break room areas at work if necessary.

7. If you do want dessert or other items that you would not typically eat:

  • Save the best for last—fill up on the protein and vegetables first. You may not have room for the other items.
  • Choose the dessert or item that you rarely come across and let it be the “extra” item that you eat.
  • Stick to a very small portion. Remember, the first bite tastes the same as the last one. A few bites may be all you need to feel satisfied!

8. Be mindful.

It is easy to overindulge when food is available while socializing. Focus on the conversations, save eating for later and avoid standing next to the food table. When it’s time to eat, focus on that. You will probably enjoy it more when you are focused, eating it slowly and savoring the flavor of the food.

9. Swap this for that.

You can enjoy the holiday celebration without compromising your eating goals. Here are some examples of healthy substitutions:

Holiday food (per serving) Healthy swap (per serving)
Champagne (100 kcal) Sparkling water with blueberries (5kcal)
Creamy mashed potatoes (350 kcal) Cauliflower mash (100 kcal)
Candied sweet potatoes (275 kcal) Maple sweet potato casserole (lower calorie)
Traditional cornbread (200 kcal) Greek yogurt/whole wheat flour cornbread (lower calorie)
Green bean casserole (150 kcal) Roasted green beans with lemon and salt (35 kcal)
Pecan pie (500 kcal) Pecan-stuffed dates (150 kcal)
  • You also can add flavor with spices, herbs and garlic instead of fats such as butter or gravy.
  • Use skim instead of whole milk in recipes.
  • Substitute sugar with unsweetened applesauce or natural sweeteners, such as Stevia or Swerve.

10. Remember to be kind to yourself.

It’s important to understand that one bad meal is not going to trigger weight gain. It’s what you’re doing consistently in your eating habits that counts.

Additional Resources

Learn more about the Division of Metabolic and Bariatric Surgery

Visit the Weight Loss and Metabolic Center for appointment and services information.

By Rachel Griehs, senior registered dietitian in the Weight Loss and Metabolic Center at Baylor College of Medicine

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