For some weight loss surgery patients, shedding pounds in the weeks and months after their bariatric procedure feels effortless. With a smaller stomach pouch that helps them feel full faster, some patients even struggle to eat the recommended amount in a day. This is why many bariatric surgery patients refer to the first year after surgery as the “honeymoon period.”
However, the honeymoon period doesn’t last forever — and some bariatric surgery patients never experience this period of effortless weight loss. Whether you’re exiting the honeymoon period or still feel as if you’re always hungry after your gastric bypass or gastric sleeve procedure, don’t panic.
When it comes to managing hunger after a bariatric procedure, conscious choices are key. By adopting a more mindful approach to eating, you can train your brain to better distinguish between “real” hunger and emotional hunger. Consider these six techniques for managing hunger after bariatric surgery:
1. Eat High-Quality Protein
Different types of nutrients trigger hormones in your body and brain in unique ways. For example, leptin (the satiety hormone that tells your body that you are full) responds differently to foods that are high in carbohydrates and sugary foods than it does to protein and healthy fats.
When you eat simple carbohydrates or sugary foods, leptin is produced more slowly than when you eat a meal that’s high in protein or healthy fats. Because of this, eating high-protein meals can help you feel full faster and for longer and help curb feelings of hunger. If your post-operative diet allows, lean meats and eggs are two great sources of quality protein.
2. Separate Eating and Drinking
Since there is only a limited amount of space in your newly reduced stomach pouch, smaller amounts of food should give you a “full” feeling and, in turn, help you cut your total consumption and lose weight.
When you drink fluids after eating, however, these fluids help move food through your stomach and into your intestines faster. If you drink fluids too quickly after eating, you are prematurely emptying your stomach and telling your brain that it’s time to eat again.
By separating eating and drinking by at least 30 minutes, you can slow the movement of food through your (reduced) stomach pouch and help your brain recognize that you’re full.
3. Swap Processed Foods for Fresh Options
Processed meats and foods contain hormones and chemicals that can interrupt normal gut chemistry, which can also impact your body’s leptin production. The same goes for sugary foods or simple carbohydrates, which can lead to a condition called “dumping syndrome”. Among other symptoms, post-surgical bariatric patients with dumping syndrome may feel hungry sooner than they should because food is moving into the intestines too quickly.
By eating more whole foods like lean meats, fresh vegetables and healthy fats, you can maintain a healthier gut, reduce cravings, and provide your body with the nutrients it needs to function properly. Once your diet permits, substitute processed meats for leaner alternatives, and opt for whole grains instead of white.
4. Slow Down
Your body begins producing leptin shortly after you start eating, but it takes a while for the brain to translate these hormone signals into sensations of fullness. Since your stomach pouch is smaller following bariatric surgery, you should have an easier time eating slowly — but distractions during meals can lead you to chew and swallow your food too quickly, which can negatively impact your weight loss efforts.
Next time you sit down for a meal, pay attention to how long it takes you to chew and swallow your food. Focus on eating more slowly and chewing thoroughly so your brain has time to recognize that you’re full.
5. Drink More Water
If you’re an emotional eater, you already struggle with distinguishing genuine hunger from psychological hunger. Consequently, sensations of thirst can be easily confused with feeling hungry.
If you’re hungry between meals, try drinking an 8-ounce glass of water and waiting 20 minutes to see if your hunger subsides. Some post-surgical bariatric patients also find it helpful to drink a glass of water about 45 minutes before a meal to kickstart hormone production so you can feel full faster.
6. Remember Your “Why”
Above all, remember your “why” — why you had bariatric surgery in the first place. You are accomplishing something important, and while the process of losing weight isn’t easy, it is most certainly doable. Visualize yourself as a success story as this will help put the daily difficulties into perspective.
Get Help for Hunger After Weight Loss Surgery
Retraining your brain to recognize healthy hunger and satiety cues takes time and patience. By following your physician’s advice and sticking to your post-surgical diet plan, you can adopt healthier habits that will help you keep the weight off long-term. At Soma Weight Loss, we understand the importance of providing expert support throughout your weight loss journey. Check out our weight loss resource center for more tips about how to manage hunger and cravings after weight loss surgery.