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April 16, 2019 - by - in Nutrition

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If you have recently undergone or are preparing to undergo weight loss surgery, you already know how sugar can affect your health as well as your waistline. Unlike nutritious and wholesome options like vegetables and lean meats, sugary foods contain almost no nutritional value (but plenty of empty calories).

SugarScience, the University of California at San Francisco’s comprehensive review of more than 8,000 studies about sugar, found that:

  • Eating too much added sugar is linked to diseases including diabetes, heart disease and liver disease.
  • Fructose, a common type of sugar, is as toxic to the liver as alcohol.
  • Excess sugar intake can lead to increased weight gain, high cholesterol and high blood pressure.

Of course, these side effects don’t make it any easier to resist sugar cravings. Anyone who has ever daydreamed about their favorite chocolate bar knows firsthand how powerful these types of cravings really are.

Why You Crave Sugar After Weight Loss Surgery

What makes sugar cravings so different from other types of cravings?

The answer lies in our brains rather than our gut. A recent study by Queensland University of Technology found that excess sugar consumption repeatedly elevates dopamine levels in the brain. Dopamine is a hormone that activates the brain’s pleasure and reward center in the same way that drugs like tobacco and cocaine do.

Every time you bite into a candy bar or drink your favorite sugary soda, you are reinforcing the neural pathways that lead to intense sugar cravings. Just like other types of addictions, ditching sugar isn’t just about willpower. It’s about physiology.

If you’re struggling with sugar cravings after your weight loss surgery, don’t lose hope. With the right combination of coping techniques and diet changes, you can kick the sugar habit for good and boost your weight loss efforts in the process. Here are six ways to combat sugar cravings after gastric bypass surgery or sleeve gastrectomy surgery.

How to Manage Sugar Cravings After Surgery

Woman eating an apple while writing notes in a notebook and looking at a computer

1. Stick With Your Post-Procedure Diet

After your operation, your bariatric surgeon will recommend a diet guide designed to help you heal and keep the weight off long-term. Unlike a pre-surgical diet that helps prepare the body for your procedure, a post-surgical diet slowly reintroduces your body to food while minimizing surgical side effects.

In addition to aiding in the healing process, these post-surgery diets are also the key to managing sugar cravings in the weeks and months following your weight loss procedure. By opting for whole food options that nourish your body and boost energy, you are creating healthier eating habits while slowly changing the foods your body craves.

Every meal plan is different, but most post-procedure diets look like this:

  • Immediately after surgery you’ll be on a clear liquid diet
  • About a month after your procedure, you can usually move to soft foods
  • About one to two months after surgery, you can start eating semi-solid foods

Everyone heals differently, so the length of your transition to solid foods differs based on how you heal. Even as you begin incorporating solid food into your diet, however, you should continue to avoid sugary foods or drinks.

The longer you stick to your doctor’s food recommendations, the more your sugar cravings will diminish. Before long, you’ll be craving wholesome and nutritious foods that support rather than hinder your weight loss efforts.

2. Visualize Your Goals

Sugar cravings will persist until you’ve mastered healthy habits to combat them. This process of developing good habits is as much psychological as it is physical, and certain mental exercises can help curb your cravings. While it’s important to think about what your goals are, you shouldn’t stop there.

Try translating your goal-setting to pen and paper for even better results, since writing down goals makes you more likely to follow them. In fact, a 2018 study found people who vividly describe their goals are up to 1.4 times more likely to achieve them.

In addition to having a written diet plan, try writing down what your personal goals are after surgery. If you struggle with a sweet tooth, focus on how you plan to deal with any gastric sleeve sugar cravings. Remember to frame your goal positively and as if you’re in the present moment.

For example, a statement you might create for right after surgery might be:

“When I get a sugar craving, I drink 100 percent fruit juice, which helps my body heal.”

Or, once you’ve moved to solid foods, your statement could be:

“When my body craves sugar, I eat a delicious red apple.”

Repeat your mantras so they start to become second nature, and place your goals where you can see them regularly. Your kitchen is an ideal spot.

Close up of woman drinking from a glass of water

3. Stay Hydrated

Dehydration is one of the most common causes of sugar cravings. That’s because when we aren’t hydrated properly, our bodies crave quick energy. Sugar delivers that jolt of caloric energy but not much in the way of nutrition — which means it does little to support our body’s most important biological functions.

You can make drinking water more appealing (and a little sweeter) by adding fresh fruit or healthy garnishes to your water. Play these tasty combinations:

  • Cucumber slices with fresh mint leaves
  • Lemon juice with organic orange slices
  • Blueberries, raspberries and blackberries
  • Chopped watermelon with fresh basil leaves

Staying hydrated is also essential for proper healing after bariatric surgery. How much water you’ll need will depend on factors like gender, age and activity level. Discuss recommendations with your physician. If you struggle to stick to your water consumption goals, try using a water tracking app like Water Drink Reminder.

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4. Identify Emotional Triggers

Emotional triggers like stress can lead to unhealthy food cravings. Even positive or neutral emotions like happiness or boredom can lead to absent-minded snacking.

To maintain weight loss surgery results for a lifetime, it’s essential to change the way you perceive food: Not as a reward or punishment, but as fuel. To identify your emotional triggers, take a moment to think about situations in which you regularly crave sweets. For example:

  • When you feel bored or lonely.
  • When you’re happy and carefree.
  • After completing a difficult task and wanting a reward.

Once you’ve identified which emotional triggers most often lead to your sugar cravings, decide how you’ll deal with them in a healthier way. Based on the examples above, some alternative strategies might include:

  • Tackling a hobby that doesn’t involve eating, like coloring or taking a yoga class. You’ll alleviate your boredom or loneliness with a healthy activity.
  • Taking a deep breath and counting to 20 before you reach for something sweet. This can help you stabilize your emotions. Follow it up with a relaxing self-care ritual, like taking a bath or doing a guided meditation.
  • Giving yourself a non-food reward. Put a few dollars in a jar that you’ll put toward getting a massage, or treat yourself to a movie.

If you’ve used sweets to deal with your emotions, you’ll want to cultivate new and positive habits that provide you with the same benefits but without the drawbacks.

Dark haired woman talking to a group of people with arms extended

5. Participate in Weight Loss Surgery Support Groups

You’re not alone if you are craving sweets after surgery. Though nutrition experts recommend that a person consume no more than 10 of their daily calories from sugar (about 13.3 grams in a standard 2,000 calorie daily diet), the average American consumes an average of 42.5 grams daily. That’s almost three times the recommended daily amount.

One way to get the support you need to fight gastric sleeve sugar cravings is to join a weight loss support group.

Benefits of participating in a weight loss support group include:

  • Daily reminders of healthy habits to stay on track and create positive change.
  • Learning helpful techniques from weight loss surgery experts and other weight loss surgery patients about how to deal with sugar cravings.
  • Meeting people who help you stay accountable and provide encouragement.

At weight loss support group meetings, you’ll participate in discussions about your struggles and triumphs, and get ideas for coping strategies. You can get answers to your questions, ask for advice, and provide support to others. All of these things will help you stay motivated and focused on your goals.

6. Read Ingredient Labels

Whenever you are shopping for food or eating out at a restaurant, be aware of what you’re really eating. Just because a meal or food item appears to be healthy, it may still certain additives and ingredients that are counterproductive to your weight loss.

When grocery shopping, it’s best to shop for “whole” foods, which are foods that are unprocessed, minimally packaged and unmodified. If you aren’t sure where to find whole foods in your grocery store, try this trick: Stick to the peripheral aisles where produce and fresh meat is kept. Avoid the center of the store, where sugary and processed foods are usually located.

If you do shop for packaged foods, remember to review the ingredients before you put it in your cart. Ingredients are listed in order of prevalence, so if sugar is anywhere near the top of the ingredient list, that’s a red flag.

At restaurants, don’t be afraid to ask your server about ingredients. Most restaurants will have nutritional information available even if it’s not in the menu.

Related: 10 Unhealthy Foods That are Disguised as Healthy

Get Help for Sugar Cravings After Bariatric Surgery

Sugar cravings can and do fade over time, but they may never completely go away.Your hormones, hydration and state of mind all play a big part in your sugar cravings, so stay patient with yourself as you retrain your brain to crave healthy and nutritious foods. If you follow your doctor’s plan and use the techniques in this article, you’ll be on track to ditching sugar cravings for good.

At Soma Weight Loss, we’re here for you before and after your weight loss surgery. See our weight loss resource center for more tips on how to maintain a healthy weight for life, including personalized tips to manage post-bariatric surgery sugar cravings.

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Marisol Avendano

Marisol Avendano is a Registered Nurse (RN) at Soma Weight Loss, where she has worked closely with bariatric surgery patients for over two years. Marisol received her B.S. in Nursing and Public Health from West Coast University in Irvine, California.