A liver shrinking diet is low in calories, carbohydrates, and fats. A doctor may recommend this diet if you’re undergoing weight loss (bariatric) surgery.

Your liver makes up about 2% of your body weight and is your largest solid internal organ, but unless you have a liver condition, you may not spend a lot of time thinking about its size.

Different conditions may cause an enlarged liver. If the condition is related to diet, a doctor may recommend dietary changes before certain surgeries.

This article takes a closer look at a liver shrinking diet. Its purpose, who needs to be on one, and sample diet menus.

As its name indicates, a liver shrinking diet is designed to help reduce the size of your liver. The diet is low in carbohydrates and fats but high in protein. The exact number of calories that doctors recommend can vary.

A liver shrinking diet works by making the body use up stores of glycogen and lipids in the liver. As the glycogen reserves reduce in the liver, some water also leaves the liver, causing the organ to become softer and smaller.

Your doctor may recommend a liver shrinking diet before weight loss surgery. An enlarged liver can increase bleeding risks. Also, if the liver is too large, it can be difficult for the surgeon to reach around it to operate on the stomach, complicating the procedure.

Doctors may also suggest going on a liver shrinking diet to help a person prepare for the dietary recommendations following weight loss surgery. Individuals with fatty liver disease may already be following a similar diet.

Your doctor may consider your body mass index (BMI) when making a recommendation for the exact timeframe to begin a liver shrinking diet before weight loss surgery. 6 weeks before surgery was the median amount of time individuals in one study began such a diet, with time frames ranging from 2 to 12 weeks.

Some foods you may enjoy on a liver shrinking diet are:

Some examples of foods and beverages that experts do not recommend on a liver shrinking diet include:

  • alcohol
  • sugary drinks and desserts
  • jelly
  • high fat dressing and sauces

A few sample liver shrinking diet menu ideas are listed below, but your doctor’s recommendations may vary. It’s important to follow the specific recommendations that your doctor provides you. If you have any questions or concerns about following your prescribed liver shrinking diet, you should discuss them with your doctor or a dietician.

One potential liver shrinking diet is to have four 325 milliliters (mL) (approximately 11 ounces) premade Slimfast protein meal replacement shakes along with 2 servings of non-starchy vegetables a day.

An alternative option that includes more solid foods is:

  • breakfast, which consists of 1 carbohydrate and 1 dairy portion
  • lunch, which includes 2 protein and 2 vegetable portions
  • 2 fruit portions as a snack during the day
  • evening meal, which consists of 1 protein, 1 vegetable, 1 dairy, and 2 carbohydrate portions

A sample daily menu on this diet might include:

Breakfast1 piece of bread with 30 grams of light cream cheese
LunchA cereal bowl of salad greens and 6 to 8 cherry tomatoes without dressing; 3 to 4 ounces of grilled chicken
Snack (morning and/or afternoon)½ banana, 1 cup of berries (or 2 servings of fruit per day, you can eat them at any time during the day)
Dinner1 cup cooked broccoli with 1 teaspoon olive oil; a filet of salmon; a glass of skim milk; 4 tablespoons brown rice

In addition to the foods listed above, doctors may recommend at least 64 ounces of water or other approved fluids daily. You’ll want to confirm this amount with your doctor and whether you should take a multivitamin or other supplements.

Foods included on a liver shrinking diet include eggs, chicken, Greek yogurt, and non-starchy vegetables like broccoli. (If you are unsure what vegetables are considered non-starchy, you can read more here.)

How long does it take for your liver to shrink on a diet?

You can see the benefits of a liver shrinking diet within the first few weeks.

How can I quickly reduce my liver size?

Restricting the amount of calories, carbohydrates, and fats in your diet can reduce your liver size within a few weeks, but your doctor may also suggest nutritional supplements or an intragastric balloon prior to a gastric bypass surgery.

How can I tell if my liver is shrinking?

Medical imaging, like an ultrasound, can help determine if your liver has changed size.

A liver shrinking diet limits carbohydrates and fats.

Your doctor may recommend this type of diet before you undergo weight loss surgery. It’s important to follow any preoperative directions provided by your doctor and talk with your doctor or dietician if you have any questions.