Organ Transplant, Diet, and Weight Gain

Medically Reviewed by Carol DerSarkissian, MD on May 28, 2023
3 min read

As you start to feel better after your transplant, you may be struck by the sudden return of your appetite. After being sick for a while, it can be a great feeling. For the first time in ages, you really enjoy eating again.

But as great as that feeling is, eating a lot has that well-known downside: weight gain. And unfortunately, the steroids that you're taking can both boost your appetite and make it harder for your body to use carbohydrates. The result can be excess fat.

Experts say that weight gain is common among transplant patients. And while keeping a healthy weight is important for everyone, it's especially important after you've had a transplant. Keeping a healthy weight lowers your risk of heart disease, high blood pressure, and diabetes.

There is no magical "transplant diet." In general, you should just eat the kind of diet that would be healthy for anyone. It should be low in fat and sugar and high in complex carbohydrates such as cereals, vegetables, and grains. Of course, it all depends on your individual case. You may need to take special precautions. Stick to the diet your doctor recommends.

In many cases, eating is a lot simpler after a transplant. For instance, before getting a kidney transplant, people often have to avoid foods with high magnesium and phosphorous as well as follow strict fluid restrictions. After a transplant, many of these restrictions can be lifted. People can then eat a normal diet.

So how do you stay healthy and avoid gaining weight after an organ transplant? These suggestions from transplant experts can help:

  • Talk to your health care team. Consulting with a dietitian, even before the transplant, can be very helpful. Doing so can help you plan how to eat without risking your new health status.
  • Stay away from fad diets. It's best to avoid diets you read about in magazines or hear about on TV. Instead, focus on the basics. Don't think of your new eating plan as going on a diet. Think of it as making sensible changes to the way you eat that you can live with permanently.
  • Resist temptation at the grocery store. If you try to buy healthy foods at the grocery store, you only need to exercise your willpower once a week instead of every day. If you don't have doughnuts and cookies at home, you won't be tempted to eat them.
  • Drink plenty of water. This is advisable as long as your doctor says you don't have to control the amount of fluids you drink.
  • Try healthier ways of cooking. Instead of frying, try baking, broiling, grilling, or steaming foods.
  • Pay attention to portion size. Keep in mind that restaurants often serve enormous portions. Don't eat the whole thing. Instead, cut it in half and eat the rest for lunch the next day.
  • Read food labels. Take note of what's in the foods you buy. Watch for the amount of fat, salt, and calories.
  • Watch out for interactions. Make sure you know if any of your medicines interact with any foods you might eat. For instance, some medications used to suppress your immune system can interact with grapefruit juice.