A Bariatric-Friendly Thanksgiving

A Bariatric-Friendly Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving is arguably the biggest food holiday in this country. People are encouraged to eat to the point of needing to sleep. How do you enjoy the holiday after surgery when your relationship with food has changed?

First of all, food doesn’t need to be everything. Enjoy time with family and friends with non-food activities. Participate in a “turkey trot” walk or jog. Turn up the music and dance with your kids, grandkids, nieces, or nephews. Pull out the board games. Watch old family videos. There are lots of ways to spend your day without the focus on food. But eventually, you will be seated around the table for the big meal.

Turkey – Enjoy this protein-based food! Each ounce of turkey has 7 grams of protein and even the dark meat is relatively low in fat. The dark meat (legs, wings, and thighs) is more moist than the light meat so you may tolerate the dark meat best. Keep the skin on the turkey while it’s cooking to lock in the moisture. If you deep-fry or pan-fry your turkey, avoid eating the skin soaks up the oil and may feel too greasy for your stomach.

Gravy – Gravy is a condiment. Just like salad dressings, you can put some on the side and dip each bite of turkey into it. If you are sensitive to high-fat foods, gravy will likely be too rich for your stomach. Trader Joe’s makes boxed turkey gravy that is low in fat and still has good flavor.

Potatoes – The nutrition profile really changes based on how your potatoes are prepared – mashed, baked, roasted, twice-baked. Potatoes are a starchy vegetable and they contain many nutrients in their skins. Sweet potatoes are very high in vitamin A, which is how they get their orange color, but they are still a starchy vegetable. Because of their dense, starchy texture, they may feel heavy in your stomach. You can slim down mashed potatoes by using skim milk or plain Greek yogurt to add creaminess in place of butter or cream. You can also swap cauliflower in place of potatoes for a dish lower in calories and carbohydrates that feels lighter on your stomach.

Stuffing – This staple of the Thanksgiving plate might not feel good in your stomach since it is bread-based. Bread products tend to swell up in the stomach and make you feel uncomfortably full. You can try a small amount of the real deal or experiment with reducing the bread and adding more vegetables. Eggplant, butternut squash, mushrooms, and chickpeas can add bulk to a stuffing in place of bread.

Green Beans – The casserole version with cream of mushroom soup and fried onions will likely be too rich for your stomach. How about roasting your green beans and topping with good quality Parmesan cheese? Or sautéing with some garlic and olive oil? These are great cooking methods for any Thanksgiving vegetable including Brussels sprouts, broccoli, and carrots.

Dessert – Sweet foods can be as problematic for the stomach as high-fat foods. They can cause dumping syndrome in extreme cases, or nausea in more mild cases. For many people, a couple small bites are all they need to feel satisfied with sweets after surgery. If that’s your situation, have some of the real deal and savor each small bite. If you are looking for a slightly larger quantity, there are lots of bariatric-friendly dessert ideas, including protein shake ice cream, sugar-free pudding “cheesecakes”, and protein balls.

My favorite bariatric food resource is The World According to Eggface blog: http://theworldaccordingtoeggface.blogspot.com . Shelly has been blogging about delicious bariatric-friendly recipes for 13 years. Use the ‘Search’ function to find Thanksgiving recipes that will delight everyone at your table, whether or not they’ve had surgery. Happy Thanksgiving!



The way we eat, the when we eat, the how we eat, and the why we eat is motivated by many forces. Most of us will recognize and admit to eating for reasons other than hunger. Maybe you associate TV watching with chips or popcorn. A fight with your partner is soothed by ice cream. Have you ever gone to the state fair feeling full or satisfied and want to eat funnel cakes anyway? Just the smell alone of funnel cakes wafting your way brings back carefree childhood memories of fun at the fair. If you eat one, even though you aren’t hungry, maybe you can feel that way again. The taste, texture, and smell of certain foods can flood your mind with memories.

Regardless of the society, culture, religion or ethnicity, we are taught from a young age to associate pain, suffering, happiness, celebration, depression, and a vast array of other emotions with food. Sometimes it is a formal teaching via our faith where certain foods are eaten to play a part in religious ceremonies. Other times, under less formal circumstances, we are taught from our mothers to treat the pain and humiliation of being stood up at the prom with a milk shake. Celebrating a win from a game? Let’s have a pizza! Is it Christmas? Well then, we must have cookies.  

You can start learning about your eating habits by writing down what and when you eat and what you are feeling when you eat it. I’ll bet it isn’t hunger. At some point, to really make progress with your weight loss, you need to uncouple. You need to disassociate doughnuts and disappointment, boredom and beer nuts, suffering and sundaes. You need to uncouple these emotions and experiences with food. Food is many things, but it is not therapy. It is not a tonic. It is not a coping mechanism. After all, if you are disappointed before you start eating, think how disappointed you will feel after eating those doughnuts. What will follow is another wave of emotions, usually self-doubt, defeat, self-deficiency and failing. Now how did that doughnut serve you? Sounds to me like you just rode a roller coaster of self-destructive behavior that brought you back to the same place that you started. Wanna go for another ride?

Uncouple. The next time you are sad. Stop. Think. Maybe you should be sad. It is okay to feel sad at some point in your life. Why are you sad? It is okay to feel. It may be uncomfortable and sometimes unpleasant, but that’s okay. Sadness is natural. Spend your time wondering why you are sad and how you can feel better without food. You can talk it over with a friend, family member or counselor. Share your sadness. Often just talking about it and expressing your emotion verbally is enough release you from its grip.

Uncouple emotion from the food. Food is not the cure. Smell the funnel cakes, remember your feelings of youth and happiness. Tell the story in your head to a friend or your spouse. Eating the funnel cake will not return you to a happier time. You cannot step into a funnel cake and slide down a magical hole to a happier place. You will more likely wind up in a pool of tears like Alice did.

Feelings are part of the human experience. Stop being afraid to experience. When we admit we have feelings and emotions, we are vulnerable. Vulnerability is a dangerous place. It will take time to sort through the doughnuts and cookies in your life, but until you allow yourself this indulgence you will continue to medicate and manage with food. By exposing yourself to your feelings you will find a new beginning and a new emotion. Success!