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Tips For Managing the Holidays After Weight Loss Surgery

Eating during the holidays can be stressful after weight loss surgery. You want to enjoy the holidays yet not be stressed about your weight or health. Plus, you may have some dietary restrictions limiting you eating habits.

What should I eat?

I hope I don’t gain weight

How can I keep my momentum going?

Here are some tips to help you manage the holiday season after weight loss surgery. 

Get Enough Sleep

You may expect me to start with food guidelines but I cannot stress enough the importance of sleep during the holidays. Not getting enough sleep can increase your hunger and cravings. In fact, some studies have shown that those who do not get enough sleep tend to eat more calories. Plus, when you’re not getting enough sleep you’ll likely have less willpower to make healthy decisions. Your brain is on overload and will choose whichever food item is easily available. 

And let’s be honest….. The “munchies” usually occur later in the evening, so if you go to sleep early you’re more likely to sleep through the munching witch hour. 

Tip: Aim for 7-10 hours of sleep each night.

Eat Protein First

Eating your protein first will help you feel satisfied sooner with your meal and help you meet your daily protein goals. Use this to your benefit during the holidays. Dense proteins like chicken, turkey or roast beef help you feel the restriction of your new stomach sooner, which is one of the benefits of having surgery. Use your tool for what it’s intended for -> to help you manage portion sizes by eating protein first.

Tip: Eat around 3-4 oz of dense protein at meals and 1-2 oz for snacks or appetizers. 

Be Picky!

Have you ever been eating something and thought “It’s not that good, but I will eat anyway?” If so, then please STOP. It’s okay to be picky about what foods you choose to eat. Often times we eat food during the holidays because “it was there” or we don’t want to hurt someone’s feelings or we feel we need to finish everything on our plate.

With your smaller stomach size, it’s even more prudent to be picky about what foods you put in your stomach. You don’t want to fill up on an appetizer that you didn’t really care for, only to not have enough room for something you really enjoy later (like mashed potatoes). Save your calories for foods you really enjoy.

Tip: If you start to eat something you don’t like, then push it to the side or throw it out. It’s okay to be a food snob. 

Plan Ahead

Having a plan can help reduce stress during the holidays. Of course, knowing what you’re going to eat for each meal, every day of the week can be helpful, but it can also be unrealistic.

Instead, look at your week and decide how many meals you need to plan for. Do you have work engagements or parties you are going to attend? Then decide how many meals you’re going to prepare at home and how many you’re going to go out for.

Yes, even going out is planning ahead because you are being intentional about it. This will help you feel more on target because going out was part of your plan.

Tip: Choose 1-2 fun meals a week and plan for them. Having a plan will make you feel better. 

Move your body!

Movement is key to weight maintenance. If you’re already exercising then continue to commit to your plan. It’s easy to miss a workout during the holidays but don’t let missing one workout derail you for the whole holiday season. Be comfortable with less than perfect. It’s easier to keep the ball moving then to restart. Aim for progress and not perfection

If you’re currently not working out then find opportunities to move your body. Parking the car farther in the parking lot, taking the stairs, going down an extra row in the grocery store are all ways  to increase your movement. 

Tip: Look  ahead each week and decide which days you are going to focus on getting more movement in. 

Follow the Bariatric Plate Method

You know I am a big believer in using the bariatric plate method for meals. It helps keep things flexible while also ensuring you’re meeting your nutrient requirements.

The basic premise of the bariatric plate method is to eat 3-4 oz protein each meal, ⅓ cup veggies, and if still hungry 2-4 tablespoons of starch or fruit. If you want some ideas on how a holiday meal can fit into these parameters check out my Thanksgiving Bariatric Recipe post

Tip: Use a 9 inch plate for your meals and aim for half of the plate to be protein and the other half to be distributed between the veggie and starch. Eat protein first, then veggie then starch (or fruit). 

Re-gift Holiday Food

The holiday season is a time of giving. And many times that involves cookies, cakes and pies, oh my! If you receive food from friends or family members bring them to work, holiday dinners or just throw them away (yes, I said it). The gesture is nice but if you feel it is a burden then there’s no harm getting them out of the house. 

Tip: Pick one or two of your favorites (going back to being picky ) and then give the rest away. 

Eat Before Drinking Alcohol

Many holiday festivities involve alcohol. As you may know, many surgery centers suggest limiting or avoiding alcohol after weight loss surgery.

Alcoholic drinks tend to be high in calories and affect bariatric post-ops differently. Alcohol is rapidly absorbed into the bloodstream after weight loss surgery. If you choose to drink alcohol, I recommend eating before you drink. This way it slows down the absorption of alcohol into your bloodstream. 

Tip: Choose a high protein snack with a smart carb prior to drinking alcohol.

Listen to Hunger Fullness Cues

Listening to your body is one of the best tools you have after weight loss surgery. If you’re feeling true hunger (growling pains, headaches, difficulty concentrating, shaking), go ahead and eat. It’s okay.

But if you notice you’re not really hungry then let yourself know you can eat later when you are hungry. Once you’re hungry continue to listen to your body to let you know when you are satisfied.

Then create a physical signal to let your brain know you’re done. This could be pushing away the plate, placing a napkin on the dish or removing your plate to the kitchen.

Tip: On a scale of 1-10 with 10 being sickly full, aim for a 5-6 after each meal to prevent feeling overly full.

Develop an “Addition Mindset”

It’s easy to get caught up in thinking “What can’t I have?”

This way of thinking may cause you to feel deprived. Instead, I encourage you to focus on “What can I ‘add’ to my meal to help me reach my goals?” This could be adding a salad to your meal, protein or maybe choosing a carb higher in fiber. The “addition mindset” creates a more positive paradigm shift than focusing on what you can’t have.

Tip: Focus on where you can “add” movement to your day or on how to “add” fiber to your meal.

Aim for Weight Maintenance – Not Weight Loss 

If you had surgery within the last six months, chances are you will still continue to lose weight during the holidays. However, if you’re past that six months mark, your weight loss has likely slowed or you have reached your new normal.

If this is the case then it can be helpful to aim for weight maintenance during the holidays and not weight loss. This takes extra stress off and may help you make positive choices. It’s possible your inner child may rebel against you if you try to lose weight and go on an eating binge instead. Practicing balance and getting away from an “all or nothing” approach will be helpful.

Tip: It may even help to get off the scale and focus on the positive habits instead.

Take the Focus Off the Food

Food and drinks are often the centerpiece of holiday celebrations. While I am not suggesting removing the food, I am suggesting creating other new traditions around the holidays. This could be having a puzzle set out in another room from the food or playing corn hole outside. The point is to remove the focus away from the food and, instead, on spending time with loved ones.

It’s important to enjoy the holidays. One meal or even a whole week of choosing foods not within your typical diet plan will not derail your progress. It’s more important about what you’re doing consistently that counts!

If you felt this tips helped you then please share with others who may benefit as well 🙂

Kristin Willard, RDN

I am Bariatric Dietitian that teaches you how to eat before and after weight loss surgery to help you feel and look your best.

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