A Bariatric Patients Guide to Surviving the Holiday Season

Below are six strategies to help you stay focused on a healthy lifestyle during the holiday season:

1. Physical activity

I know that everyone hates this topic, but you can’t live a balanced, healthy lifestyle without incorporating some exercise into your routine. Below are some ways to make sure you have time in your busy schedule for exercise. 

  • Get your family involved. Organize family outings or activities that get your heart rate up.
  • Take some time to sit down and schedule out specific days and times for exercise. Invite a friend or family member so that you stay motivated and accountable.
  • Aim to maintain weight instead of losing it during the holiday season

Don’t push your workout routine to the side. A regular pattern is the best way to promote weight management.

2. Planning ahead

When you plan ahead, you set yourself up for success. This strategy can be used outside the holiday season as well in order to keep you on track during your weight loss journey. Some examples of planning ahead would include:

  • Eat a light meal or snack (high-fiber fruit, greek yogurt, etc.) before one of your holiday events. If you choose healthy options, a small meal or snack will not put a huge dent in your caloric intake for the day so that you can still enjoy some of those tasty dishes without overindulging. 
  • Don’t skip meals in order to enjoy a large thanksgiving meal. This can promote overeating 90% of the time. It’s important to always stick to regular eating patterns. 
  • Keep a focus on protein first, eat slow, and track intake
  • If you’re going to a restaurant, look up the menu before you get there to determine what you’re going to eat. 
  • Ask for healthier substitutions and/or order an appetizer instead of a large entree
  • Choose grilled or broiled options and be conscientious of how much dressing and sauces you’re putting on entrees

3. Bariatric friendly dishes

If you aren’t hosting, then bringing a bariatric friendly dish is a great way to have a low-calorie, nutrient-dense option available to you. Some examples would be:

  • Vegetable-rich salad with 1-2 tbsp of some healthful fat (avocado, pumpkin seeds, walnuts)
  • Whole-grain dish (quinoa, barley, whole wheat couscous with butternut squash)
  • Grilled veggie or fruit platter

Just a reminder, eating a salad doesn’t mean that you’re choosing a healthy option. It truly matters what’s added to the salad in addition to the lettuce. Add ons that would increase calories, fat, and sugar include dried fruit, bacon, croutons, full-fat cheese, and creamy dressing. Best bet is to leave the dressing off to the side and allow yourself to add about a tbsp. That way it’s already measured out for you. 

4. Healthy ingredient alternatives

You can substitute many ingredients in a recipe for some healthier alternatives. Some examples would be:

  • Reducing the sugar in some recipes up to ½ the amount that you would normally add (believe me most people can’t tell the difference)
  • Use applesauce or prune puree as an alternative for half of the fat in a recipe
  • Use cooking sprays for pans instead of butter
  • Thicken soups with pureed veggies
  • Use cooked risotto rice instead of some cream mixes
  • Use skim milk instead of whole milk in recipes for mashed potatoes and fat-free creamed soups
  • Add more herbs and spices rather than fats for flavor
  • Replace 1 whole egg in a recipe for 2 egg whites

Make sure a majority of your meals come from lower-calorie, nutrient-dense options. Think vegetables with a little hummus instead of chips with high-fat dip. Make sure you’re following your bariatric surgery center’s guidelines for diet phases. 

5. Portion size 

Having an understanding of portion sizes and moderation can be a game changer. Before blindly filling your plate, look at all of the food options available in order to pinpoint healthier options. 

  • Use a smaller plate that’s about 6”. This will make it look like you’re getting more food than you actually have.
  • For bariatric patients, focus on protein. Keep a goal of 3-4 oz of lean or very lean proteins, ¼ of the plate fruits and vegetables, ¼ of the plate containing whole-grains, and about 1-2 tbsp of healthy fat.
  • Visual tip: think of the palm of your hand being about 3-4oz of meat, your fist is about the size of 1 cup, a cupped hand is about ½ cup, and 2 tbsp would be the length of your thumb

6. Moderation 

Food

Everyone looks forward to the dessert table during the holiday season. You can strictly follow portion sizes, but you have to pair that knowledge with eating in moderation too. A few tips to prevent you from overindulging in those tasty treats are:

  • Choose a spot further from the buffet table to help reduce temptations and grazing
  • Aim for healthy options, but don’t avoid eating the foods you love, you’ll end up filling the void a different way by eating more of something else (eat the recommended portion of that food and then stop, sometimes all you need is a taste)
  • Set boundaries for yourself. When you feel full, it’s time to stop eating. You don’t have to eat everything that’s left on your plate if you know the next bite will be uncomfortable. 

Alcoholic beverages

Best bet is to stay away from alcoholic beverages. They offer empty calories and can be high in sugar. Alcohol is metabolized differently after bariatric surgery, a little bit can go a long way on your blood alcohol content. Alcohol can also cause low blood sugar levels in weight loss surgery patients. If you’re reading this and still thinking, “no way,” then follow the tips below:

  • Plan to limit intake and set boundaries ahead of time 
  • Stay away from syrups, sugary fruit juices, creamy additives, and carbonation. Instead, stick to 5 oz of dry wine or diluted spirits.
  • Try making a low-sugar mocktail if you want to fit in with the crowd
  • Consume adequate amounts of water (48-64 oz daily)
  • Use a food and beverage tracking app

Alcohol dehydrates you, offers little to no nutritional value, and contains high calories. It’s important that you’re consuming healthy, nutrient-dense options after bariatric surgery. You’re most definitely not going to get this from an alcoholic beverage. 

Take away

Eating one unhealthy meal isn’t going to change your life and make you gain weight. The idea is to fall into consistent healthy patterns that involve exercise, better habits, and healthful eating strategies. Moral of story, enjoy the special occasions and remember that your normal, healthy routine will be happening the next morning. Enjoy the holiday season with the company of family and friends while also eating some of the foods you love (in moderation of course). Not all is lost if you overindulge a little. The important thing is to learn how to forgive yourself and move on with a healthier lifestyle.