Eating after surgery

After surgery for stomach cancer, your body will need time to adjust. Certain foods may cause you problems. Keeping a note of these can help.

Short-term problems usually improve with time:

  • feeling full quickly – try to have several (6–8) small meals a day
  • weight loss – high-calorie or meal replacement drinks can help
  • dumping syndrome ( food passing into the small bowel too quickly) – you may feel faint or dizzy. Resting for 15– 30 minutes after a meal can help
  • indigestion – your doctor can prescribe medicines to help with this.

Your doctor, nurse or dietitian will give you advice on managing these.

Other problems can include diarrhoea or vomiting. Tell your doctor if this happens, they can prescribe medicines to help.

Occasionally some people find it too difficult to eat enough food. They may need to be fed through a tube for a short time.

Some people have later problems after surgery. This can include not being able to absorb certain vitamins as well as before. You can have these as tablets or injections.

After stomach surgery

You probably won’t feel like eating for a while and it’s common to lose some weight. Softer foods are easier to eat for the first few weeks after your operation when you have swelling or bruising.

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. Add new foods to your diet one at a time to find out how you tolerate them.

It can take a couple of months to get back to eating a balanced diet again. Try to eat as well as possible, this can help with your recovery.

Eating after stomach cancer surgery

Eating after stomach cancer surgery

Specialist dietitian Claudia Rueb talks about what to expect when you have had stomach surgery.

About our cancer information videos

Eating after stomach cancer surgery

Specialist dietitian Claudia Rueb talks about what to expect when you have had stomach surgery.

About our cancer information videos

Dietary problems

People can have different types of dietary problem after stomach surgery. These problems can generally be divided into:

  • early problems that happen straight away or soon after the surgery
  • late problems that happen a few weeks or months after surgery. For example, you may not be able to absorb certain vitamins and minerals from your food as well as before. You may need to have them as an injection or as tablets.

Here are some possible early problems and how they can be managed.

Feeling full after eating and drinking

If you’ve had part of your stomach removed, the remaining stomach won’t be able to hold as much food as before. 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 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.

  • Eat several (6–8) small meals a day and have snacks with you when you go out.
  • Avoid drinking half an hour before your meal and during it, because this will fill you up.
  • High fibre foods, such as large portions of fruit, vegetables and wholegrain cereals can make you feel full very quickly – you may need to be careful with these.

Weight loss

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.

Boosting your weight

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 instead of water, tea or coffee
  • adding energy or protein powder to food – these are available on prescription.

Poor appetite

You may have poor appetite due to changes to the structure of the stomach after surgery.

Surgery can also change the production of hormones, which help control appetite. Eating little and often may help to stimulate your appetite. You can ask your dietitian for further advice.


Indigestion or reflux (a backward flow of stomach juices or bile into the gullet) can happen after any stomach surgery.

Take your time to eat, try to relax and chew foods well – this will help with your digestion. Avoid fizzy drinks, alcohol and spicy foods if you notice they make your symptoms worse.

Indigestion can also be caused by wind trapped in the digestive system. Wind can be reduced by drinking peppermint water or taking charcoal tablets. These are available from pharmacies.

Reflux can cause soreness and inflammation of the lining of the gullet. This can be reduced by antacid medicines, such as Gaviscon®, Maalox® and Aludrox®.

Your GP or cancer specialist can give you advice about reflux and prescribe antacid medicines for you.

Dumping syndrome

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
  • eat slowly
  • have drinks 30–60 minutes after food
  • avoid meals high in added sugar, such as a bowl of sugary cereal
  • eat meals high in proteins 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 foods that are high in carbohydrate being released from the stomach into the small bowel. This causes a rise in blood sugar levels as the carbohydrate is absorbed. Large amounts of insulin are released into the blood as a response to this. The insulin levels continue to rise after the blood sugar levels have begun to fall. The high insulin level causes the symptoms.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.


Diarrhoea can happen in short episodes for a few days or weeks after surgery, before the bowel returns to normal. Everyone is different, so it’s difficult to predict how long it may last or how many times a day you’ll get diarrhoea. Some people may have diarrhoea once a day, while others may have it a few times a day.

Taking an anti-diarrhoea drug called loperamide (Imodium®) regularly in the morning can sometimes help.

As the diarrhoea is due to the effects of the surgery, it may not be possible to reduce it by changing the foods you eat. If you find that some foods particularly affect your bowel, it may help to avoid them, but it’s best not to exclude too many foods from your diet.

Let your doctor or specialist nurse know if your diarrhoea doesn’t improve, as they will be able to give you advice.

Bilious vomiting

This usually happens first thing in the morning. People find they have stomach pain and a feeling of fullness when they wake up. This is relieved by vomiting clear fluid, which has some dark brown fluid (bile) in it.

Vomiting in this way can be very distressing, but it may only last for a short time. The cause is quite complicated, and it usually happens after part of the stomach has been removed (a partial gastrectomy).

Some drugs that affect the digestive system may help control bilious vomiting. These include domperidone (Motilium®) and metoclopramide (Maxolon®). However, some people find that none of the treatments they are given are effective, so they may need to learn to live with the condition.

If the symptoms are severe and frequent, reconstructive surgery is sometimes possible. Your surgeon can discuss the possible benefits and risks of this with you.

Managing eating problems

Many of the problems mentioned here improve gradually over time. You may need to make long-term changes to your daily eating patterns, such as eating smaller meals more regularly, to reduce or control these problems. A very small number of people will find it difficult to eat enough food and may need to be fed artificially via a tube (enteral feeding). Tube feeding is usually only needed for a short time. Your doctor will discuss tube feeding with you if necessary.

Your dietitian and clinical nurse specialist can give you further information, support and advice about any of these problems.

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