What to Eat After Colectomy Surgery

Ensuring Good Nutrition Without Complications

yogurt
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If you've had any type of colectomy surgery, chances are you've been told you need to follow a colectomy diet. As your colon heals from surgery, there are foods that are easier and harder to digest. Some foods may help ease your symptoms, while others may complicate them. By knowing the difference can help speed your recovery and put back onto a more routine and stable diet.

Post-Surgical Nutrition

For the first 2 to 3 days after a colectomy, you'll probably receive only IV fluids to give your colon time to heal. After that, you'll be transitioned to a clear liquid diet. As the name implies, this means only liquids that you can see through, such as broth, fruit juices without pulp (for example, apple juice), sodas, and gelatin.

Once you're ready to start eating solid food again, the first foods you eat will be easy-to-digest foods, such as toast and oatmeal.

Foods to Eat

Some of the common symptoms you might experience after a colectomy include diarrhea, dehydration, and gas. These symptoms can happen because your colon has not yet resumed normal functioning. One of the things the colon does is absorb liquid—if it's not doing that properly, diarrhea and dehydration may result.

Foods that are easy-to-digest and can help to minimize diarrhea include:

  • Applesauce
  • Bananas, pears, peaches, and melons
  • Boiled white rice
  • Cooked beets, spinach
  • White bread or toast
  • Cream of rice or cream of wheat
  • Low-sugar cereals (avoid high fiber cereals such as wheat bran)
  • Pasta
  • Peanut butter
  • Potatoes
  • Pretzels
  • Yogurt
  • Tapioca and angel food cake

Other easy-to-get soft, low-residue foods include eggs, cooked fish or tender meat, mild cheese, soft-cooked fruits or vegetables, puddings, sherbet, and ice cream.

Food to Avoid

Since you are still healing, it's best to avoid foods that might carry the risk of infection, such as non-pasteurized soft cheeses (choose only pasteurized cheese), undercooked meat, or uncooked fish (avoid sushi for the time being). Be sure to wash any fruits or vegetables thoroughly.

Not only may you be more susceptible to an infection, but food poisoning shortly after a colectomy could very well land you back in the hospital.

If you have nausea, vomiting, or diarrhea upon returning home from a colectomy, call your doctor immediately. Violent vomiting in particular can lead to an incisional hernia, a common complication of colectomy surgery.

Foods to Limit

You will be able to go back to your normal diet after surgery, but you may find that some foods you used to eat are difficult to digest. It is best to avoid these foods for now. Over time, your body will adjust and you should be able to eat what you want. No two people respond the same way after a colectomy, so you take your time to find out which foods work for you and which don't.

If you're unsure about a certain food, start by eating smaller quantities, adding a little bit more with each meal. Eating a smaller variety of foods also makes it easier to identify which food is responsible if something doesn't agree with you.

It is generally better to eat smaller meals every three hours or so rather than overtaxing your digestive tract with one large meal. Snacking also keeps the digestion moving and helps minimize constipation or diarrhea.

Among the foods you may need to limit until your body adjusts to a colectomy include:

  • Raw vegetables, particularly "gassy" vegetables like broccoli, brussels sprouts, cauliflower, radishes, and asparagus
  • Other less-digestible vegetables such as celery, corn, mushrooms, and, onion
  • Skins and peels of fruit, particularly acid fruit
  • Dried fruits, such as raisins and dates
  • Dairy products
  • High-fiber food such as wheat bran cereals and bread
  • Beans, peas, and lentils
  • Nuts and seeds (especially if you have diverticulosis)
  • Popcorn
  • Brown rice and wild rice
  • Cakes, pies, cookies, and other baked sweets
  • High-fat and fried food
  • Beer, red wine, and hard liquor
  • Hot soup or drinks
  • Caffeine, including coffee and chocolate
  • Very spicy food
  • Licorice
  • Prune juice

It can take time for your body to readjust to high-fiber foods. Try adding back one high-fiber food at a time so you don't overwhelm your system (which can lead to constipation). Remain patient and listen to your body as you slowly advance your diet. If you feel sick to your stomach or full, then stop eating or slow down. 

Other Eating Tips

In addition to eating the right foods, be sure to drink plenty of water (8 to 10 cups per day) to help your body digest food and eliminate waste. Some people find it helpful to place a full pitcher of water in the fridge each day, to make sure they get enough fluids. Your fluids don't all have to be water; apple juice and cranberry juice count as part of your requirements as well.

Chewing your food very well is important after a colectomy, and most of us do not chew our food enough. Try to chew your food until it has a liquid-y texture before swallowing. This is especially important with meats, or larger foods which might cause a blockage if not broken down before swallowing.

Irrespective of your condition, it is important to maintain a healthy, balanced diet. If needed, work with a dietitian to design a plan with the right amount of carbs, fats, and proteins based on your age, weight, and level of physical activity.

A Word From Verywell

If you are worried about eating after colectomy surgery (or have a loved one undergoing the surgery), please speak with your doctor and dietician, so you can transition well and confidently.

Don't be afraid to ask very specific questions about what you can or can't eat. Making sure that all of your questions are answered before you leave the hospital can go a long way towards ensuring your comfort when you go home.

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Article Sources
  • University of Pittsburgh Schools of the Health Sciences. Ostomy Nutrition Guide.
  • U.S. National Library of Medicine. Medline Plus. Total Colectomy or Proctocolectomy Discharge.