BACKGROUND & AIMS: It was shown that patients in the Netherlands remain exposed to unnecessarily prolonged starvation after abdominal surgery. The present study examined whether a structured collaborative effort would help to implement the early start of oral nutrition after colorectal surgery. METHODS: In 2006, twenty-six Dutch hospitals signed up to a "breakthrough project" concerning the implementation of the enhanced recovery after surgery (ERAS) programme with early oral feeding as one of the key elements. Each hospital determined the usual start of food intake by analyzing 50 patients who underwent a colorectal resection in 2004 (n=1126). Subsequently, over the course of one year 861 colorectal surgery patients were treated according to the ERAS programme. The first day that patients were eating before and after the breakthrough project was compared using Kaplan-Meier analyses and Cox regression models. RESULTS: Patients treated according to the ERAS programme were eating 3 days earlier than the patients traditionally treated (p<0.000). Two days after surgery 65% of the ERAS patients were eating normal food versus 7% of the pre-ERAS patients. CONCLUSIONS: The present nationwide collaborative effort was successful in implementing a change towards an early start of oral nutrition after abdominal surgery.