Food cravings after bariatric surgery are normal, but they can be pretty frustrating when trying to adhere to a healthy diet. The good news is that cravings are almost always a result of some chemical imbalance. By understanding this imbalance, you can better manage cravings after bariatric surgery.
Understanding the Science Behind Cravings
Research has concluded that certain foods stimulate the hippocampus, a brain region responsible for learning and memory. In many cases, most people crave foods that are highly processed and full of sugars, which have the "greatest addictive potential."
When the hippocampus becomes stimulated, it will trigger the release of hormones, such as dopamine (aka the "feel good" hormone). Dopamine is a hormone part of the brain's "reward system."
When you give into your unhealthy cravings, dopamine levels rise and amplify the brain pathways that tell you to keep eating. Apart from actually consuming the food resulting in dopamine release, some studies suggest that the anticipation of food can trigger desires and cravings. Research also suggests that sugar and high-fat foods stimulate the release of the hunger hormone ghrelin, which is known to intensify cravings.
8 Tips to Manage Cravings after Bariatric Surgery
1. Identify your food weakness
By identifying your food craving weakness, you know not to buy those specific foods that make it hard to resist the urge to eat it all. This will ultimately help you stay on track toward your health goals and better manage cravings after bariatric surgery.
2. Recognize craving triggers
This idea overlaps with the concept of food addiction. When thinking about your cravings, do you know what triggers them? For some people, their trigger involves seeing the food on TV, on Pinterest, or at the grocery store. Recognizing your environmental or emotional triggers can set the stage to avoid falling down a slippery slope of temptation.
3. Eat your meals
Eating consistent, nutritious meals throughout the day will eliminate your desire to snack, mitigating your willingness to indulge and helping you manage cravings after bariatric surgery. Try meal planning to help you stay on track and avoid any pitfalls.
4. Understand your emotions
Unsurprisingly, when you feel sad, lonely, tired, and bored, you want to consume all those foods you have been dreaming about. It is important to be in tune with your emotions; however, you need to learn how to control your emotions in a manner that does not involve eating.
5. Drink more water
Hunger and thirst cues are very similar, so you can easily confuse dehydration for eating. Try drinking water first when you feel like giving into a food craving. You may find you are satiated, and the craving subsides.
6. Get enough sleep
Sleep is crucial for your overall health and bodily function. When you don’t get a restful night’s sleep each night, you are more likely to make poor eating decisions and give into those cravings. When we are tired, our bodies crave sugar for energy to stabilize the exhaustion. This leads to a sugar high and then a hard crash, making you crave more sugar throughout the day. Sugar has been linked to disruptive sleep, making you more tired during the day, exacerbating this cycle.
7. Review mineral deficiencies
As stated above, most cravings result from a chemical imbalance. Aside from the emotional reason for cravings, there are physical causes due to vitamin deficiencies. Once you identify the constant craving, you can better understand what you may be deficient in. For example, a chocolate craving may signal a magnesium deficiency, while a sugar craving could be a deficiency in chromium, carbon, phosphorus, sulfur, and tryptophan.
8. Lower stress levels
Research has shown that stress and high cortisol levels can lead to bad lifestyle habits. Cortisol, the stress hormone, increases the urge to want to eat sugary, salty, and fatty foods. Stress ultimately makes it harder to manage cravings after bariatric surgery. So finding ways to manage your stress can be beneficial to not just your mental health but also your physical health.