Considering all of the restrictions placed on your diet in the days before a colonoscopy, you may be planning to enjoy an all-you-can-eat buffet the minute you leave the facility. Theoretically, there's nothing stopping you from stuffing yourself post-colonoscopy. Realistically, though, your innards may not be ready for such a culinary adventure.
Nutritionists often advise a "diet as tolerated" when it comes to eating after a colonoscopy. That means eating what you can handle at the time — and that may not be much. For one thing, you may still feel nauseated from the sedation you were given. For another, you may also feel bloated and gassy from the air that was pumped into your intestine during the procedure.
Eat Light Meals
"We recommend that the first meal [after a colonoscopy] be a light meal, maybe some mashed potatoes, something very simple and easy on your gut," says Cordialis Msora-Kasago, RDN, a spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.
Your diet after a colonoscopy should incorporate other foods that aren't hard on your system, like the components of the bland "BRAT" diet that's recommended for those who've had a stomach illness: namely, bananas, rice, applesauce and toast. It's also wise to limit high-fiber food, opting instead for low-residue (low-fiber) items. That means staying away from raw vegetables, vegetables with skin, dried legumes, raw fruits and fruits with skin — at least for now. Over the long term, these high-fiber foods are good for you, but right after a colonoscopy, they could irritate your gut.
Experts advise that you continue eating based on your gut feeling — literally. According to Columbia University, if eating makes you feel nauseated after your colonoscopy, you can simply stop and try again later. "If you are bloated and nauseous and your stomach feels uneasy, it's not the time to go ahead and resume a regular eating pattern," says Msora-Kasago. "Continue on that path until you're ready to take in more. Then you can resume your previous diet."
Keep Drinking Fluids
The colonoscopy prep solution you took before your procedure to help clear out your intestines was dehydrating. That's why you were asked to drink so much fluid leading up to the test. You'll need to keep drinking lots of liquids afterwards as well, to replace any fluid you lost. Now, though, you can also consume non-clear liquids, such as orange juice with pulp.
Consider Special Diets
Most colonoscopies are done to screen for colorectal cancer. Some colonoscopies, though, are diagnostic. That means they are done to try to find a reason for unexplained symptoms such as bleeding or weight loss. If you have a diagnostic colonoscopy and your doctor confirms that you have a particular medical condition, such as Crohn's disease, you may need to go on what's called a "therapeutic diet" designed to control or treat that condition, says Msora-Kasago.
Read more: How to Recover After a Colonoscopy
Eat With Cancer Risk in Mind
Diet has a lot to do with your risk for colorectal cancer. Given that the point of most colonoscopies is to screen for colorectal cancer and find and remove any precancerous polyps, it's wise to stick to a healthy diet during colonoscopy recovery and beyond.
"We want to make sure you have a diet full of whole grains, fresh fruits, vegetables, nuts and seeds," says Msora-Kasago. "One of the things we're looking for is a lot of roughage and a lot of fiber. Having a diet rich in those foods helps your body clean out things that might eventually cause cancer."
According to the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, high-fiber foods including fruits, vegetables, beans and bran cereal can lower your risk for developing colon polyps. So can avoiding fatty foods, red meat and processed meat such as hot dogs. That same diet is linked with a lower risk of colon and rectal cancer, per the American Cancer Society (ACS). You can also reduce your chance of developing those types of cancer by limiting alcohol to no more than two drinks a day for men and one for women, the ACS advises.
Is This an Emergency?
- American Academy of Family Physicians: “BRAT Diet: Recovering From an Upset Stomach.”
- Columbia University Irving Medical Center: “Colonoscopy.”
- Harvard Medical School: “Preparing for a Colonoscopy.”
- Mayo Clinic: “Diverticulitis Diet”
- Cleveland Clinic: “Colonoscopy: Ask the Expert — Everything You Want to Know but Are Afraid To Ask”
- National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases: “Eating, Diet, & Nutrition for Colon Polyps”
- American Cancer Society: “Six Ways to Lower Your Risk for Colorectal Cancer”
- American Cancer Society: “Alcohol Use and Cancer”