Eating after stomach surgery
If you've had part of your stomach removed, the remaining stomach won't be able to hold as much food as before.
This video gives information about what to expect if you have had stomach cancer surgery.
To talk to someone about your questions and concerns about cancer, you can call the Macmillan Support Line on 0808 808 00 00
The information in this video was correct as of 20 May 2014.
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If you've had part of your stomach removed, you’ll feel full even after smaller meals. Over several months, your stomach will gradually stretch. Eventually, most people are able to eat the way they did before the operation.
If you had all of your stomach removed, the food you eat will go straight from your gullet into the small bowel. This won’t affect being able to digest food but the small bowel won’t hold as much as your stomach could. Your body will gradually adjust so that you’ll be able to eat more at one time.
You’ll feel full quite quickly when you eat or drink. You probably won’t feel like eating for a while and it’s common to lose some weight. You might find certain foods make you feel sick, or give you indigestion or diarrhoea. This should settle down when you know more about the foods that upset you. Keep a note of foods that cause you problems so you can limit or avoid them. This also helps your doctor or dietitian to know if you have a particular problem.
It can take a couple of months to get back to eating a balanced diet again. Try to eat as well as possible. This will help with your recovery. Here are some tips:
Softer foods are easier to eat for the first few weeks after your operation when you have swelling or bruising.
Eat several (6–8) small meals a day and have snacks with you when you go out.
Take your time to eat, try to relax and chew foods well – this will help with your digestion.
Avoid drinking half an hour before your meal and during it, because this will fill you up.
Have nourishing drinks instead of water, tea or coffee to give you more calories.
Add new foods to your diet one at a time to find out how you tolerate them.
To begin with, it’s not unusual to find it hard to keep your weight steady. You might never regain all the weight you lose. But in time, most people find their weight gradually becomes steady.
You’ll usually see a dietitian who will explain the effects the surgery has had on your diet. They’ll give you advice about eating a balanced diet and putting on weight. To gain weight, you need to find ways to add more energy (calories) and protein to your diet. You can do this by:
eating high-calorie foods, or adding more calories to your food by using things such as cream, butter or cheese
having nutritious, high-calorie or meal replacement drinks
adding energy or protein powder to food – these are available on prescription.
We have more information on a building-up diet as well as a video with tips for putting on weight.
Getting the vitamins and minerals you need
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After surgery, you may not be able to absorb certain vitamins and minerals from your food as well as before. You need these to keep healthy, so you may need to have them as an injection or as tablets.
Vitamin B12 is important for making healthy red blood cells. You need a chemical called intrinsic factor to absorb B12 from food. Intrinsic factor is made in the stomach. If all of your stomach was removed, your GP practice nurse will give you B12 injections every few months. If only part of your stomach was removed, your doctor will do a blood test to check your levels of B12 from time to time.
The stomach also helps to absorb other nutrients, especially folate (vitamin B9) and iron. These are important for making red blood cells and calcium, which we need for strong teeth and bones. Your doctor will do regular blood tests to check you’re getting enough of these nutrients from your diet.
Ask your dietitian for advice if you’re worried about your diet or your weight. If you don’t have a dietitian, your doctor or nurse can arrange for you to see one.
After stomach surgery, food may pass too quickly into the small bowel. This can cause a group of symptoms called dumping syndrome. There are two types of dumping syndrome: early and late.
Early dumping syndrome
Early dumping syndrome happens within 30 minutes of a meal. You may feel dizzy or faint, and your heart may start to beat faster. Some people also have tummy cramps and diarrhoea.
The symptoms may last for about 10–15 minutes and are caused by food entering the bowel quickly. Things you can do to help are:
have small, frequent, dry meals
have drinks 30–60 minutes after food
avoid meals high in added sugar, such as a bowl of sugary cereal
eat meals high in protein, such as fish, meat, eggs or tofu
eat starchy carbohydrates such as pasta, rice, bread and potatoes
rest for 15–30 minutes immediately after meals.
Early dumping syndrome often gets better on its own after a few months.
Late dumping syndrome
Late dumping syndrome happens a couple of hours after a meal, or when you’ve missed a meal. It’s caused by low blood sugar levels. You may suddenly feel faint, sick and shaky. If you have this, follow the same advice for early dumping syndrome. Taking glucose tablets or a small snack when the symptoms happen may also help. If late dumping syndrome doesn’t improve or your symptoms are severe, your doctor may prescribe a drug called octreotide or another similar drug to help.
We have more information about dietary problems after surgery for stomach cancer.