Eating and Drinking After Bowel Surgery

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After you have had bowel surgery your doctor/surgeon will advise you when you can start eating and drinking again. It is normal to start with sips of water, then move onto drinking fluids only, and gradually progress to eating food.

The time taken for your bowel to recover after surgery and for you to then start eating and drinking again varies from person to person; it will also depend on the type of bowel surgery you have had. If you are on the Enhanced Recovery Programme you will be drinking fluids and building up your diet relatively quickly, within 2-3 days of your surgery.

Your doctor/surgeon will advise you how quickly you can build up your diet and progress through the stages listed below.

When you are upgraded to eat solid food again, it is recommended to start with small amounts of soft, lower fibre, lower fat foods that are easier to digest. We refer to this as a ‘Light Diet’.

Stages of building up your diet following bowel surgery:

Initially: your doctor may advise you have sips of water only.

Stage 1: Clear fluids

  • To start with you may be advised to take small ‘sips’ of clear fluids through the day
  • Water, clear fruit juice/squash e.g. apple juice, tea/coffee without milk, herbal tea, Bovril drink, jelly
  • Oral Nutritional Supplements (ONS): Ensure Plus Juce, ProSource

Stage 2: Free fluids

  • Any clear fluids from Stage 1
  • Smooth fruit juice/smoothie e.g. orange juice ‘without bits’. Milk, milky drinks e.g. hot chocolate, tea/coffee with milk
  • Smooth ice cream, yoghurt, soup – without bits
  • ONS: Ensure Plus Milkshake, Ensure Compact, Meritene soup, Meritene shake, Ensure Plus Creme

Stage 3: Light Diet 

  • Small portions of lower fibre, lower fat, soft foods. See table overleaf for suitable food options.
  • Following a light diet helps your bowel to recover after your surgery, allowing it to gradually get used to digesting food again.
  • Remember that eating a light diet is only temporary after having bowel surgery. Generally, you can aim to build up to having your usual diet again within 2-6 weeks of your surgery. Once you are managing and tolerating a light diet, you can progress to reintroduce a wider variety of foods and build up to your usual diet again over the following weeks.

Stage 4: Normal diet

  • Continue to build up your intake of normal foods and aim to return to your normal diet.

If you have been asked to follow a light diet and are struggling with choosing suitable meals from the menu, please ask your nurse for a list of suitable options.

Top tips for building up your diet:

  • Have small, regular meals with snacks in between as your bowel adapts post-surgery.
  • Eating regularly throughout the day will help to encourage regular bowel movements.
  • Drink plenty of fluids, especially if you have diarrhoea, unless you have been told otherwise by your medical team.
  • Include protein foods at each meal to help you heal after surgery e.g. meat, fish, eggs, cheese, milk, yoghurt.
  • Continue to reintroduce foods gradually over the weeks following your surgery.