Fighting Hunger After Weight Loss Surgery

Some post-bariatric surgery patients constantly feel like they are fighting hunger. It can be very frustrating for the patient who has chosen to embark on this journey to accept that surgery was not a magic bullet. However, patients are reminded pre-surgery that the procedure they’ve chosen is only one component – albeit a key one – that must be utilized in concert with diet, exercise, and support group attendance. These together will yield the most significant long-term result. We get that, you might say. But now we’ve had surgery; in the case for example of restrictive bariatric surgery our stomachs are smaller, and in some cases our previous appetite is…still there!

Weight loss surgery is not only a physical process but also a psychological one. We urge patients to examine the situation around them to determine whether their hunger is a natural physical response or simply their brain’s perception of hunger. For years, maybe even decades, we have unwittingly trained our bodies and minds to accept that our stomach is full when we are actually OVERFULL. Consequently, many of us have developed a skewed sense of a “normal” full feeling. This creates a sort of “set-point,” making it more difficult to lose weight without bariatric surgery. Restrictive bariatric surgeries, such as the gastric sleeve for example, offer a great opportunity to reset this “set-point”. After surgery, as your appetite gradually comes back, it is important during meals to eat slowly and to pay attention to your body in order to perceive that first sensation of “fullness”. This is important because it will help you distinguish between the real sensation of hunger and your brain’s perception of hunger. Learning to stop eating at that first sensation of fullness will help you maintain great results over time.

After surgery, it would make sense that as we eat less our brains can struggle to register that familiar “stuffed” feeling. The result: we can still feel hungry. Our bodies don’t need those extra calories to sustain them, nor do we lack our nutritional requirements if we follow our recommended diets and take our dietary supplements. Still, no matter – We. Feel. Hungry.

This false sense of continuing hunger can take time to readjust. We must train ourselves to feel comfortable with this “new norm.” As with any weight loss issue, surgical or not, it can take time to retrain our brains to understand that our stomach is satisfied with less food than before. The trick is time and consistency. Once your mind realizes that your body has had an appropriate amount of food, you will understand that you are not hungry, instead just learning to recognize this new state of normal. This can take weeks or even months, during which it is crucial that you lean on the support team that you have developed and utilize the resources available through your bariatric program.

As with every challenge, there’s no shame in asking for help, whether from a friend or a professional. Remember that asking for help is not a sign of weakness; knowing your limitations and facing them head-on is decidedly strong.

Weight loss surgery is a powerful tool that can help you return to, or discover, healthy habits. While the dietary changes after surgery may seem difficult, and complicated, you are, in fact, just returning to standard portion sizes. As time passes and your brain and body adapt, your new standard will be an empowering one.

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