The colostomy diet is an eating plan that doctors recommend for people recovering from colostomy surgery. While a colostomy does not affect a person’s ability to eat or digest food, eating certain foods will make the recovery period more manageable.

During a colostomy, surgeons move one end of the colon through an opening in the abdomen. After the surgery, some people will use a colostomy bag to collect body waste. This can be temporary or permanent. The bag attaches to the opening the surgeons have made in the abdomen and is called a stoma.

There are stages to recovery in which a person can begin introducing certain foods, usually more fibrous options, back into their diet. A person in recovery can start with liquids and add one type of food at a time back into their diet.

It is important that people eat foods their bodies can handle while the colon recovers. People should also remember that just because one person tolerates a certain food well after surgery, it does not mean everyone will react in the same way.

In this article, we cover the best foods for colostomy recovery, as well as foods to avoid, foods for healthy bowel movements, and more.

a person is preparing spinach in a frying panShare on Pinterest
10’000 Hours/Getty Images

Food options for people recovering from a colostomy include:

  • non-fat or low-fat skimmed milk
  • lactose-free dairy products
  • yogurt
  • cheese
  • lean animal proteins
  • small amounts of nut butter or nuts
  • low-fiber carbohydrates, such as white pasta or bread
  • well-cooked vegetables without skin
  • lettuce
  • pulp-free fruit juice
  • peeled or canned fruit
  • the contents of thick-skinned fruits, such as watermelon or honeydew melon

Bland foods

People recovering from colostomy surgery, as well as those with persistent gastrointestinal issues, should aim to follow a bland diet

Bland foods are low in fiber and easy on the digestive system. They include:

  • broth
  • tofu
  • white pasta
  • beets
  • beans
  • spinach
  • carrots
  • eggs
  • lean proteins
  • fruit juice

The digestive system can tolerate bland foods better than fatty or spicy foods. Bland foods are also less acidic, causing less stomach upset.

People who have had a colostomy should cook their foods rather than eat them raw, as raw foods are more difficult to digest.

Learn more about a bland diet here.

A liquid diet

Those recovering from a colostomy may begin with a clear liquid diet before moving on to solid foods. Doctors often recommend liquid diets to those with complications of the digestive system.

On a liquid diet, a person may choose from:

  • clear fruit juices, with no pulp
  • broth
  • sports drinks
  • gelatin
  • water
  • decaffeinated tea or coffee

Learn more about full liquid diets here.

Eating habit tips

It is best to start reintroducing foods by consuming small amounts and evaluating digestion.

Once a person has managed well for a few days on a liquid diet, they should begin adding mild, easily digested foods back into their diet.

A person should eat slowly and chew their food thoroughly.

People in recovery should drink liquids at room temperature. Clinical dietitians recommend avoiding carbonated or caffeinated beverages, as these can put unnecessary strain on the digestive system.

Doctors suggest eating small meals several times per day, eating slowly, and chewing food thoroughly to prevent colon discomfort or irritation.

After a colostomy, people may wish to avoid foods that exacerbate or inflame the colon.

People may find that it is best to avoid:

  • all high-fiber foods
  • carbonated drinks
  • high-fat or fried foods
  • raw fruits with the skin
  • raw vegetables
  • whole grains
  • fried poultry and fish
  • legumes
  • high-fat dairy
  • spicy foods

All of these foods can damage the colon as it recovers after surgery. A person should avoid them until a doctor or registered dietitian advises otherwise.

While menu options might be limited, there are a few quick and simple meal ideas that work well for those recovering from a colostomy.

  • Jam or jelly on white toast: Jelly or jam contains pectin, and white toast is low in fiber.
  • White rice with canned or cooked vegetables: Both canned or cooked vegetables are low in fiber yet can still provide a person with nutrients. Vegetable ideas include carrots, asparagus tips, or skinned zucchini.
  • Low-fat yogurt with banana: Slice a banana and add it to low-fat yogurt. The yogurt is a good source of protein, and the banana will boost potassium levels. It is also a complex carbohydrate, which can help people stay full for longer.

After a colostomy surgery, the type of fluids a person drinks will also affect their colon.

It is important to avoid carbonated and caffeinated beverages, which tend to cause irritation, gas, and bloating, leading to discomfort. Decaffeinated tea and coffee are both safe to drink.

People in recovery should avoid alcohol post-colostomy or introduce it very gradually. They should always talk with their doctor before drinking alcohol after having this procedure. For many people, alcoholic beverages cause diarrhea, gas, and odor. This is especially the case with beer, which is high in yeast content and hops.

The best thing a person recovering from a colostomy can drink is plenty of water. Clinicians recommend 6–8 glasses of fluid per day, but this will vary between people.

After any kind of bowel surgery, a person’s ability to absorb water is weaker. Therefore, adequate hydration is a necessary part of healing.

People may experience constipation after colostomy surgery as a result of cutting out fiber. However, they may find relief with the following methods:

  • increased fluids
  • stool softeners
  • probiotic supplements, with medical approval

Learn more potential dietary triggers for constipation here.

An upset stomach can often lead to passing odorous gas. To minimize odors, people should avoid:

  • alcohol
  • broccoli
  • brussels sprouts
  • cabbage
  • carbonated drinks
  • corn
  • dried beans
  • eggs
  • fish
  • garlic
  • grapes
  • leeks
  • milk and dairy products
  • onions
  • peanuts
  • prunes

With a colostomy bag

After a colostomy, some people have to use a colostomy bag. This may be a permanent or temporary addition to their routine.

Sometimes people with colostomy bags notice an odor coming from the bags, which they may find embarrassing. Doctors recommend adding a deodorant tablet to the bag to remedy this.

After stoma surgery, it is common for people to put on weight. This is due to a number of factors, including:

  • better food tolerance
  • eating fewer low-calorie foods and more stodgy foods to regulate stools
  • changes in body image
  • a different relationship with food

Standard weight loss methods, such as joining a weight loss support group or following certain diets, may be difficult for a person with a stoma due to changes in their food tolerances.

According to Colostomy UK, an important step toward overcoming unwanted weight gain is to become more comfortable with the stoma. This may be difficult for some people, as a stoma can be an unwanted addition, and can cause embarrassment and discomfort.

However, once a person has begun to accept their stoma, they might better acknowledge the reasons behind some of their dietary habits or choices. After this adjustment, they may change their relationship with food, too.

Learn more about colostomy bags here.

A colostomy is an operation during which surgeons divert the colon to an artificial opening in the abdomen to bypass a damaged area of the colon.

Some people may need to use a colostomy bag after the surgery.

During recovery, people should consume foods and beverages that do not cause damage to the colon.

A recovery diet may last anywhere from two to several weeks. People should talk with their doctor before reintroducing certain foods to their diet.