If you’ve been following along on the journey that I recently took into caregiving for my mother after surgery, you know by now that it has been a truly eye-opening experience.
My mother has always been an influential part of my life. She’s been a constant companion and a source of both comfort and mentorship as I’ve grown into adulthood. Seeing her in a weakened state is tough and needing to care for her after surgery has been a very existential experience.
I had to quickly learn, first hand, what it means to be a caretaker for an older adult. More-so, I wanted to quickly understand what would be needed to keep her healthy and happy after her surgery. One of those needs was a proper, post surgery diet that would help reduce inflammation and chronic pain.
Luckily, food is something that has always been important to me. Like anyone, I love a night out at the neighborhood hotspots. It’s actually pretty hard to keep me and my husband away from the latest restaurant on a Saturday night, especially if they use phrases on their menu like “farm to table”, “locally sourced”, or, to be totally honest, “deep fried”. But, outside of a feast of shared plates with friends, I also have a pretty good understanding of how different foods interact with the body. After all, I do tend to eat a healthy diet when I’m not dining out.
The latter is what helped me when I was looking to create a diet and meal plan for my mom that would help her feel her best and recover speedily from her surgery.
There are loads of side effects on the body from surgery. According to Johns Hopkins, people can experience nausea, sore throat, restlessness, thirst, or even constipation and gas caused by the trauma to their body. Compound the reactions that people have with the surgery itself to the havoc that antibiotics and pain pills can wreak on the patient’s gut, and you find yourself in a heck of a quandary.
I realized right away that it was going to be crucial to get my mom onto a diet that would help her feel comfortable. I wanted to be sure she was getting the right nutrients. I wanted to know she was eating food that would help her body heal. I needed to be sure that I was doing everything in my power to help her feel as relaxed and settled as possible.
I’m not going to deny that laughter is the best medicine, but I do think there is a strong argument that food is equally important.
Below, I’ll go over a bit of the research that helped me understand what sort of diet is best when recovering from surgery and a couple of super simple recipes that fit into that mold that my mom seemed to enjoy during her recovery.
A Low FODMAP Diet
A low FODMAP diet is what you want to think about when your loved one is recovering from surgery.
“What’s a FODMAP,” you ask? Well, that stands for Fermentable Oligosaccharides, Disaccharides, Monosaccharides And Polyols. But you don’t need to know that. I actually just looked it up myself.
What you want to know about FODMAPs is that they are short-chain carbohydrates that the small intestine has a hard time digesting. This leads to more fluid and gas in the bowels which means bloating, pain, and diarrhea. Three things that nobody recovering from surgery wants to deal with. In addition to these not-so-fun symptoms, bad bacteria will feed on the carbs and sugars in your diet, so, particularly when on antibiotics, it’s important to decrease the chance of growing bad bacteria in your digestive system.
If you can decrease the number of FODMAPs that you’re eating, it should decrease the symptoms and make your loved one feel much more comfortable while recovering from surgery.
To be perfectly blunt, keeping a low FODMAP diet is not that simple. This isn’t just about cutting out bread. According to the American Gastroenterological Association, just a few examples of common, high-FODMAP foods include apples, nectarines, watermelon, beans, cauliflower, mushrooms, and even certain dairy products and some natural sweeteners like honey or corn syrup.
To make things easier on yourself, I’d recommend downloading an app that will help track FODMAPs. One that I really liked is this one from Monash University. There is specific information about all sorts of common foods, within this app, that can help make your decisions simple when at the grocery store and cooking dinner.
Of course, the other thing that you need to note when it comes to this diet, or really any diet for that matter, is that the first few days might be tough. If the person that you’re caring for isn’t used to a low carb or low sugar diet, it might take a little bit of time for their body to stop craving those elements.
Take it a day at a time and don’t necessarily eliminate everything all at once. It’s okay to slowly balance their diet to something that works, and you want to be sure that they are still happy. Food can be comforting, so be sure to balance things out between health and comfort. At the very least, cut out refined sugar, gluten, processed foods, and beans.
Smoothies are an outstanding way to give a sweet fix to your loved one as they recover from surgery without sending them over the edge with food that will hinder their healing. Just be sure to use your FODMAP app and choose your ingredients wisely.
My mom’s absolutely favorite smoothie was a mix of:
- Frozen Dragon Fruit (you can substitute with kiwi – also low FODMAP)
- ¼ of an avocado
- Nut milk of your choice
- A handful of pecans
We’re of course talking about a low FODMAP diet, so it’s okay to have some carbs and sugars. It’s really all about balance and making sure that the carb intake is low during a 48-72 hour period.
Flavor Their Water
Staying hydrated is incredibly important while recovering from any sort of illness or surgery. But we all know how much of a pain it can be to drink glass after glass of water when we already aren’t feeling well. That’s why I started flavoring my mom’s water with natural ingredients.
This is actually a trick that helps me stay hydrated as I always find it hard to drink the recommended amount of water (it’s 2.7 – 3.7 liters / day if you were curious).
Why should cucumber water be reserved for hotel conferences and country clubs? It’s so easy to slice up a cucumber and add it to a pitcher or a glass of water. I would do the same with strawberries. And if you want a really fun trick, throw a few seedless red grapes in the freezer and use them as ice cubes. This gave my mom something fun and refreshing to chew on after she finished her glass.
Keep Dinner Light & Healthy
Don’t get me wrong, I love a hearty bowl of spaghetti and meatballs or a butter basted steak with a side of mashed potatoes, but even in my best of moments, those meals leave me feeling bloated, lethargic, and wishing I had eaten less.
While trying to help my mom with a proper post surgery diet, I not only wanted to help her with low FODMAP foods, but by serving her dishes that would be satisfying without being heavy.
One favorite of my mom’s was a macadamia nut crusted halibut along with a cup of lightly buttered rice and some broccoli crowns (oddly enough, the stems are not low FODMAP).
Another satisfying and healthy dish was a simple grilled chicken breast with a side of sautéed bok choy. This is the sort of meal that is light, simple, healthy, but can be satisfying at the same time.
Don’t Forget Breakfast
I often find breakfast to be a tough category when it comes to eating healthy and it was no different when thinking about what to serve to my mom while she recovered from her surgery. It’s sort of amazing how bad most breakfast items are for your body. Cereals, pancakes, bagels, toast with jam – it’s all just carbs and sugars.
One thing my mom loved that actually fit into the FODMAP diet was a sort of “anti-inflammatory” oatmeal. Essentially, this was just some old fashioned oats to which I added a dash of turmeric, cinnamon, ground ginger, vanilla extract, a dollop of maple syrup, and a bit of nut milk of your choice (I’m a macadamia milk lover myself).
All Said And Done
Just like you, I have a hard enough time eating healthy for myself. Trying to develop a diet for someone after surgery is not an easy feat and being able to actually take the time to implement that diet is even tougher.
The goal here is balance. Make sure your mom or your dad or whomever you are caring for is comfortable. This is of utmost importance. Try to cut as much of the refined sugars and gluten out of their diet as possible, but don’t do anything to the point that they are suffering. And all things said and done, it’s totally okay to have a cheat day when you both need it.
And just like I mentioned when speaking about making a loved one comfortable after surgery, it’s important to think about yourself as well. While you might not be in the mood to start a new diet, sharing along in a diet similar to the one you’ve created for your loved one will help you feel your best as well. No better time to give it a shot!