Lots of people ask what to “eat” right after surgery and how to graduate to solid foods. The best advice I can offer is to get some ideas by working with your doctor and nutritionist so you can stick to their prescribed plans, but I also thought sharing my first year of foods may be helpful. I remember missing chewing so badly in the liquid stage and then being afraid to take my first bite of soft food, and then really wondering if I could actually eat a bite of chicken. Well, it’s 7 years later, I’m here blogging about it so I guess I made it through with no real scarring.
Based on my doctor’s plan I was to be on liquids for 10 days, with 40-60 grams of protein. Remember, everybody’s plan is different. How did I do this? It was easy for the first 3-5 days since I was on pain meds (the 4th and 5th day only at night) and sipping protein drinks, water and herbal tea, with an occasional sugar free Jell-O (black cherry is my favorite) throughout the day. I did this 2 ounces at a time, and that took effort. It took about 3 days to get to 40 grams of protein and I wasn’t at 60 grams until about day 8 and that was ok. At about 6 days though I wanted to “chew” so badly the couch cushions were in danger. I didn’t know I could have sugar free popsicles or I would have. That’s when I added V-8 juice, chicken broth and cream of mushroom soup that had all of the mushrooms removed by my dear, sweet husband. It was tough getting in enough fluid to stay hydrated but somehow I did it, still 2 to 4 ounces at a time, sipping slowly and stopping if I felt “full”.
On day 11 I was able to start soft(mushy) foods and had been planning my single scrambled egg for breakfast for the past 4 days, but when it came to eating it I was terrified. My soft or mushy food stage was also 10 days long and I found myself eating my ½ cup portion (that’s the most I could hold at the beginning) of soft food for my meals and supplementing between meals with my protein drinks. I continued on with broths and v-8 juice and water for my fluids and this worked okay. I knew it was only 10 days and I would try 1-2 foods per day so it felt like I was at the beginning of a buffet line. I had one scrambled egg for breakfast, cottage cheese or yogurt for lunch and dinner was a baked sweet potato, or some refried beans with shredded cheese heated in the microwave. I didn’t do the oatmeal, cream of wheat, hummus, bananas or peanut butter that were also allowed at this point. With the exception of the peanut butter, none of the rest sounded appetizing. Having peanut butter would have been like giving drugs to an addict so I avoid it to this day. I did have a few saltine crackers with my egg or cottage cheese and my doctor has since added melba toast, low fat Ritz crackers and plain graham crackers to this mix. A veritable feast!!!! I put my portion on a small plate and took tiny bites using my toddler spoon or fork. I was determined to make this work, and it was. I ate the same thing for the 10 days because it was easy and I didn’t have to think about it.
Week three arrived and I was ready for solid foods. I was fine with breakfast and lunch at this point, but wanted something new for dinner. I started adding fish like tilapia and salmon, and also added chicken and thin sliced deli turkey. Pretty soon I was adding ground turkey. I did fine with all of these and my routine started for the next few months. On Sunday I would bake a frittata made with egg beaters, soy crumbles (sausage tasting) and low fat shredded cheese and spices. I would cut this into squares that were about 200 calories and 20 grams of protein after it cooled. (I measured everything that went into the frittata, wrote down calories and protein and then figured out the size of the piece I would need) for breakfasts for 5 days at work. I would wrap these up individually and microwave them at the office each morning since eating immediately after waking up was no longer going to work for me. I had my breakfast by 9am, and lunch at about 1pm, with lots of herbal tea and water in between. I brought a timer into the office (I know I could have set my computer to do the same thing) to keep reminding me to drink my water and when to stop ½ hour before my meal.
Now lunch. Okay, I made it really easy. For the first year I ate the same thing 5 days a week for lunch. I drained a 3 ounce can of tuna, added 1 T of fat free mayonnaise and ate it on 5 saltine crackers or other crackers that were about the same calories. Again, about 200 calories and 20 grams of protein. I didn’t have to think about it, I wasn’t hungry, and it met my protein needs. If I never see another can of tuna now, it will be too soon, but I found something that worked for me, it wasn’t broken so I didn’t fix it. Being so disciplined at work helped me to avoid all sorts of temptations. Nights and weekends are when I experimented, and expanded my diet. If I had a “snack” it was ½ cup of cottage cheese or a non-fat sugar free yogurt with at least 8 grams of protein. Dinner would be fish or chicken or turkey with a bit of beans and cheese or baked yam. On weekends I would make eggs with cottage cheese for breakfast, sliced turkey deli meat and some crackers and cheese for lunch and chicken or fish or turkey for dinner. I would take ground turkey and some egg beaters, some Italian seasonings, some tomato sauce and grated parmesan cheese and make a turkey meat loaf. Between 8 and 12 weeks after surgery I was able to add vegetables, slowly and very well steamed or a baby spinach salad with peeled sliced cucumber and balsamic vinegar or 2T of a very low cal ranch dressing that I found. I always carried a protein bar, a protein drink and a bottle of water with me wherever I went. If I was going more than an hour away from home I added one of the prepackaged tuna kits so I had no excuses. I started adding small amounts of cantaloupe and watermelon to my diet but always balanced it with some form of protein as that works best for me.
I kept my first year very simple. I still cooked for my husband, and would have my daughter and grandkids over for barbecues, as well as friends and relatives for dinner parties. If I went out to dinner I tried to make sure there were crab legs on the menu since I could eat 200-300 calories of crab legs over an hour long period while those around me consumed upwards of 3000 calories on some evenings. If there were no crab legs, grilled shrimp or ahi tuna seared rare were my next 2 choices. I guess I’m lucky I love fish. I learned to not overcook my chicken or fish since this made it inedible for me.
The summary of my first year was probably KISS (or keep it simple stupid). I planned my meals but did not plan anything elaborate as I was working on breaking my love affair with food so that I could learn the true meaning of tasting that first bite and savoring the flavors, rather than picking up the shovel and seeing how quickly I could consume a truckload. I definitely turned these simple meals into tasty meals as time went on. Since the potato chips and cookies and fast food restaurants were no longer part of the budget I found I could actually afford to have shrimp, or crab legs, or even a nice little filet mignon every now and again. I still love food, I just get to actually taste it now and that is a good thing. When you pick up your fork tonight, take a small bite and chew it thoroughly and savor the flavors. Put your fork down between bites and notice that you can actually taste the food. It’s no longer a race to the finish. I love my lap band.