How to Plan Your Meals in the Maintenance Phase Post-WLS

Article By: Whittany Gibson, RDN

Whittany is a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist who specializes in bariatric nutrition counseling, and owner of Level Up Bariatrics, LLC, a bariatric lifestyle coaching program that provides pre and post-op support for weight loss surgery patients. Learn more on Instagram (@level_up_bariatrics).

Contrary to what you might think, entering the "maintenance phase" after bariatric surgery (typically around 12-18 months post-op) doesn’t mean it’s time to coast and relax. It’s quite the opposite. Up to this point, it has likely been relatively easy for the weight to disappear, but now it has slowed or even plateaued for an extended period. Going forward, it will be essential to practice healthy habits and consistency more than you ever have before to avoid weight gain. Regular exercise, eating high-quality foods, and keeping a healthy mindset will be a priority. None of this is intended to scare anyone but to help you understand the gravity of the choices you make  or the ones you don’t make. In this blog post, I’ll share my top tips for meal planning, as the post-WLS world can very much revolve around your food patterns and choices. The truth is, there’s not one way to do it. You have to go with what works for you in your life. So, let’s jump in!

1) Stick to a consistent meal schedule. One of the most important aspects of meal planning is establishing a consistent eating schedule. You should eat three small meals and two snacks daily at regular intervals. Skipping meals or eating irregularly can slow your metabolism and lead to overeating, energy crashes, and cravings later in the day. You should avoid grazing or unplanned snacking outside of meal times, as this can sabotage your weight loss efforts. Set boundaries with yourself to take the decision-making out of the equation.

2) Go for quality over quantity. Remember that not all foods are created equal, and as a WLS patient, it’s easy to depend on convenient packaged foods and supplements. But you’ll need to incorporate more whole foods to prioritize your nutrition and care for your body to keep you going! When selecting your weekly meals, choose nutrient-dense options like lean proteins, healthy fats, whole grains, fresh fruits, and vegetables. These options provide the nutrients your body needs to maintain good health, pack fewer calories, and help you feel fuller for longer periods. Additionally, consuming fewer high-calorie, low-nutrition food options will leave more room for healthy, nutrient-dense foods in your diet!

3) Prep your meals in advance. Meal prepping is a game-changer for staying on track with your weight-loss goals. Prepping your meals in advance helps you avoid impulse purchases while grocery shopping, reduces the need to dine out, and, most importantly, helps to ensure that healthy meals are always available. By doing this alone, you save on calories, avoid unnecessary ingredients, and save money! Whether you choose to meal prep for the week, a couple of days, or just a single day, planning helps you stay consistent in maintaining a healthy diet.

4) Be mindful of portion sizes. It’s easy to start eating larger portions after WLS as you become more comfortable with food varieties. It’s also important to remember that even healthy options must be consumed in moderation. When measuring portion sizes, try using a food scale, measuring cups, bowls, or plates you know are appropriately measured, or even just your hands. Stick to your 5-6 small meal pattern routine and keep the amounts as consistent as possible. Your “limit” depends on your restriction, but you can always return to the average one-cup portion size for consistency.

5) Determine your calorie and macronutrient needs. Shifting your mindset from restrictive diets to viewing food as fuel is essential for long-term success. Without the right amount of fuel, your goals will be harder to achieve. As you increase your exercise and activity levels, adjusting your calorie intake accordingly is crucial — especially if you aim to increase muscle mass and continue to burn fat (which is highly recommended). However, determining the exact numbers can be daunting and sometimes unrealistic. Standard formulas for calculating caloric needs have not been validated for those who have lost significant weight or undergone WLS. That's where an experienced bariatric dietitian can help. Your dietitian can help you determine a baseline for your needs. However, keep in mind that it's not a one-size-fits-all solution. It will take time and experimentation to find what works best for you.

Maintaining your weight-loss goals following weight-loss surgery is a significant milestone. By following these tips for meal planning and being mindful of the nutrients you consume daily, you’ll be one step closer to achieving long-term success and maintaining optimal health. Remember to stay consistent, be patient, and view each lapse as a lesson rather than a failure. We hope these tips help enhance your weight loss journey and keep you on track toward a healthier you!

BariMelts provides general recommendations, not to be construed as medical advice. Please consult your doctor.

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