What Should You Eat Before and After IBD Surgery?

Patient Expert
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So you’re facing bowel surgery? Have no fear, your guide to pre-op eating and post-op chowing down is hereBefore bowel surgery

Before bowel surgery you're probably going to be feeling pretty crummy. If so, just keep eating what has been safe for you. You want to eat foods that cause as little pain or discomfort as possible. Your surgeon may start asking you to adjust your diet about 1-2 days before your surgery. Make sure to follow those instructions as closely as possible.

It's also likely that your surgeon will put you on a clear liquid diet 1-2 days before your surgery. The point of a clear diet is to give you foods that are easily digestible and, importantly for surgery, so that no undigested food is left in your intestines. A clear liquid diet, while boring, doesn’t mean you have to go hungry. You may have to get a little creative, but a clear diet for a few days isn’t so bad.

The following foods are allowed in a clear liquid diet:

  • Water (plain, carbonated or flavored)
  • Fruit juices without pulp, such as apple or white grape
  • Fruit-flavored beverages, such as fruit punch or lemonade
  • Carbonated drinks, including dark sodas (cola and root beer)
  • Gelatin
  • Tea or coffee without milk or cream
  • Strained tomato or vegetable juice
  • Sports drinks
  • Clear, fat-free broth (bouillon or consommé)
  • Honey or sugar
  • Hard candy, such as lemon drops or peppermint rounds
  • Ice pops without milk, bits of fruit, seeds or nuts

Bowel prepStarting the** day before your surgery**, you will have to start the dreaded bowel prep. Although bowel prep is far from fun, it is necessary to ensure that your surgery goes as planned. Your surgeon will either prescribe you a prescription laxative or enemas or give you instructions for an over-the-counter clean-out procedure. It is really important that during this time you avoid red colored drinks/foods (like Gatorade or Jell-O), and make sure to follow the instructions you are given EXACTLY as they are written.

You may find that your bottom is hurting or on fire from the frequency with which you’re going to the bathroom during prep. I’d recommend before you start your prep to make sure you buy your bowel prep survival kit, including:

  • Extra soft toilet paper (with aloe)
  • Wet wipes
  • Calmoseptine
  • Full charged cell phone

After bowel surgery

After you wake up from your bowel surgery, you will either be starving or completely repulsed by food. The good/bad news is that after your bowel surgery you will probably be put back on the clear liquid diet. If you can tolerate that, and your bowels start functioning properly, you may be upgraded to a** soft diet**.

The goal of the soft diet is to give you nutrients and protein again while being very kind to your digestive tract. You can eat most things that you love but it is important to avoid fibrous foods like raw fruits and veggies. You will also want to avoid all nuts, seeds and spicy foods for a while. Post bowel surgery is a little bit of a game of Russian roulette because the things you could eat before surgery may no longer be friendly to your gut.

You will want to stay on this diet until your first post-op appointment (probably 2-4 weeks) and then let your surgeon know how you’ve been feeling. If you’re tolerating a soft diet well, you can start to introduce more adventurous food into your diet, but I would highly recommend going slow. Eat a salad -- just don’t eat a whole head of lettuce. Have a few almonds -- but probably stop after four or five. After a few months, many people are able to go back to eating what they could before surgery -- and many are also able to enjoy foods that were once off limits.

The most important thing to remember is to follow all directions very carefully before and after surgery. It may seem like an eternity until you can eat a regular diet again, but it is really just a way to guarantee that your surgery will be successful and you will recovery wonderfully.


Jackie is an ulcerative colitis patient and the founder and Executive Director of Girls With Guts. Since diagnosis, she has been blogging her IBD journey at Blood, Poop, and Tears. Jackie has worked hard to become a strong voice in the patient advocacy community, and pays it forward as Social Ambassador of the IBDHealthCentral Facebook page.