Cravings After Weight Loss Surgery and What To Do About Them

As someone who has recently changed their lifestyle, a bariatric patient will undoubtedly face the very real dilemma of fighting food cravings that didn’t disappear once the surgery was over. Cravings for certain foods and drink that were once part of your daily diet are inevitable. After all, the behaviors, triggers and developed tastes that were with you before surgery are still very much part of you. Only now, they must be looked at through the filter of post-surgery life.

All of us, whether bariatric patients or not, have cravings. As dietary choices from your pre-surgery life are purged – those that contain high amounts of sugar, sodium and saturated fat – your body may not necessarily purge the cravings that desire them. Much like recovering from an addiction, you will face temptation, triggers, setbacks, and relapses. You must fight these urges, and continue to surround yourself with ways to stay on track – the right snacks and meals at the ready, contact with your support group and knowledge that your medical team is always willing to discuss and consult on the challenges you’re facing.

Over time, because of our previous long-term dietary choices, research has shown that our bodies develop a sort of “set point.” This is the weight at which our bodies feel we are in balance. This set point can be skewed over years or decades, tricking ourselves into thinking that an elevated weight is our new normal. As we all know, resetting this “normal” to a lower weight is not easy. It requires time, focus and dedication. Along the way, cravings will be a certainty, but remembering the larger picture – a life free of obesity and the accompanying co-morbidities, or fitting comfortably on an amusement park ride, or simply keeping up with the kids at the park – are better reasons to fight the temptations that strive to derail us. Our “new normal” goes beyond a number on a scale; rather, it’s the new confidence in knowing life is ours for the taking and within our control.

Does Bariatric Surgery Reduce Food Cravings?

It is helpful to know that bariatric surgery can, in fact, help with food cravings, both in physical and psychological ways.

  • A significant number of patients who undergo stapled procedures, especially the gastric sleeve, report back that their cravings and hunger pangs are much reduced after surgery. This is most likely due to the removal of the fundus of the stomach, responsible for much of the secretion of the hormone ghrelin. Ghrelin is primarily responsible for the feeling of hunger, while the lack of ghrelin promotes satiety.
  • Procedures that include a modification of the small intestine, such as the gastric bypass, may also reset gut bacteria levels, which can help us lose weight, improve or eliminate type II diabetes, and ultimately reduce our hunger pangs.
  • Lastly, most of us have experienced a situation where, when we remove ourselves from a destructive (but desirable) behavior for long enough, we often do not seek it out as much. This is the same with bariatric surgery. After several months avoiding “bad” foods we begin to crave them less and less.

Tips to manage cravings

  • Remind yourself of how far you’ve come by remembering, or even carrying a picture of, the old you. Ask yourself if giving in to your craving will help or hinder the progress you have made and any successes you have achieved.
  • Grab a glass water to make sure that you are hydrated and that the craving you are experiencing is not due to dehydration. Chronic dehydration is a leading cause for grazing and overeating. Those who are well hydrated often experience fewer cravings and generally feel better throughout the day.
  • Reduce stress by having a plan for when stressful situations arise. Sleeping well, exercising and eliminating artificial stimulants such as caffeine, sugar and artificial sweetener whenever possible are key. Stress encourages our bodies to release a hormone known as cortisol, which can make us feel hungrier and increase our cravings.
  • Reassess boredom. Many times we eat mindlessly when we think there’s nothing else to do. Adjust your thinking. Trade your fast food run for a real run. Call a friend for a hike or walk instead of going for a coffee or drink. Calories add up because of boredom, but so do “calories lost” by swapping activity for snacking.

Of course, not all cravings are bad. There are also those times when our cravings can alert us to nutritional deficiencies. If we are craving red meat or certain vegetables, we may be deficient in the nutrients afforded by those foods. It is important not to ignore those cravings. Make sure that you are following your post-surgical guidelines closely and bring these up with your doctor or nutritionist.

Our Surgical Weight Loss Program and Bariatric Surgery Center's mission is to deliver safe and effective surgical solutions with a compassionate touch. Our bariatric program is operated by NYU Langone Long Island Surgical Associates, P.C., a network of leading physicians and surgeons that provide comprehensive care for patients.

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