Healthy Choices for the Holidays: Tips for Post-Op Bariatric Patients and Waistline Watchers

By Brooke Sillay, RD, LD
Northside Hospital Nutrition Services

What things should people who are trying to lose weight keep in mind around the holidays? What about things specific for people who have had bariatric surgery?

Many people try and skip a meal in preparation for a party that evening. This is actually one of the worst ways to keep on track because by the time the party starts you are starving and tend to eat 2-3 times as much as usual. Instead, eat a small protein rich snack 30 minutes prior to the event to help prevent overeating.  People who have had bariatric surgery should always opt for the smaller sized plates and use utensils if available. Grab a dessert or salad plate for your main meal rather than a large dinner plate. 

Overeating is a common problem around the holidays. What are some tips you share with your patients to prevent that and keep the calories in check?

Learn to say “no”. If someone offers a dish or unhealthy option just say “no, thank you” and state that you’re saving room for “a salad or fresh green beans” (insert your favorite healthy food item here in your conversation) and don’t feel guilty about your decision. Try not to stand right around or sit next the food table when socializing with friends and family; this makes it harder to over consume because it’s less convenient and less tempting. Also, ask a friend or family member to split a dessert with you rather than putting the whole thing on your plate. 

If you do end up feeling too full, what is the best exercise or activity that is recommended?

Walk it off! A 10-20 minute brief walk can do the trick and promote GI tract movement to help get things moving in the right direction. Definitely avoid laying down right after eating a large meal. 

Let’s talk about what should be on your Thanksgiving plate in terms of maximizing this meal from a nutritional value perspective?

Always think protein first. Try and choose your lean protein sources, like a turkey breast. Try and take the skin off the turkey and stick with the white meat versus the dark meat from the thigh or leg. Also a deviled egg would be a great source of protein to add to your plate. Then aim for ½ of your plate to be non- starchy vegetables. Be mindful about your starches and do so in moderation. 

What are some good suggestions of better choices for classic dishes that are normally pretty heavy?

Recipe modifications are a great way to reduce total calorie content and enhance the nutritional value of a recipe. For example, swap out eggs for egg whites, replace sour cream with non-fat Greek yogurt and use skim milk in place of heavy cream. Just a few simple changes can make the world of a difference to the waist line. In the place of green bean casseroles try a seasoned fresh green bean dish. Sweet potatoes are a great source of nutrition and are naturally sweet and flavorful, when making sweet potato casserole, try and minimize the amount of sugar and marshmallows used. 

Can you tell us a little about fluid consumption and how that plays into nutrition and digestion? How is what you drink and when you drink it important for people trying to manage their weight and especially those that have had bariatric surgery?

It is important to stay hydrated throughout the day especially those who have had bariatric surgery. After bariatric surgery, one should no longer drink while eating food.  This is a key component to long-term success with weight loss surgery. After surgery a patient must wait 30 minutes before or after a meal to drink a beverage. This is a huge behavior modification and may be more challenging around the holidays. After bariatric surgery no carbonated beverages are allowed. In addition to the absence of carbonated beverages, a bariatric patient needs to limit both caffeinated and alcoholic beverages.  Alcoholic beverages provide a surplus of calories as well as a dehydrating effect. Aim for 64 ounces of non- caloric beverages each day (preferably water). Be cautious with liquid calories (juice, ciders, and fruity cocktails) as they can add up quickly without providing the same satiety as a ‘solid’ food item. 

As exciting as the holiday season can be, for some, it’s a very lonely or depressing time of year. What advice would you give someone who might turn to food for comfort?

Identify your triggers and write them down. Come up with an action plan to find other ways to reward or comfort without using food. Some great ideas would be to go get a manicure, take walk in the park, drive around to look at all of the holiday décor or take a relaxing bath.  Also remove any trigger foods from the house and replace them with fruit and vegetable based snacks. 

What kinds of tools, like online/ mobile apps or a simple handwritten log, do you recommend your patients use?

There are so many phone apps and online resources for free that are great for staying on track and to help make healthier choices. Two of my favorite apps are Fooducate and Myfitness Pal. The old fashioned pen and paper method works too and is a great way to reflect on a day’s eating behaviors.


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