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Fast Food On The Road / Bariatric Edition

Let’s face it, Fast Food Happens Sometimes.  We are busy.  We have jobs to do, kids to raise, family to visit, houses to keep clean.  When have you ever heard someone say, “I wish I had less time”?  Um, never.  Some of my clients work on the road.  They are urgently awaiting their bariatric surgery but healthy eating is a big concern for them.  They have fewer options for healthy meals than some of us do. 


One of my clients last week expressed this exact concern and I thought it would make an excellent topic for my weekly blog.  Let’s dive into it and figure out a way to perform the pre-op diet, post-op diet, plus regular bariatric diet while being limited to what’s “out there”, on the road.


Let’s get started…. The pre-op diet.

These are general guidelines for the pre-op bariatric diet.  They change according to your age, medications, health history, BMI, etc.  Reach out to your bariatric nutritionist if you have specific questions regarding your specific case.


3 protein shakes each day, 3 servings of cottage cheese or yogurt, and one meal, which consists of protein and veggies.


When on the road, today you can find protein shakes at gas stations, pharmacies, convenience stores, and let’s not forget big box stores like Walmart.  They all have pre-made shakes, ready to consume.  If you are not a fan of these shakes, you can visit any pharmacy and grab a tub of protein powder, which you can mix in a hand-held shaker with your choice of water, milk, or plant-based milk.  I’ve also seen a lot of people post about their “nutrition centers”, which sell protein shakes with exotic names and delicious flavors.  These are like ordering a fancy coffee from Starbucks.  You can design them to your specific tastes.


Now that we’ve tackled the “shake on the road” issue, let’s talk about cottage cheese and yogurt.  These two items can be found at basically the same places that you find protein shakes.  We see the single-sized servings at gas stations and convenience stores.  Sure, we may not find hundreds of different brand names but there are sufficient options for the general public.  Read labels and choose one that is lower in carbs and higher in proteins.


Next up, one meal a day that consists of protein and low-carb vegetables.  Where can we find this on the road?  Enter, Fast Food ….

The easiest way to get protein and veg? Order a salad at any of our popular fast food places.  Order the grilled chicken salad, minus the dressing, and croutons. You will get a tray of chicken and cold chopped veggies.  Instead of using the dressing that comes in the little packages, upgrade your salad dressing by using olive oil, with a squeeze of lemon/ lime, or a bit of vinegar.  I am a fan of apple cider vinegar, but you can use the regular kind.  Another option is to bring your favorite “healthier salad dressing” with you in a small container if you know you will be out on the road with nothing but fast food/restaurant options.


If you cannot get a salad option at the take-out window, why not see if you can get a “protein burger”?  Sure, it’s not ideal but it will give you a burger wrapped in lettuce leaves.  It’s better than tucking into the regular super-sized value meals.


If you have the luxury of stopping at a diner or a restaurant, order the chicken/veggie soup.  Or you could have the salmon with a salad, a small steak with green beans, chicken with a side of veggies, or maybe a 3 egg omelet with mushrooms, peppers, tomatoes, and onions. Choose a protein and complement it with veggies.


Sure, following the pre-op diet is easier if you are at home but, it doesn’t mean that it is not possible while out on the road.  The biggest inconvenience for me would be meal planning (obviously).  But, scoping out different menus online, can assist me when I am trying to stick to a certain style of eating.  You can call it keto, or low-carb, or vegan/ vegetarian, or even the pre-op/ post-op bariatric diet.


Let’s talk post-op.  Yes, when you are post-op, we are adding foods back very slowly, and just popping past the drive-thru window is not going to be the easiest option.  You will be consuming clear liquids for the first week.  Your best friend will be plain water, bone broth, herbal teas, and one protein shake each day.  Today at Walmart and many larger supermarkets, you can find bone broth, that you can heat and sip right out of the container. 


After week one, I add back cottage cheese, creamed soups, Greek yogurt, mashed avocados, refried beans, mashed berries, etc.  You can find these items at any grocery store.  We’ve covered the protein shakes, yogurt, and cottage cheese in the first part of this blog.  Avocados?  You can find them anywhere.  Grab a ripe one, grab a knife/ fork, split that baby down the middle, pull out the seed and mash the avocado right in the shell.  Add a squeeze of lemon or lime.  Dig in.  Chew a lot.  This is like a little meal already in its own avocado shell plate. Refried beans?  Today, every 2nd restaurant is a Mexican one.  Use Siri and Google Maps and find a Mexican restaurant.  Order some refried beans “to go”, or sit down and order some chicken soup.  Sopa de Pollo can be found on almost every Mexican restaurant’s menu.  Take out the bits of chicken and sip on the warm broth.


After week two, it’s eggs to the rescue.  I like to call this week my “high protein week” and I add back fish at the same time.  Eggs and Fish?  Where do I find these while on the road?  The first option is at any restaurant.  The next option for me would be at the gas stations, I can get hard-boiled eggs.  Sprinkle some salt, grab some napkins.  McDonald’s makes the famous egg McMuffin.  Grab one, remove the bun, and ham, and eat the egg part.  Order the breakfast special – minus everything but the eggs. 


After week three, if all is going well, I will add back high-quality deli meat, chicken, shrimp, and a few bites of raw veggies (baby cucumbers, cherry tomatoes).  I can order a small amount of high-quality deli meat at most supermarkets.  For chicken, I can order a grilled chicken sandwich at most fast food places.  I can ditch the bun and eat a few bites of the chicken.


Food waste is an issue for me but if you take your time and order well, you can eliminate the “extra food”, so as not to have to throw it away.  


By one month post-op, most of my clients are on a “full diet”.  This means that they “can” eat most foods.  This is when I use the “should” word A LOT.  Here is an example.  “Can I eat pasta, rice, bread, cookies”?  “You can, but should you”? Your stomach will tolerate most foods, but you need to make exceptional decisions at this point.  You should always look for the protein content first, and then add some veggies to it.  Or, if it’s something like Greek yogurt, you can lift the nutrient content by adding a teaspoon of pumpkin seeds and a small handful of blueberries.


Post-operatively, the desire to eat out at restaurants is waning.  The reason it becomes less important is that your portion size is so small.  It’s almost embarrassing, how tiny your portions become.  Look to the appetizer menus and the soups on offer.  If you want to make healthy food choices, there will be something available for you in most places.


Remember, this is a phase.  This is the early post-op stage.  The bariatric tool will stretch a bit with time and it will get a lot easier to eat larger portions.  Please sit back and enjoy this “newbee stage”.  It doesn’t last forever and you will miss the days of taking two bites of food and feeling very satisfied.  This too shall pass and the idea is to have ALL the excess weight gone, and lifestyle changes in place to help with maintenance long-term.


As you can see, living a fast passed life, or living a life on the road, doesn’t mean that you cannot adhere to the pre-op, or post-op guidelines.  It’s a bit more challenging but it can be done.  It requires a bit more planning, and a bit more will-powder to get it done correctly.  I think that the biggest issue for me would be rolling up at McDonald’s’ and NOT ordering the French fries.

Healthy Hugs,

Sheri Burke RHN

About the Author: Sheri Burke is a Registered Holistic Nutritionist and Bariatric Surgery Coordinator at International Patient Facilitators in Tijuana and Cancun, Mexico. She has worked with bariatric surgery clients for over 10 years and especially enjoys providing nutritional guidance to pre and post bariatric clients.  In her free time, she enjoys spending time with her husband and two teens and cooking up a nutritional storm in the kitchen.

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