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What Should Bariatric Patients Do if They’re Always Hungry After Working Out?

woman exercising on floor next to weights on yoga mat

It can sometimes feel like a chore. As a bariatric patient, not only do you have to limit your diet and the calories you consume, but you must also go and work out. Sometimes, especially when motivation is waning, keeping this kind of schedule can be challenging, to say the least; even more challenging, however, is getting to the gym and doing your workout, yet feeling hungry afterward. Before we get into how to manage this, you need to know that this is normal. When our bodies work hard, we crave what we need to recover: restorative nutrition. However, uncontrolled eating after a workout needs to be limited. Let’s talk about how to do it.

Your General Mental State

The workout was challenging, but you’re not feeling so great. You might be down on yourself about something to do with your weight or something completely unrelated. As you leave the gym, you may feel like you deserve to indulge because you worked through your desire to stay home. But this way of thinking is rarely productive and, more often than not, leads to overeating. Getting into the right frame of mind is one of the first steps in managing hunger, whether from working out or just daily cravings.

Hydration

You may have been told to consume at least 64 ounces of water, but we’ve gotten better at realizing that that might be too little as a starting point. Also, when you start working out, you need much more hydration intake. If you don’t get enough water before, during, and after your workout, your body may mistake thirst for hunger, prodding you to eat. This phenomenon, known as head hunger, is a problematic part of postoperative bariatric life and can add hundreds of calories a day and thousands a week. The simple solution, of course, is just to be more mindful about your hydration and water consumption. In general, we recommend that you drink about 100 oz of water per day.

How Much You’ve Eaten

What you think you have eaten may differ from your actual caloric intake. Patients tend to eat less early in the process to speed up their weight loss. This is problematic, especially if you are going to the gym. If you are hydrating well and had a great day at the gym, if you’re still hungry, consider that you may be in a significant calorie deficit. Helpful online tools like calorie counters and meal trackers can be a great way to understand more about this. We also encourage you to speak to your surgeon and dietician to understand more and get some advice.

What Are You Eating?

Everything we put in our bodies serves a purpose. Some may be more beneficial than others, but ultimately, there are consequences to what we eat and how we eat it. You may reach your calorie limit by consuming simple carbs, like white grains, white bread, and added sugar, but there is no nutritional longevity. These simple carbs do not fill you up; you will be hungry sooner. You need more protein to fight cravings, as your post-op bariatric diet prescribes.

Drinking Artificially Sweetened Drinks

We say it repeatedly, but water is the best way to hydrate. It is a no-calorie, low-cost option that many of us enjoy or learn to enjoy in time. There’s nothing quite like a cup of water after a hard workout. Occasionally, you may also dabble in drinks that are not low-calorie but tailored specifically toward exercise recovery. Occasional use of these drinks probably will not cause a significant problem, but they should not be a staple in your diet.

On the other hand, artificial sweetener gives some patients a false sense of security. The sweeteners are low or no calories yet offer the same or more sweetness versus sugar or honey. Unfortunately, while the principle behind them seems fantastic, we are starting to understand that artificial sweeteners may, despite the 0-calorie label, promote excessive food consumption and may even trigger diabetes in some patients.

Understanding other potential reasons for significant hunger after a workout is important too. For one, some patients, especially those who have suffered from chronic obesity, may be depressed or anxious. While losing weight and working out can often address these issues by releasing mood-helping chemicals in the body, it doesn’t do so overnight.

What’s the Solution?

First, have a plan in place to deal with post-workout hunger. One of the best after-workout options is a meal replacement protein shake from one of the major bariatric supplement manufacturers. Or a homemade shake that conforms to post-bariatric nutritional guidelines. If you’ve had a solid workout, you may need this. Eating at a meal is another good option. It allows you to satisfy physical hunger with food. Remember to chew your food well as this helps the feelings of fullness and eat your meals over 20-30 minutes. Lean grilled meats are often a good option, as are dark, leafy vegetables and whole fruits. After some time off the fast food, energy drinks, and other less-than-ideal options, you will find that veggies, fruits, and lean meats taste better than you ever thought.

Understand that cardio-type exercises tend to stimulate hunger. Walking, biking, water aerobics, and CrossFit may dramatically increase your post-workout hunger. Largely avoid these exercises unless you’ve discussed it with your doctor. Use exercise as part of your stress management plan…if you don’t “stress exercise”, you’re likely to “stress eat”. This is a fundamental lifestyle change that’s important for your long-term success.

Of course, we encourage you to contact your bariatric surgeon’s office if you have any questions. We’re proud of you for going to the gym and want to help you get it right in any way we can.

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