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April 30, 2019 - by - in Nutrition

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If you have recently undergone a weight loss procedure like gastric bypass or gastric sleeve, you have may already be experiencing rapid weight loss. Along with your slimmer figure, you may have also noticed changes in your mood, your energy levels and even your appetite. However, many bariatric patients continue to struggle with intense cravings and hunger following their weight loss procedure.

If you are having difficulty managing hunger after bariatric surgery, don’t panic. You must first understand what causes hunger after weight loss surgery before you can take steps to manage it.

Understanding Cravings: Hormones, Hunger and the Brain

There are two hormones responsible for creating the sensations we call hunger and satiation. The first, called ghrelin, is the hormone that tells your brain when your stomach is empty and that you need food. The other hormone, called leptin, is responsible for signaling to your brain when your stomach is full and you are no longer hungry.

These two hormones work together to regulate your hunger and eating cycles. Ideally, your brain correctly translates these signals and regulates when you feel hungry or full — but as many weight loss surgery patients know, this isn’t always how things pan out.

The brain is open to suggestion when it sees a food you have enjoyed in the past — oh, someone brought donuts to work! — and emotions like stress, discomfort, boredom, happiness, distraction and sadness can confuse your brain and make it think you’re hungry even when you’re not.

This phenomenon, often referred to as emotional eating, is a real issue for many patients who may have had a fraught relationship with food prior to their weight loss surgery.

How to Tell the Difference Between Stomach Hunger and Brain Hunger

How do you know whether hunger is in your stomach or in your head? Look out for the clues below.

Signs of Stomach Hunger

Stomach hunger — sometimes referred to as physical hunger — means your body needs fuel. This is the type of hunger you can and should manage with wholesome and nutritious food. Watch out for these tell-tale signs that you’re experiencing genuine hunger:

  • Onset of hunger is gradual
  • Stomach growling or gurgling
  • Not linked to a specific craving; open to any kind of food
  • Light-headedness or fatigue
  • Feelings of irritability or difficulty concentrating

How to Manage Stomach Hunger

If you are feeling genuinely hungry, the important first step is to take things slow. Chew your food thoroughly and pay attention to how your body feels. Eating too fast may cause indigestion and other uncomfortable physical symptoms. Avoid drinking fluids for at least 30 minutes after you’ve finished eating.

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Signs of Brain Hunger

Brain hunger — also known as psychological hunger — isn’t prompted by your body’s need for fuel. Instead, psychological hunger comes from a craving that’s often connected to a strong emotion. Keep an eye out for these signs that your mind is playing tricks on you:

  • Onset of hunger is sudden
  • Linked to a particular craving; desire for a certain type of food
  • Triggered by a strong emotion like sadness, frustration or boredom

How to Manage Brain Hunger

Sometimes thirst manifests as hunger, so before you take a bite of food, drink a full glass of water and wait for about 20 minutes. If your hunger persists, try eating a small protein-rich snack, which will help you stay full for longer.

Does Weight Loss Surgery Get Rid of Brain Hunger?

Weight loss surgery can help you feel satisfied more quickly because of the smaller size of your stomach. Plus, recent studies show that certain people experience a reduction of the hunger hormone ghrelin following weight loss surgery, which can impact cravings and the urge to eat.

That said, weight loss surgery doesn’t get rid of hunger completely. For some individuals, cravings can remain unchanged or even increase for a short time following a bariatric procedure. That’s because your brain continues to play a major role in your inclination to eat, especially if emotional eating was an issue for you before your surgery. Thankfully, there are many ways you can manage hunger after bariatric surgery, and over time you will begin to recognize the difference between genuine hunger and cravings.

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.

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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.