How Often Should I be Eating After Weight Loss Surgery?
Over time you will have heard many different views on how often, or when you should eat. Three meals per day, six small meals, not after 8pm – all of which may have some merit.
What we do no for sure is that there is no ‘one size fits all’ answer to how often or exactly when you should eat. However, there are a few of basic principles to remember when planning your meals:
- Start the day right
- A little routine goes a long way
- Let your hunger guide you.
Start the Day Right
It is pretty well established that we should eat breakfast. You will have all heard the phrase “breakfast is the most important meal of the day”. Whilst eating breakfast has not specifically been studied after weight loss surgery, wider research tells us breakfast can improve mental performance, reduce fatigue and improve eating habits by reducing snacking during the day. These are positive benefits for all of us, whether we have had weight loss surgery or not.
Do you avoid breakfast thinking it will ‘save’ you calories? This is a common belief – if you are not hungry for breakfast, why eat the extra calories? We find that often those who are not hungry for breakfast have eaten too late the night before. They then don’t start eating again until later in the day, eating most food at night and then not being hungry again the next morning. You become trapped in a cycle.
Many people are afraid to eat breakfast as it makes them more hungry throughout they day. Believe it or not this is a positive thing! If you are becoming hungry regularly throughout the day your body is actually burning the food you are eating, causing you to be hungry again. (Keep in mind, this refers to actual, physical hunger, not the type of hunger you have because you smell a bakery, because the kettle is boiling, because it is your morning tea break or because someone else is eating.)
Reflect on your eating habits. If you skip breakfast do you get hungry mid morning? Are you prepared with a healthy snack or do you grab whatever is available in the lunchroom, vending machine or service station? This is a common pitfall of breakfast skippers. If you skip breakfast are you finding you eat little through the day, but the majority of food later at night? Late at night do you make good food choices?
It is important to start our day right with a good breakfast and spread our food intake fairly evenly over the day. After weight loss surgery your meal sizes are smaller, so ‘catching up’ for meals missed is no longer possible. You need to get as much good nutrition in as you can and regular meals are the key to doing so.
A little routine goes a long way
Some people find that after weight loss surgery their appetite decreases, or even seems to disappear. This varies a lot according to your surgery type and stage of recovery. Whilst my next point is that you should let your hunger guide you, even if you are not hungry, you should not skip meals totally.
As explained above, many people skip breakfast thinking that if they are not hungry, they may as well ‘save’ the calories. This generally backfires at the other end of the day. It is similar with lunch. Many clients tell us that they become so absorbed in their day, occupied with work or family life that they ‘forget’ to eat lunch. This leaves them ravenous later in the afternoon looking for a snack, and then they have no appetite for the evening meal. It is usually the evening meal where people include their largest serve of protein for the day, so this pattern makes it difficult to meet your nutritional requirements.
Skipping meals makes it difficult to obtain adequate nutrition during the rest of the day. This is particularly so for those in the early stages following sleeve gastrectomy and gastric bypass surgery, when serve sizes are often quite restricted.
To have some routine, you do not have to eat at exact times every day, but your meals should be fairly evenly spaced. It is not reasonable for someone who works night shift to eat at the same times as a schoolteacher, so we need to be flexible in our timing, but keep meals regular. If we keep a basic pattern of three meals per day, we can more effectively read our hunger and satiety signals through the day to fuel our body appropriately, which gets us closer to our goals.
Take a moment to examine your eating pattern.
- How many meals per day do you currently eat?
- If you are not eating regular meals, is there a particular meal you find difficult to include on a regular basis?
- What makes this meal difficult to include?
- What would need to change for you to include regular meals, or a specific meal?
- What steps can you put in place to change this?
Let your hunger guide you
As we have said, a reduced appetite following weight loss surgery does not mean you should regularly skip meals. Even very small, but regular meals will help regulate your appetite. Letting your hunger guide you is important when it comes to meal sizing and whether or not you need snacks between meals. We will discuss snacking in detail at another time.
Some of you may feel you are eating more often than you think you should. If this is the case, practice pausing before eating and ask yourself, “Am I really hungry?”. The answer can often be quite enlightening.
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