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Guidelines for Holiday Eating After Upper Digestive Surgery

By Gwen Spector, RN, BSN, COCN, CCP November 21, 2016Pearls of Wisdom Blog

Holiday time can be challenging when you had surgery to remove all or part of your esophagus, stomach or pancreas. You can still eat many of the traditional holiday meals you enjoyed before you had your surgery but you will need to make adjustments. The guidelines listed below will help you navigate the holidays more successfully.

Before the Holidays

  • Plan ahead and prepare for the challenges of the holiday meals.
  • Talk with your family and friends or whoever you will be spending the holidays with this year. Let them know your restrictions and discuss the menu options.
  • You may consider bringing a dish of your own, even if it’s not the “traditional” dish served at a holiday meal.
  • Check ingredients of food when shopping. If food is from the deli counter, ask questions from the staff to make sure you know what the ingredients are in the food you buy.
  • Schedule a time to speak one on one with PearlPoint’s Nutrition Educator by calling (877) 467-1936 x 101 or e-mailing

The Day of the Meal

General Guidelines:

  • Keep the same rules you were given after your surgery. “Cheating” could lead to serious complications.
  • Wear loose clothing that is not too tight around your belly.
  • Eat 6 small meals at regular intervals throughout the day. Space meals and snacks 2-3 hours apart. Use smaller plates, such as a salad or desert plate, to help keep portions smaller.
  • Take small bites, eat slowly, and chew your food well
  • Eat protein with every meal and snack. Having a lot of sugar alone can cause dumping syndrome.
  • Select foods that are easy to chew and digest like soft, tender, well cooked foods.
  • Eat sitting straight up and stay upright for at least 60 minutes.
  • Don’t overeat. Stop when you’re full.
  • Keep hydrated with water and beverages that are non-caffeinated, non-carbonated and not high in sugar. Drink most of your liquids at least 1 hour before or after your meals.

Special Considerations:

  • Be cautious of casseroles because they may have hidden ingredients that could bother you. It’s ok to question people about what’s in the food they made or brought.
  • Avoid foods that you find you don’t tolerate even if they’re on the approved list.
  • If you have diabetes, you may need to monitor your blood sugar more carefully.
  • If you’re a vegetarian, you need to make sure you get enough protein in your diet that comes from approved sources.
  • You should avoid reflux causing foods if you’ve had an Esophagectomy or you have reflux problems. This includes avoiding chocolate, mint, citrus juices and tomatoes.

Each type of surgery and phase of the post-operative period differs some in the food restrictions and allowances. Always follow your surgeon’s recommendations and check with him or her if you’re unsure. For more specific recommendations and restrictions check out the Esophagectomy Nutrition Guidelines and Gastrectomy Nutrition Guidelines on My PearlPoint.

Choosing Wisely

This is a general list of some of the foods that are and aren’t recommended after upper digestive cancer surgery.

Example of the New Holiday Plate:

  • Oven roasted, thinly sliced and moist turkey (2-3 ounces)
  • Gravy that’s not highly seasoned or fatty (1 Tablespoon)
  • Mashed sweet or white potatoes without skins (1/2 cup)
  • Margarine (2 teaspoons)
  • Cooked green beans (1/2 cup)

After Meals

  • Take a walk after you eat to help aid in digestion.
  • Eat your last meal of the day at least 3 hours before your bedtime.
  • Enjoy time with your family and friends.

Disclaimer: The information in this blog was compiled from the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics and PearlPoint. This does not replace the instructions from your surgeon.

Gwen Spector, RN, BSN, COCN, CCP

Author Gwen Spector, RN, BSN, COCN, CCP

Complex GI Cancer Nurse Navigator with Sarah Cannon Institute at Medical City Healthcare Gwen Spector, RN, BSN, COCN, CCP is a nurse navigator specializing in complex GI health at Sarah Cannon at Medical City Plano in Plano, TX. She is also a certified chronic care professional health coach and enjoys educating patients and families.

More posts by Gwen Spector, RN, BSN, COCN, CCP

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