Here’s What To Eat Before And After Cosmetic Surgery

Preparing for a procedure means eliminating alcohol, smoking, and supplements — but what about food? Nutrition plays a big role in the pre- and post-op process, and The AEDITION spoke to experts to find out which diets work best.
Written by Vivien Moon
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Here’s What To Eat Before And After Cosmetic Surgery Brooke Lark/Unsplash

Preparing for any surgical procedure requires more than just finding the right surgeon and filling out paperwork (though, those are the vital first steps). There are pre- and post-operative health measures that need to be taken in order to prepare for a smooth procedure and recovery.

Pre-op instructions from plastic surgeons and dermatologists already require cutting out alcohol, smoking, and even vitamins and supplements before going under the knife. But how does nutrition fit into these pre- and post-procedure plans? Working in conjunction with nutritionists, more and more aesthetic providers are advising patients to adopt a proper diet before and after surgery to ensure the best results.

So, what is the ideal way to eat before and after a cosmetic procedure, and when should one start to make these changes? The AEDITION asks the experts.

The Role of Nutrition in Aesthetic Medicine

During the consultation process, doctors will examine patients to ensure their health makes them a viable candidate for whatever procedure they are interested in. To guarantee that the body is healthy enough to undergo surgery and recover successfully, the patient's body mass index (BMI) and lifestyle will be examined before a surgeon chooses to proceed.

“If patients do not have a healthy lifestyle before getting a surgery, they’re not going to be able to maintain those results,” says Richard J. Brown, MD, a Scottsdale, Arizona-based board certified plastic and reconstructive surgeon and author of The Real Beauty Bible. “Our goal is for patients to have one operation, to have great results, and to have those results last a lifetime.”

Needless to say, a patient’s diet can play a big role in that success. “Optimizing nutrition can have a dramatic impact on the body’s healing abilities and immune defense mechanisms,” explains Adam Kolker, MD, a New York-based double board certified plastic surgeon. Along with the recovery benefits, a balanced diet can lead to a better mental state, which is tremendously beneficial pre- and post-op.

Dr. Brown, who is spearheading a wellness center at his own practice, notes that proper diet and exercise is essential to achieving and maintaining cosmetic results. As such, it is increasingly important that providers offer patients services that can ensure they are as healthy as possible heading into a procedure — no matter how long it takes to get there. “I work with a macronutrient coach, so when somebody comes to me, I always point them to her,” he explains. “We are going to have a meal-planning service and an exercise routine, so the patient can have a holistic experience with a one-stop-shop to set them up for success.”

What To Eat Before a Procedure

You’re likely starting to understand that a smooth pre- and post-op experience requires a commitment to health and wellness that starts weeks, months, or even years in advance. “I’ve heard from doctors and practice managers, anecdotally, that they can tell which patients take care of themselves and which don’t by how they heal,” says Tatiana Boncompagni, the co-founder and CEO of healthy delivery meal program Eat Sunny. “Nutrition can support healing.”

And, for those who are ready to go under the knife (or needle!), the weeks leading up to their procedure require that same diligence. “I advise a balanced diet consisting of carbohydrates, protein, and healthy, largely plant-based fats,” explains Dr. Kolker of his pre-procedure protocol. He recommends lean protein comprise approximately 30 percent of the diet alongside large amounts of green leafy vegetables. “While there is some controversy regarding the efficacy of supplemental vitamins, I do believe in adding vitamin C, vitamin D, B-complex, and zinc to an individual’s routine perioperatively,” he adds.

Just as important as what you do eat in the lead up to a cosmetic procedure is what you don’t eat. “Pre-operation, you don’t want to consume high doses of omega-3s because that thins the blood,” Boncompagni warns. Instead, she encourages boosting the intake of vitamin C through plant-based sources. “Found in cauliflower, kale, red peppers, as well as berries and citrus fruits, vitamin C is important for skin and tissue healing, and other antioxidants — like A and E — neutralize free radicals so your cells can function optimally,” she explains. “You also want to consume anti-inflammatory foods to help with post-surgical inflammation and watch your sodium intake.”

Eat This:

  • Lean protein
  • Plant-based fats
  • Unprocessed carbohydrates
  • Antioxidant-rich fruits and vegetables (think: vitamins A, C, E)

Not That:

  • Alcohol
  • Omega-3 fatty acids
  • High-sodium foods
  • Smoking and vaping

Leaving the food planning to a professional can take the guesswork out of meal prep. Eat Sunny, for example, focuses on delivering a well-balanced meals inspired by the Mediterranean diet, which has been cited as a good source of unprocessed carbs, proteins, and fats. The company offers vegetarian and flexitarian menu options in three- or five-day increments and is partnering with aesthetic providers to offer patients a more holistic pre- and post-op experience.

What To Eat After a Procedure

“Post-operative nutrition is of equal importance,” Dr. Kolker explains. “Avoiding a catabolic state with appropriate preoperative preparation continued into the postoperative phase will maximize healing and recovery.” After the body experiences trauma, adequate nutrition helps it heal and recuperate. Since vitamins and supplements are generally frowned upon in the weeks following, properly fueling your body with food is more important than ever.

Eat This:

  • Lean protein
  • Fiber-rich foods (i.e. whole grains, farro, oatmeal, berries)
  • Anti-inflammatory spices (think: turmeric)
  • Probiotics like yogurt, miso, and fermented foods
  • Prebiotics like garlic, onion, and sunchokes

Not That:

  • High-sodium foods
  • Alcohol
  • Sugar
  • Smoking and vaping

“Eat plenty of fiber to keep the digestive system — which can slow down after anesthesia — moving,” Boncompagni shares, adding that anti-inflammatory spices (think: turmeric) are useful, too.

Protein continues to be important, as do hydrating, water-rich foods. “You also want to make sure you are eating enough protein, as protein is the building block for tissue,” Boncompagni explains. “Eat low-sodium foods to reduce bloating and drink plenty of water for hydration and to help with slowing digestion and bloating.” She also recommends probiotics (in the form of yogurt, miso, fermented foods) and prebiotics (such as garlic, onion, and sunchokes) to boost immunity — an important part of healing.

Remember: No Diet Is One-Size-Fits-All

The only diet that works for a patient is the one they can stick to. Yo-yo and crash diets that focus on weight loss through a caloric deficiency or immediate results can be stressful on the body, which is why both nutritionists and surgeons recommend starting slowly. “It’s hard on the body and it’s hard on the psyche, too, because it sets up food as the enemy,” Boncompagni says. “Food is our friend. It can and should be a source of pleasure, satisfaction, and nutrition.”

Meal plans and meal prep can be foolproof ways to ensure that access to vital nutrients are easily maintained throughout the pre- and post-op process. Programs like Daily Harvest, Sakara, and Eat Sunny offer options that can be tailored to suit a patient’s lifestyle, taste, and capability (or lack thereof!) in the kitchen. And the benefits of planning go beyond just convenience. Here are a few reasons why being prepared can make a difference:

1. Maintaining Balance

Monitoring portions keeps patients on track without eating too much or too little. “We appropriately portion our meals — each meal is about 400 calories and the snacks come in at about 200 calories — so you don’t have to worry ‘Am I eating too much?’ and can just take pleasure from your food,” Boncompagni says of Eat Sunny. Rather than focusing on what you are cutting out, focus on what you are gaining through micro and macronutrients.

2. Saving Time & Energy

With everything going on in our day-to-day lives, food often becomes an afterthought. But nutrition cannot be overlooked. Following a meal plan or prepping food in advance will save time and energy during the recovery process, when preparing food from scratch may prove difficult.

3. Instilling Healthy Habits

Before a procedure, unhealthy habits (think: smoking and drinking) need to be curbed in favor of good ones. Having a plan in place — pre- and post-op — should help the patient to stick to healthier choices long term. After all, the outcome of the procedure depends on it.

The Takeaway

Food plays an important role in the healing and recovery process, and good results require a commitment to health that begins long before the first consultation. A pre- and post-op dietary game plan – alone or with assistance from a coach or meal service – can optimize the body’s healing abilities and help a patient recover comfortably. “If patients don’t have a healthy lifestyle with quality eating habits, they will not be able to maintain results,” Dr. Brown concludes.

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VIVIEN MOONis a senior editor at AEDIT.

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