Keeping Your Holidays Healthy Following Weight Loss Surgery

Keeping Your Holidays Healthy Following Weight Loss Surgery

Keeping Your Holidays Healthy Following Weight Loss Surgery

This post was written for Diet Direct by Sharon Howard, a registered dietitian and nutrition counselor. Sharon currently works with patients before and after weight loss surgery on education, nutrition, and lifestyle planning in her role at a Bariatric Surgery Center of Excellence. In this article, she stresses the importance of properly preparing for holiday eating for anyone who has had weight loss surgery in the past year and possibly more.

Does holiday eating bring back memories of endlessly tempting and irresistible fat, sugar and guilt-laden treats? Was holiday weight gain a foregone conclusion at this time of year for you? That does not have to be your story this year

Weight loss surgery requires a lifestyle overhaul and long-term weight loss maintenance success depends on adopting new holiday eating habits, including changing the ways you prepare food or the way you approach holiday eating. Why not be pro-active rather than reactive when it comes to controlling your intake around the holidays?

For those who have had bariatric surgery recently or within the past few months, your intake may be self-limited because loosening restrictions on the amount or type of food will lead to almost immediate abdominal pain, nausea, vomiting or other painful or unpleasant side effects.

However, even for those who are one year or more out since their surgery, the ability to tolerate a wider variety, or in some cases, greater quantity of food can actually lead some to overeat and potentially gain weight. Regardless of where you are in your weight loss surgery journey, a few suggestions on the “hows” and “whats” you prepare or eat may be helpful.

A Guide for (Merrier) Holiday Eating After Bariatric Surgery

Tips for a proactive approach to Christmas and New Year's while following the stringent nutritional guidelines necessary after a weight loss surgery.

Be proactive with appetizers.

If you are the host, prepare appetizers that are healthful and contain some protein. For instance, prepare an edamame dip (see the recipe at the bottom of this post), traditional shrimp cocktail, or raw vegetables and low fat dressing so you are not tempted to fill up on foods giving you little bang for the buck.

If you are not the host, in the spirit of being proactive, offer to bring one of these appetizers, or something else you tolerate well.

At mealtime, as always, the golden rule in healthful bariatric eating is
to be sure to eat protein FIRST

Although holiday time often means turkey, pork roast, ham or prime rib, these don’t have to be your default options. Knowing how to choose the lower fat options may be helpful. For instance:

  • Try london broil in place of prime rib
  • Pick light meat turkey in place of dark meat
  • Trade in the fatty pork roast for a lean pork tenderloin
  • Or, completely forgo those traditional options for salmon baked in parchment with dill.

Get creative with your veggies.

Vegetable accompaniments come next and don’t need to be traditional. Along with your new lifestyle comes the opportunity to try new options rather than the age-old green bean casserole.

  • Steamed fresh vegetables are always a hit.
  • Or, try roasting a colorful medley of vegetables such as winter squash, mushrooms, green beans and carrots. Use just a drizzle of olive oil (1 tbsp per batch) and pack in foil to retain moisture.
  • Riced broccoli, cauliflower, or spiralized vegetables add color and nutrition with very few calories.

If you or your guests feel the holidays are not complete without mashed potatoes and green bean casserole, be skimpy on the butter, use nonfat milk in the potatoes and when preparing green bean casserole, use light cream of mushroom soup, nonfat milk and sprinkle almond slivers in place of fried onion rings on top. If onion flavor is desired, sprinkling some onion powder in the recipe may provide just enough flavor without calories.

Be mindful.

Above all, eat slowly and mindfully so that you don’t exceed your portion limits.

Remember to socialize, so the focus is on the time together with friends or family and not on the food. Consider taking a walk after dinner and invite someone to join you.

In a society that is rather food-obsessed, this may be difficult initially, but changing your mindset can help you-and others-enjoy a healthful holiday season.

Ideas for Healthier, Merrier Holiday Meal Planning

Try a few of these delicious recipe ideas for a merry set of alternatives to holiday staples that aren't friendly to a post-surgery diet.

Slow Cooker Pork Tenderloin


  • 1 lb pork tenderloin
  • 2 sweet potatoes, sliced
  • ½ can whole berry cranberry sauce
  • ½ tsp cinnamon


Assemble the ingredients. Place pork tenderloin in bottom of crockpot. Spoon the cranberry sauce, followed by the sweet potatoes on top of the pork. Sprinkle with cinnamon. Cover and cook on low for 6 to 8 hours.

Yields 8 servings

Nutritional Information (Per Serving)

169 calories, 17 grams protein, 13 grams carbohydrate, 5 grams fat, 0.5 grams fiber

Edamame with a Twist


  • 1 ½ cups edamame, frozen and thawed, or fresh and shelled
  • ¼ cup plain low-fat Greek yogurt
  • ¼ cup water
  • 2 tbsp lemon juice
  • 1 clove crushed garlic
  • ½ tsp salt
  • 1 tsp olive oil


Mix all ingredients in blender or food processor. Blend under smooth. Serve in a bowl, accompanied by fresh cucumber, sliced red pepper and mushrooms.

Yield: 1 ¼ cups

Nutrition Information

Per 2 tbsp dip: 41 calories, 1.8 grams fat, 3 grams carbohydrate, 3 grams protein

Mock Egg Nog


  • 2 cups nonfat milk
  • ½ tsp pumpkin pie spice
  • ½ tsp cinnamon
  • 2 tbsp sugar free, fat free pudding mix


In small pot, combine all ingredients. Cook over medium heat until it comes close to boiling. Lower heat and simmer for 15 minutes.

Enjoy warm or cold. Sprinkle with cinnamon before serving.

Yield: 4 servings

Nutrition Information (Per 4 oz. Serving)

44 calories, 4 grams protein, 6.9 grams carbohydrate, 0.1 grams fat

Quick ‘n Healthy Holiday Layered Dip


  • 1 15 oz can fat free refried beans, drained
  • 1 packet taco seasoning (mild or hot)
  • 1 cup fat free Greek yogurt
  • 1 cup mild salsa
  • 1 cup grated Mexican cheese blend
  • 1 cup diced tomatoes, fresh or canned
  • 2 tbsp leeks, chopped
  • ¾ cup diced red or green pepper
  • 1/2 cup chopped cilantro, fresh


Mix taco seasoning mix with refried beans and layer ingredients in a 8 or 9 inch deep dish pie plate in the following order:

  1. Refried beans mixture
  2. Fat free Greek yogurt
  3. Mild salsa
  4. Leeks
  5. Diced tomatoes
  6. Red peppers
  7. Cheese
  8. Cilantro

Store in refrigerator until ready to serve. Serve with fresh vegetables.

Yield: 30 servings

Nutrition Information Per 2 tbsp dip:

28 calories, 2.2 grams protein, 3 grams carbohydrate, .7 grams fat

Looking for something on the sweeter side? Check out my list of bariatric friendly holiday drink recipes here.

Developed for Bariatric Choice by Sharon Howard, a registered dietitian and bariatric nutrition counselor.

April 16, 2019