Managing Food Cravings After Bariatric Surgery: Strategies for Success

Managing Food Cravings After Bariatric Surgery: Strategies for Success

Alex Brecher

Food cravings can hit hard after bariatric surgery. They can feel overwhelming, and they can derail your diet and weight loss if you let them. However, there are ways to handle food cravings to prevent them from being as harmful. Here is what you should know about food cravings and strategies for managing them after bariatric surgery. 

Understanding Food Cravings

Food cravings happen when you really want a specific type of food. The food is usually a high-calorie, low-nutrient treat. For example, cravings for chocolate, ice cream, pizza, French fries, potato chips, bagels, and pasta are common.

The trick to understanding food cravings is realizing that they’re not the result of biological need. That is, you might want a plate of pasta or a bowl of ice cream, but it’s not because your body necessarily needs a load of starch or of sugar and saturated fat. Strange as it may seem, it’s probably all in your head. 

Challenges of Cravings After Bariatric Surgery

Cravings can post more or different challenges after bariatric surgery than before. They may have been strong before, but it’s possible you used to cave more easily. The slightest craving might have been enough to get another handful of chips or to deposit money in the vending machine for a candy bar.

After bariatric surgery, caving in is less of an option. Chips and candy, as well as other commonly craved foods, are more detrimental. They may throw you off of your diet and lead you to make other poor decisions. Or they could lead to dumping syndrome or cause other sick feelings. 

Strategies for Success Managing Food Cravings After Bariatric Surgery

There are ways to manage food cravings after bariatric surgery to help prevent them from derailing your weight loss or healthy intentions. These are some strategies to try.

  • Acknowledge the craving.
  • Your first instinct may be to try to deny or ignore the craving, but that can make it worse. Instead, try to acknowledge and even embrace the craving. Think about how your body feels and what kind of food you are craving.

    When you suppress a craving, it may become stronger until you can’t ignore it anymore. By that time, you may be so worn down that you break down quickly and end up eating more than you might have if you had dealt with the craving earlier.

  • Recognize the craving.
  • A craving is all in your head. It’s your brain telling you that you want or need something that you don’t actually have a physiological need for. When you recognize that the craving is nothing but an incorrect message from your brain, it’s easier to take control over it. If you instead believe that you truly need some chicken wings or a brownie, you may be more likely to cave in.

  • Assess your hunger.
  • Check in with yourself to see whether you are hungry, and if so, how hungry you are. This is good practice to do before you eat at any time. There’s no need to eat when you are not truly hungry. 

    If you’re not sure whether you’re hungry, which can be the case for strong cravings or when you are losing weight, ask yourself this: “Am I hungry enough to eat green beans?” If you are, then help yourself to something as healthy and nutritious as green beans. If you’re not that hungry, then you definitely don’t need a burrito or a piece of cake.

  • Delay.
  • Wait a few minutes before you act on the craving. That can be long enough to ride out the craving. Or, you might get engrossed in something that far more time passes before you again think about food. 

    These are some possible stall tactics that you might try before having the food you crave.

    • Drink a glass of water. 
    • Phone a friend.
    • Take a walk.
    • Read a chapter of a book.
    • Go to a (non-food) store.

    Delaying is different than ignoring your craving. You acknowledge it, and give yourself permission to have the food you crave, but only after doing something else first.

  • Leave or avoid the scene to reduce temptation.
  • Leave or avoid the environment that is triggering the craving. For example, if driving past a fast food restaurant makes you want a taco, pick a different route that doesn’t go by that joint. If last night’s leftovers are calling your name from the fridge, go outside so you are further from your kitchen.

    You can also try these strategies.

    • Keep only healthy foods in the house.
    • Sit far from the buffet table at parties and restaurants.
    • Place dessert and appetizers at the other end of the table so you can’t reach them.
  • Be picky.
  • It’s okay to have a treat sometimes, but make sure it’s what you really want. That way, there are fewer things to choose from, and you can feel in control because you get to choose what to have. When you do have what you really want, just have a bite or two. Savor it and don’t feel guilty. 

  • Get enough sleep.
  • Getting adequate sleep can reduce cravings for starchy, sugary, and salty foods. It can also help increase your ability to resist them. 

  • Make it better.
  • The BariatricPal Store has almost every imaginable food, but in a bariatric-friendly formulation. Whatever you are craving, there’s a good chance that you can find a low-carb or high-protein version. These are some examples of our sugar-free, keto, low-carb, or high-protein choices.

    • Breads, bagels, and pizza crusts.
    • Ready-to-eat cookies and doughnuts, as well as cookie and cake mixes.
    • Mashed potatoes and pasta.
    • Chocolates and candies.
    • Chips, crackers, and pretzels.

    Food cravings are almost inevitable after bariatric surgery, but you can handle them. The BariatricPal Store has choices that can satisfy your taste buds while you stay on your diet. It’s also a good idea to talk to your nutritionist or surgeon to see if they have any advice to help you with your cravings. 

    Managing food cravings