Think Outside the BBQ Box: Healthful Tips for Bariatric Patients

July 24, 2020

Navigating a barbecue or cook-out can be daunting for anyone starting a healthier lifestyle, especially if you’ve recently undergone bariatric surgery. With a much smaller stomach to fill, overindulging – like other people do – can, unfortunately, make you sick. It’s important to know what you can tolerate and be open to trying new things – not only for proper nourishment, but for your enjoyment and relaxation too!

The good news is BBQs are often well-balanced with plenty of proteins, starches, and fresh summer fruits and veggies. As a bariatric patient, you don’t have to avoid that grilled sausage, hot dog, or burger, if you don’t want chicken or fish. It all depends on your preference and what stage of recovery you’re at, explains Andrea Bookoff, MS, RD, with the Jefferson Health New Jersey Bariatric Surgery Program.

Some of the biggest complications are often just the “extras,” such as bowls of chips and heavy condiments, adds Cheri Leahy, RDN, CSOWM. “These are things that you should either try to limit or exchange with healthier alternatives. For example, if you crave the crunch of a chip, try avocado crisps, seaweed crisps, or even roasted veggies.”

To spruce up some of your favorite side dishes – such as potato salad and coleslaw – you can try different brands of mayos or use a vinaigrette base, adds Bookoff. However, even if it’s not made this way, it’s still okay to have a serving – just don’t overdo it.  

Another trick to cut back on condiments is to take advantage of the juices from other foods. This is something Leahy does often when grilling chicken or shrimp – grilled pears, pineapple, and mango pair well with these proteins, especially with a high-charcoal heat.

If you want a quick way to cut out some carbs, you can replace your burger rolls with grain-free tortillas, cauliflower rice buns, grilled or roasted eggplant slices, or even hearty portobello mushrooms, adds Leahy.

“Don’t let your creativity stop there,” said Leahy. “It’s easy to get stuck in a rut and stick to the same food items, but this doesn’t help with weight loss. Find new recipes and introduce new flavors as often as you can!”  

Hydration is also key during a BBQ, especially when the heat is UP. However, you need to make mindful choices. Not only can drinks pack on calories, but carbonation and alcohol don’t agree well with bariatric patients.

Some fun and healthy options are infused waters, herbal teas, and flavored ice cubes. Try using cucumber, citrus fruits, berries, and even fresh herbs, such as mint and rosemary, to create a drink that will be your very own “mocktail,” says Bookoff.

With all of these yummy options in front of you, sometimes your eyes want more than your stomach can handle. To pay attention to portion control, you can either follow the bariatric plate method – which calls for a quarter plate of starches, a quarter plate of proteins, and a half plate of veggies – or you can visually measure servings using the palm of your hand, explains Bookoff.

Also, if you like to go back for seconds, you can either intentionally give yourself less food the first time, or you can pack up leftovers to go.

Keep in mind, BBQs won’t account for your whole summer. When you’re there, don’t focus only on the food, but your loved ones, adds Leahy. Take some of that newfound energy and play in the yard with the kids. However, remember to keep the gathering small and adhere to masking and social distancing precautions, as we’re still in the midst of a pandemic.

Embrace your new lifestyle and be open about what food means to you. BBQs are just one opportunity to share everything you’ve learned and accomplished on your journey. Plus, when you bring something tasty to the table, everyone will surely thank you!

Get a head start on your recipe finds with Leahy’s refreshing infused ice cube recipe and Bookoff’s savory chicken skewer recipe.

To learn more about Bariatric Surgery at Jefferson Health in New Jersey, click HERE