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Take things slowly with your diet after stoma surgery

After any operation it can take some time for your appetite to return and, after bowel surgery, it also takes a while for your gut to recover from the trauma. In many hospitals there are protocols for the reintroduction of fluids and foods to try to build up patients’ confidence and to allow the bowel to settle down. 

To begin with, it is often easier to cope with a light or easily digestible diet that isn't too spicy, fatty, highly flavoured or too high in fibre. If you had problems tolerating certain foods before your surgery, you may also be particularly anxious about reintroducing a normal diet. If you have lost a lot of weight before and/or immediately following your surgery then it is really important to try to regain a healthy weight. Here are some tips:

  • Eat small meals, with snacks in-between around 4-6 times per day, especially if your appetite is poor
  • Make sure you include some protein-based foods such as meat, fish, eggs, cheese and milk (not just starchy foods like potatoes or bread, even though these may seem safer) at each meal, to aid healing
  • Try to eat in a relaxed setting (it can really help!), eat slowly and chew your food well to aid digestion
  • For a little while, limit fruit, vegetables, wholegrain bread and cereals, coffee and other bowel stimulants such as alcohol
  • Drink plenty of fluid- at least 6 cups a day (or at least 8-10 cups a day if you have an ileostomy)
  • Watch out for beers and fizzy drinks which may cause problems with diarrhoea and wind

Eating a Healthy Diet

Once your appetite has returned and your stoma output starts normalising, you can gradually reintroduce more foods. Try to include a range of foods from each of the following food groups to make sure you have a balanced diet:

  • Protein rich foods such as meat, fish, eggs, nuts, lentils and beans
  • Protein and calcium rich dairy foods such as milk, cheese and yoghurt
  • Starchy foods such as bread, rice, potatoes, pasta
  • Fruit and vegetables
  • Fat -if you are underweight fat is an important source of energy. Include olive oil in cooking, butter in mashed potatoes and full cream milk in drinks and milk puddings. By including oily fish in your diet at least twice a week, you can also ensure you're getting an adequate intake of Omega-3 essential fatty acids. If you're overweight, you should limit your fat intake instead

You can still drink alcohol if you have a stoma! Just stick to the recommended limits as too much alcohol may make stoma bag changes tricky or cause dehydration

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Watching what you eat

In the early days of managing your stoma, you may be embarrassed by certain sounds, smells and the amount or consistency of your stoma output. Over time, and as your gut settles down, you'll learn which foods cause changes in your output consistency, excessive gas or odour or which foods pass through your gut completely unaltered. There is no need to eliminate these foods but you may choose to limit their intake, or restrict them to times when you will not be socialising. Some foods can also change the colour of your stoma bag contents - in the case of beetroot, this can be alarming as it can be mistaken for bleeding if unaware.

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