Bariatric Surgery And Food Addiction

Over the last few years, I have worked with many bariatric surgery patients. One thing they have all had in common is food addiction. If I work with a client prior to surgery, I have noticed that the intensity they feel around food addiction dramatically reduces. If the compulsive urge arises, they are able to work through it quickly. This is best case scenario. More often than not, the clients who contact us have already had surgery and realize well into the process, it doesn’t change their urges to eat. That is not true of all surgery patients. There is a small percentage of post-surgical patients who legitimately don’t have the desire to eat certain foods any longer. For the vast majority, food addiction is alive and well festering under the surface. There are a lot of programs that start classifying foods as “good” and “bad”. While there are certain foods that will absolutely throw you out of ketosis and slow or stop the weight loss progress, I think looking at food as good or bad is incredibly dangerous because it does two things:

  • Looking at foods as “good” or “bad” makes you feel good for abstaining or bad for eating them. If you have seen articles I have previously written on this, you know this keeps you in the cycle of shame and self-sabotage. What that also means is you will stay there spiraling down until you decide to let go of the shame.
  • Most of the diet plans or abstinence based food addiction programs trigger deprivation mentality. We tend to have an all or nothing approach to food. This is the yo-yo diet in its finest! Depriving ourselves of certain foods actually triggers a signal in our brain to obsess about them until we get our drug of choice.

I do not advocate abstinence of certain foods for the reasons stated above. In my opinion, it is just like a dry drunk. Sure, they aren’t drinking, but they white knuckle every day to survive and get through it. I don’t just want my clients to survive, I want them to thrive and feel free from the shackles of food addiction. This is why I operate under an intuitive eating approach. This is incredibly difficult post-surgery because, by design, surgical programs have a restricted eating plan. This is to allow patients to lose the most weight possible. My solution to this is that you first need to get down to the bottom of your food addiction. Why it started and the function it still serves. Once you do that, balanced eating is possible. It will allow you to look at food more objectively and ask yourself if you really want it, why you want it, how it will make your body feel and if it will help or hurt your goals. Then you make the decision. If you really want that cookie, you can eat it. You’ve given it careful consideration and you’ve accepted the potential physical consequences that may arise, but you let go of the emotional consequences that previously kept you stuck in the downward spiral. There is a big difference between “can’t” and “won’t”. If someone tells me I can’t have something, it just makes me want it more. If I feel like I have a choice, I will think about it carefully and make a thoughtful decision on my own terms. This makes it much easier to decide not to eat something that would sabotage progress. The choice is yours, but only if you give up the emotional baggage in the process!

Michelle Lewis

Michelle Lewis

Michelle Lewis has a Bachelor's degree in Psychology from Weber State University and a Master's degree in Social Work from the University of Utah. She has been working in the mental health field since 2001.

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