Day 2 Habit Refresh: Protein First

Steph Wagner

January 11, 2022

10 Day Habit Refresh


Day Two: Protein First



Missed Day One? Here is the link to catch up!

Click below to listen to the audio recording of this blog or continue reading!


In this series I will answer three questions about each of the habits:

What benefit does this habit bring a post-op patient?

How might the lack of this habit effect a post-op patient?

How can you best build up this habit in the post-op daily life?


What benefit does having protein first bring a post-op patient?

First let’s clarify what “protein first” means.

Does it mean to eat only protein first before you eat something else on your plate?

Sometimes. But it is more a phrase to say protein should be the priority in your food choices.

This, of course, will open up more questions. Why is protein the priority over other foods? Shouldn’t we focus on a balanced diet?


what protein does in the body (surgery or not)

First let’s recap on what the three macronutrients include.

Protein, Carbohydrates and Fat.

All are essential to the body. These are the “macros” you keep hearing about.

By the way micronutrients are vitamins and minerals. You don’t tend to hear as much about your micros! 

Protein is made of amino acids which are often referred to as “the building blocks” for bones, muscles, skin and the like. There are 20 essential amino acids and fun fact, when a protein has all 20 of the amino acids is it called a “complete protein.”  Animal based protein like meat, poultry, fish, eggs and cheese are considered complete proteins.

Protein allows for many important functions in the body including growth and maintenance of tissues, hormone regulation, digestion and a whole lot more.

While the laundry list of what protein does for the body is extensive, there is one key benefit I want to focus on for post-op patients.

Hunger Control.

In fact, sometimes in the world of bariatric surgery we can get off in the weeds about protein and why it is important. Some think more protein will prevent hair loss (probably not, you can read more here) and others think they will see more weight loss if they drink more protein shakes but that is not always true.

Check out my Premier Access Members course on “The Do’s and Don’ts of Protein

🍏 Hunger Control Benefits of Protein First

We will talk more tomorrow about why the texture of protein matters but today we are going to focus on why protein as a macronutrient helps with hunger control.

Protein takes longer to digest than carbohydrates which means it keeps hunger at bay longer.

Protein doesn’t cause as much GI upset or calorie intake as fat.

So in the world of the three macronutrients, protein will keep hunger at bay longer than carbohydrate rich foods and with less calories than fat rich foods.

🍏 Protein First + Meal Structure

Yesterday we talked about the power mentally and physically of having a consistent meal structure.

When you put protein first in your meal structure (protein at breakfast, lunch and dinner) you only further the benefit of hunger control and blood sugar control that we talked about yesterday.

If someone ate a carbohydrate or fat rich meal at their routined meal times, they may have some of the metabolic benefit of not meal skipping but would be less likely to have the hunger control or blood sugar control benefits.

Having eggs, low-fat cheese, lean ground meat, pork chops or chicken breast as the first focal point of those three meals will fill you up, keep you full and keep energy levels more even through the day.

Bariatric programs will differ on the specifics of how to plan out your plate but most will have you focus on 50-70% of your meals coming from a lean protein source.

**NOTE: 50-70% of your plate from protein is DIFFERENT than your macro pie chart. Protein contains fat and sometimes carbohydrate so 50-70% of your meal/plate coming from a protein source will translate differently in a macro chart!

I have always liked to look at it as 2 bites protein to 1 bite of veggies or fruit.

blog image bariatric food coach eat two bites protein to one bite vegetables


A quick note on balance. I mentioned above the question “shouldn’t we have more balance in our diets?”

When you focus on protein and pair it with fresh vegetables you will get protein, carbohydrate and fat. Also great fiber from vegetables. Even if a food is typically designated in one particular “food group” it often is more complex and contains more nutrition than just the group it falls under.

Always refer back to your dietitian for more specific guidelines. There are instances when a dietitian might bring in complex carbohydrates as well, but will still not be the main focus of the meal.

And FYI, it’s even better if you keep a detailed food journal, write down questions and head into that visit prepared to pick his or her brain!



How might the lack of this habit effect a post-op patient?

If we assume a patient is eating a consistent meal pattern but protein is not the primary macronutrient of the meal, a few things will likely happen.

They will not reach their desired protein goals (programs differ on the number but according to the ASMBS, it is at least 60 grams a day).

ASMBS is the American Society of Metabolic and Bariatric Surgery

They will likely have hunger in between meals and/or at night.

Post-op patients not focusing on protein first are more likely (in my opinion) to struggle with snacking at night or at other times in between meals.

What this boils down to is not meeting protein needs but snacking more outside of meal times.  That makes reaching weight loss goals really tough.

Instead, if the patient got back to basics and focused on protein first at their meal times they are likely to hit protein goals AND not feel as hungry at other times. Head hunger is still a battle but being filled up physically helps to battle head hunger more clearly! 


How can you best build this habit in the post-op life?

If a patient asked me how to focus more on protein at their meals, I would reverse the question and ask “what do you find hard about getting protein in first?”

There is often a root cause for why someone is gravitating away from protein.

Quite often the root cause is the protein is uncomfortable, hitting heavy, not sounding good or another issue of tolerance.

We will talk more about small bites and eating slowly on Day 4 of our series but (spoiler alert) 95% of the time this is the issue with why someone is not getting protein in first!

It’s amazing how many of the habits connect :)

My tip here is a) find out WHY you tend to steer away from protein at your meals and b) visit if your eating behaviors need more work (slowing down, eating black bean sized bites).

blog series 10 day habit refresh on bariatric food coach image for homework on eating protein first

Stay tuned for Day 3 in our Habit Refresh Series: Protein Textures!


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