Fighting Carb Addiction After Your Gastric Sleeve

Most VSG patients have a love-hate relationship with carbs: They love to eat them and hate what they do to their weight. Carb addiction is very real—and a very real threat to your gastric sleeve diet. Whether you’re on your first day of the pre-op program or years into your sleeve journey, a compulsion to eat low-quality carbs can take a toll on your physical health, as well as take up way too much space in your head. For many, the only way to end a carb addiction is to detox off them like you would any other addition. Here are some tips for getting through that detox period.

Tip #1: Commit to the discomfort. Before going cold turkey on bad carbs, recognize that it takes an all-in mentality to combat the discomfort that will come along with it. If you’ve never attempted it, you may well anticipate the mental struggle “Ugh, what I wouldn’t give for some potato chips right now!” But the physical struggle will likely come as a surprise. Headaches, crankiness, nausea or dizziness, an inability to concentrate…the list goes on. These symptoms don’t happen to everyone, but I don’t want you to be surprised if they happen to you. If this sounds like a list of heroin withdrawal symptoms, you’re not far off. Bad carbs, especially sugar, are thought to be more addictive than many street drugs. Know what to expect, and commit to getting through the process so you can come out the other side calmer, healthier, and feeling better than ever.

Tip #2: Forget counting calories. Obviously, if you’re on the vertical sleeve gastrectomy pre-op diet, you need to follow that plan. But if you’re well past your surgery, I’m going to tell you something that may sound counterintuitive: Don’t worry about how much you’re eating while you’re detoxing. You’re going to have cravings while your body rids itself of simple carbs and sugars. Rather than trying to fight through them by abstaining from snacking, go ahead and eat up. When a nasty craving hits, grab a handful of nuts, a chunk of cheese, etc. There will be plenty of time later to get back to a strict calorie count, but trying to detox off of your favorite carbs while also keeping your calories in check will feel like a losing battle. Just for a bit, forget calories.

Tip #3: Be a special snowflake. Prioritize what you’re doing right now—above your pal’s desire to meet for “coffee” at the local bakery, above your spouse’s suggestion to meet for a cocktail after a long week, and above your kids’ plea to bake cookies for the school bake sale. Putting themselves first isn’t comfortable for many of my patients, but this detox period requires you to do so. When an alcoholic is first in recovery, she wouldn’t plan a girls’ night out at a bar, right? Eventually, you’ll be able to be around baked goods or fried foods without craving them (or, at least, giving into them!), but until you’re on the other side of your addiction, it’s nothing less than self-sabotage to have them in your environment.

Tip #4: Practice not caring. People will have something to say about your decision to detox from, and live without, bad carbs. Whether they’re jealous of your willpower, worried about how your new lifestyle will impact them, or genuinely concerned that what you’re doing isn’t healthful, friends and family will likely give you a hard time at some point. The best defense is an honest-to-goodness belief that a life without harmful carbs is not only healthy but the only way toward true peace with how you’re eating and how you’re living. Educating those around you may have the added benefit of helping them move from carb addiction into freedom as well.

Note: I’m not advocating for complete carb elimination, as they’re a necessary part of a healthy, functional body. Veggies, whole grains, and legumes—all wonderful additions to your diet—have carbs. I don’t know anyone who’s addicted to lentils or broccoli, so no worries there. What I’m talking about are low-quality carbs like what’s found in sweets, fries, white pasta, soda, ice cream, and anything with added sugar. These do absolutely nothing good for your body; instead, they perpetuate a cycle of addiction that can detail all the progress you’ve made on your gastric sleeve journey.

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“Changing lives…one sleeve at a time”.