Is it okay to eat and drink at the same time with a gastric band or lapband?

This hot-button topic fuels debate between band-owners, dietitians and surgeons.

Some forums say it's okay to eat and drink at the same time but many surgeons and dietitians say no.

Opinion is divided. Research is incomplete but my professional experience looking after people with gastric bands paints a clearer picture.

I'll sift through observations that my clients and I have made over more than 20 years.

Once you are aware of what to look out for and experiment with the timing of drinks, you will probably see that the answer lies in your own experiences.

First up, answer five questions with a yes-no-sometimes answer.

  1. When eating a special meal away from home, have you ever been surprised at how much more you can eat when you have wine or a drink with the meal?
  2. When you have soup, do you find that you can spoon your way through a large bowl (or two) without much trouble? Yet, if you filled that same bowl with more solid food (such as stir-fry or chicken pieces), you might struggle to finish it?
  3. Have you ever had a drink of any kind with your food and suddenly gone - ooh oh no - something is coming back up or something is stuck.
  4. Have you ever tried to clear a blockage with a drink only to find it (or other sticky mucousy fluid) flushes back up?
  5. Before your gastric band surgery, were you in the habit of having a nibble whenever you had a cup of tea or coffee?

Okay, now let's see what my clients' experiences might reveal for each of those questions. Think about what your own experience tells you.

1. Having a drink with dinner is a well-known tool that bandsters use when dining out.

Why? Aside from the pleasure of a glass of wine with dinner, it seems that a glass or two to drink with the meal allows you to enjoy a more normal sized serve or even a couple of small courses.

Maybe you are just relaxed and are taking more time and are a lot more cautious about how you approach the food.

Perhaps the alcohol relaxes the food pipe and it is not tight and restricted?

Perhaps when well-chewed small delicate bites of food are mixed with fluid, they move across the banded stomach area easily? The food flushes through with each small chew and sip. Isn't this a hint that somehow the 'I've had enough' satisfaction button isn't being triggered?

2. Remember back to when your band was first installed. You probably had to stay on liquid for a week or two and then gradually move though blended, mushy puree to solid foods. Did you recall getting a little hungrier towards the end of the liquid or puree phases?

Yep? That means you now realise that creating a runny, slurry of food in your mouth is essentially taking you back to those early days of blended meals.

If you are a super-chewer who grinds their food to a pulp before swallowing, drinking and eating at the same time might mean that you end up eating far more than you need to. Your mouth is acting like a food processor or blender. And you already know what happens when you add liquid to puree in the blender? It turns to soup and you and I know that soup travels past the band easily with less resistance than chunks of poorly chewed food.

These basic observations suggest that taking liquid with food is not a smart idea if you want to feel satisfied after eating a smaller serve.

But it is not that straight forward. Drinking with food is a bad habit for a few other reasons:

3. If you are someone who still struggles to take small bites and chew your food thoroughly and you drink at the same time, you may be a mouth flusher!

A flush propels chunks of poorly chewed food down towards the gastric band where they will bounce and possibly get caught. That is one of the 'oh no' moments where it feels like something is coming back up the throat or discomfort in the chest or shoulder blade areas.

Take notice of whether you are a lazy chewer and/or use liquid to flush food out from your mouth. If this is you, the combo of food with drink is a bad move.

4. Some people with a gastric band can sense when foods and drinks pass through their band. But as you have possibly already discovered, not all food gets past the band as quickly or as easily as soup and custard.

You may remember a few occasions when it felt like foods were stuck above or in the band and you needed to burp or regurgitate to clear the blockage.

And when the burp didn't work, you tried a drink to clear the blockage. Sometimes a fizzy drink works.

Other times it backfires and causes fluid and sticky gastric secretions to gurgle back into your mouth. Like a blocked kitchen sink - nothing is going down.

5. If you were in the habit of having biscuits to eat whenever you had tea or coffee before banding, you'll have no reason or incentive to break that habit after banding.

Eating with your cuppa is one bad habit that will really stall your success and results.

Why? Eat a couple of plain milk arrowroot biscuits twice a day, five days a week for 50 weeks, and your rate of weight loss will slow down by about 5 kg (11 lb) each year. Make them small cream biscuits and the weight not lost jumps to close to 10 kg (22 lb)!

What's my challenge to you?

If you complain of hunger even though your band is adjusted properly, I challenge you to stop drinking when you are eating.

Make the break and continue to eat solid foods that you need to chew, that take some effort. You will have to slow your eating pace down and you will probably find that the food fills you better and lasts longer. Your tummy hunger will subside and will not be as bad.

You will notice a big difference providing you eat proper solid foods and your band is adjusted correctly.

With the guidance and approval of your surgeon and dietitian, be your own experiment. Play around with the timing of drinks and food to see how much of a difference it makes to your speed of eating, your satisfaction, hunger and the overall amount you eat.

A drink before you eat may be a good idea!

A drink immediately before food seems to 'lubricate and alert' the food pipe (oesophagous) and stomach that something is coming down. It may not be so critical to wait a full 10 minutes after a drink before eating.

This is a good tactic if food always catches on the first few bites and it is something to discuss with your dietitian and doctor. A little drink just before food may make eating more comfortable if you are always 'catching' on the first few bites, but exactly how or why this works is anyone's guess at the moment.

Whether to eat and drink at the same time with a gastric band? In the end, the answer and evidence reside in your own experiences. If whatever you do now works for you, do not change a thing because there is no need to change something that already works.