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
It is pretty well established that we should eat breakfast. 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. Further, the reduced capacity following surgery means you need to maximise your nutrition wherever you can, and this breakfast is your first opportunity of the day to do so.
Some people feel that avoiding breakfast will ‘save’ calories. Whilst it may save calories at breakfast, these calories are often then included at other times of the day. Not feeling hungry for breakfast can be a sign of eating too late the night before, or it can lead catch up hunger later in the day, triggering snacking mid afternoon.
Some people are afraid to eat breakfast as it makes them more hungry throughout they day. This is a sign of appetite regulation at work, and should be seen as a positive. Becoming physically hungry regularly throughout the day is a sign your body is utilising the food you are eating, causing you to be hungry again.
Reflect on your eating habits. If you skip breakfast do you get hungry mid morning, or mid afternoon? Are you prepared with a healthy snack or do you grab whatever is available in the lunchroom, vending machine or service station? 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? Reflect on your eating and see if you can identify a pattern.
Keep Regular Routines
As explained above, many people skip breakfast thinking that if they are not hungry, they may as well ‘save’ the calories, which generally backfires at the other end of the day. We see a similar scenario with lunch, with people becoming 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 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?
Listen to your Gut
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.
Eating regularly is the first step, but then it is important to know when to stop eating. It is so important to listen to your gut, to tune in to your internal cues to understand when you have eaten enough. We have more detailed information on this here.
Tuning in to your internal cues will also help you to understand if mid meal snacks need to be incorporated as part of your eating pattern. We discuss this in detail here.
If you feel you are eating more often than you think you should, practice pausing before eating and ask yourself, “Am I really hungry?”. The answer can often be quite enlightening.
If you need a little more help with your eating, check out our Support Options. We offer online support, anytime, anywhere. Find out more here.