For the first 6 months to 1 year post WLS, many people do not feel the same level of hunger or food cravings they did prior to surgery. In addition, your pouch limits what you can eat and you may not be able to tolerate certain foods. But for many bariatric patients, the appetite and cravings return. As the appetite and cravings return, weigh regain may be an issue and emotional eating plays a large role in this process.
Steps to take Control of Emotional Eating
Emotional eating is when you eat in response to an emotion (stress, anger, boredom, etc.) and not physical (true) hunger. Physical hunger is when you have not eaten for at least 3 hours, your stomach is empty, blood sugar might be dwindling and your body needs fuel. Emotions are often a trigger that makes us “think” we are truly hungry, when we are not. We were all born with the ability to feel true hunger and fullness. Babies cry when they are hungry and stop eating when they are full. Somewhere along the line we lost touch with the feeling of true hunger and fullness. To control emotional eating one must relearn how to feel true hunger and separate it from the false hunger/emotional hunger.
Are you truly hungry?
It is not a simple task to start to relearn your body’s true signs of hunger and fullness. But with consistent practice you will begin to recognize and separate the true hunger from the false hunger associated with emotional eating. Ask yourself, “Am I truly hungry?” If you are truly hungry you will eat whatever is there even if it is something you are not crazy about. However, if you are experiencing false hunger from emotional eating, you might be looking for a specific food or “comfort” food. If you are not truly hungry, find something else to do instead of eat (e.g.: if you are bored – find something to do or if you are stressed, look for alternatives to stress relief, etc.)
One strategy to reign in emotional eating is to use a hunger/fullness scale. The scale below can be used as a tool to help begin the process.
|Neutral (not hungery or full)||4 – 5|
|Comfortably full||6 – 7|
|Very full||8 – 9|
1 = absolutely famished, will eat anything!
2 = need to eat now, stomach is growling
3 = just starting to feel hunger, stomach not growling yet
4 – 5 = do not feel hungry or full
6 – 7 = full, but not uncomfortable
8 – 9 = getting uncomfortably full
10+ = you overdid it, feeling stuffed
The goal is to avoid the extremes. You do not want to allow yourself to get to a 1 on the scale. When we are overly hungry we do not make sound food choices, we eat too fast and overeat. Make sure you plan your day’s meals and snacks so you rarely get overly hungry. When eating, try not to go over a 5 on the scale. Anything higher on the scale and you’ve overeaten.
Remember your bariatric basics — eat slowly, cut food up into tiny pieces and chew each bite 20 – 30 times. Eating slowly allows you to pay attention to fullness cues so you stop eating before you get overstuffed. Put your fork or spoon down between bites and reassess your level of fullness on the scale throughout each meal. Truly taste your food and enjoy the textures – savor the experience of eating. When you savor the eating experience you might find you are satisfied with less food.
Where to Begin
Keep a record of your level of hunger and fullness at these 4 times using the hunger/fullness scale above:
- Before the meal (write down your hunger number)
- During the meal (about midway) (write down your hunger/fullness number)
- After the meal (write down your fullness number)
- 20 – 30 minutes after the meal (write down your fullness number)
Make notes of any trends – are you allowing yourself to get overly hungry? Are you overeating? What emotions where you experiencing? This information can be invaluable to help you, your therapist or dietitian work with you to come up with a plan to control emotional eating for good.
Source: Celebrate Vitamins Website accessed 11/2015
Dietitian’s Corner by Lori Skurbe
Dietitian’s Corner is a monthly column for post-op and pre-op patients of bariatric surgery in NJ written by Prime Surgicare’s Lori Skurbe. Lori has been a dietitian for over 20 years with an extensive background in weight management, bariatric nutrition and diabetes education.