After surgery, your body requires a higher amount of energy and protein for the healing process.
For this reason it is not an ideal time to attempt to lose weight. It is more important to focus on weight maintenance because a lack of proper nutrition can cause dehydration and an inability to heal properly. You will likely be less active in the few weeks following your surgery, making weight maintenance more challenging. Here are some tips to help you eat well and avoid weight gain:
1. Small, frequent meals. Various pain medication or antibiotics prescribed after surgery, can cause an upset stomach or decrease an appetite. Should you experience these side effects, it is important to make sure you maintain adequate nutrition for healing. Having small, frequent meals or snacks instead of 3 large meals per day is a great way to help meet your nutritional needs after surgery, and can also help to avoid weight gain. Aim for your total caloric intake to be distributed throughout the day, with the consumption of 4 to 5 small meals or snacks daily. An example of a small meal may be a turkey sandwich on whole wheat bread with a cup of broth-based soup. A small snack may be an apple with 1-2 tablespoons of natural nut butter.
2. Focus on lean protein. Protein plays a vital role in tissue repair and healing, growth, maintenance and energy. After surgery, remember to incorporate some form of protein at every meal or snack. To avoid gaining weight, concentrate on lean or low-fat protein sources such as skin-less white-meat poultry, lean cuts of beef or pork, fish, eggs, low fat dairy products, nuts, beans and legumes. Baked, broiled, steamed, roasted and grilled meats are preferred over frying or sauteing to avoid excess calorie intake. Avoid heavy sauces and gravies, when possible.
3. Eat more vegetables. Research has shown that individuals who eat more vegetables tend to avoid gaining weight. This is due to the high water and fiber content of vegetables, which helps us with satiety. Including a variety of vegetables in your post-operative diet will insure that you get the essential vitamins and minerals for healing while also helping to stave off weight gain. Great choices include: spinach, broccoli, cauliflower, tomatoes, peppers, mushrooms and artichokes, just to name a few. If you are sent home on the blood thinner Coumadin, it is important to limit your consumption of green, leafy vegetables, such as spinach, kale and broccoli to about 1 cup per day.* Other vegetables such as peppers, tomatoes, cucumbers, iceberg lettuce, celery and carrots have very little Vitamin K and can be eaten more liberally.
Note: *These vegetables are high in vitamin K and can interfere with the function of this medication. If you are to be sent home on Coumadin, be sure to discuss this with your doctor and dietitian, prior to discharge.
4. Fiber. Often, a common side effect of pain medication is constipation. Additionally, you will likely be a lot less active than usual, post-op, potentially exacerbating this side effect. Consuming a diet high in fiber can help prevent or relieve constipation, helping to maintain normal bowel function and a healthy weight. Examples of high fiber foods include: bran cereals, cooked beans, whole fruits and vegetables (with skin), quinoa, whole wheat bread/rice/pasta, oatmeal and barley. When increasing fiber in your diet, remember to do so gradually and drink plenty of water as this will help your body to process fiber without discomfort.
5. Adequate fluids. Drinking plenty of water post-operatively is great for the healing process and also helps to prevent weight gain by increasing satiety. Adequate consumption of water is also necessary to help digest protein and fiber, which are both important components of a healthy post-operative diet.
Alexis Waldbaum is a Registered Dietitian & Nutritionist with the Food and Nutrition Department at Hospital for Special Surgery.