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Eating and Drinking after Gastrointestinal Surgery

Date issued: March 2023

Review date: March 2025

Ref: C-522/DR/Dietetics/Eating and Drinking after Gastrointestinal Surgery

PDF:  Eating and Drinking after Gastrointestinal Surgery final March 2023.pdf [pdf] 127KB

After you have had gastrointestinal surgery, your surgical team will advise you when to start eating and drinking again.  Often you will start with drinking clear fluids only and then gradually progress to eating food.  The time taken to recover after surgery and for you to then start eating and drinking again will vary from person to person and on the surgery you have had.   

Your surgeon will advise you on how quickly you can build up your diet.  When you are allowed to start eating again you will be advised to introduce small portions of easy to chew and low fibre foods that are simple to digest often referred to as “light diet”.  The diet is very limited and generally not intended to be followed for long periods of time; some patients may continue to have restrictions after surgery. 

Stages to building up your diet after surgery:

  1. Clear fluids: water, weak squash, weak black tea/coffee, clear soup (Bovril® drink) and jelly.  You may be advised to take small ‘sips’ of clear fluids throughout the day.

  2. Free fluids: includes any clear fluids plus tea/coffee with milk, milk and milky drinks such as hot chocolate and ice cream. Nutritional drinks such as Ensure Plus®/Complan®/Aymes® milkshakes/soups are available on the ward.

  3. Small portions of low fibre and easy to chew foods:  See table below for examples of suitable food choices.

  4. Return to usual diet: Your surgical team will advise you on when to start increasing the variety of your diet.  Have small, frequent meals & snacks to begin with, gradually building up over the weeks.  Try to include protein foods such as meat, vegetarian/vegan protein, fish, eggs, cheese, and milk in at least 2 meals per day as this will help with the healing process after surgery. If you have lost your appetite, are losing weight or are struggling to eat, speak to your surgical team or nurse or contact the Dietitian’s on the number overleaf for more information. 

Food to have and avoid


Foods to have

Foods to avoid





Smooth yogurt

Cornflakes or Rice Krispies® with milk

White bread or toast with butter/margarine and seedless jam

Glass of milk

Wheat or bran-based cereal i.e., Shredded Wheat®, Weetabix®, Ready Brek®

Wholemeal bread or toast






Sandwich on white bread with cheese, tuna, ham, or egg


Mashed potatoes

Mashed root vegetables

Macaroni cheese

Cottage/fish pie

Wholemeal or wholegrain bread, pasta or rice

Beans and lentils

Potato skins

Green vegetables, sweetcorn and salad


Snacks and Puddings

Rice pudding


Smooth yogurt




Fruit with pips, seeds and skins






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