Battling the Sugar Monster After Gastric Sleeve Surgery

Choosing gastric sleeve in our Mexico hospital changes your life in all kinds of wonderful ways, but one thing we can’t tell you for sure is whether the cravings you battled before VSG will persist. People generally struggle with either sweet or salty, though an unlucky few desire both pretty equally. And while many of the tips below can be applied to salty cravings, today we’re focusing on that nasty sugar monster. Generally, patients who’ve had vertical sleeve gastrectomy and still struggle with a hankering for sweets deal with it in one of three ways: abstain completely, indulge only when a craving is overwhelming, or give in often (usually with sugar substitutes). Let’s take a look at each approach.

Option 1: Cut sugar out completely.

Much like an alcoholic can’t have a drink once in a while without relapsing completely, many sugar addicts choose to abstain for fear of sabotaging their gastric sleeve diet entirely. Endobariatric patient Danielle says her addiction is real—and so are the consequences if she gives into them. “A Reese’s or ice cream sandwich always feels harmless, but I always end up backsliding. Then after a couple months I have to get myself back on the wagon and sugar detox again. It’s a journey.”

LeighLon says the only thing that’s worked for her is abstaining from sugar, which has given her more energy and eliminated her cravings altogether. Patty H. knows all about the pitfalls of wavering on such a commitment. “It’s a slippery slope. I fell off the wagon and have gained so much weight back.”

Option 2: Put sugar and its substitutes in the “sometimes” category.

Others can have sugar once in a while or wean off the sweet stuff slowly without negative consequences. Because the VSG procedure removes so much of the “hunger hormone,” ghrelin, many find that sugar doesn’t have the same control over them as before. “I don’t fight it,” says Patty D. “I just consume foods in small amounts with a zero glycemic and carb impact. Without the ghrelin, I can easily walk by the office donuts, snack bar, etc., and not give it a second glance though.”

Tracy, an admitted sugar junkie, has found that moderate amounts of sugar affect her differently on different days. Sometimes, two bites make her so full she couldn’t possibly eat another bite of sugar; other times she can finish a whole package of peanut butter cups. “I made a deal with (myself that) if I do have a sugar day, I must have protein or a veggie before each sugar. It slows the craving down.”

Option 3: Give in frequently but smartly.

For some vertical sleeve gastrectomy patients, indulging often doesn’t impact their weight loss or maintenance, as long as they do it in a smart way. JL, for instance, doesn’t deny herself sweets. Kelly is a huge snacker, she says, so she tries to keep protein handy. And if she needs a little sweet after that savory? “(I) keep the 100-calorie sizes of something sweet, and I’ve noticed I never finish them.”

Keep in mind that most VSG patients can’t have sugar every day. If you’re plagued by sugar cravings and find yourself caving, make sure you’re choosing smart sugar substitutes that are low in carbs.

More tips for handling cravings, no matter which approach you take:

  • Essential oils. Using essential oils like grapefruit or fennel helps some people avoid temptation. Try keeping one nearby so you can inhale the scent or apply with a roller ball to your wrist.
  • Fill up on other things. Being dehydrated fuels cravings, so make sure you’re getting enough water. Protein, too, can squelch unhealthy urges. For super-tough cravings, try a piece of fruit to see if the natural sweetness takes the edge off.
  • Get a “sponsor.” Enlist a trusted friend to talk you down—or just distract you—when you want to give into sugary calorie-bombs.
  • Go to bed earlier. When you sleep well, you’re far more able to make healthy choices. But more than that, hormones that regulate your appetite actually change (for the worse, of course) when you’re sleep deprived. So hit the sack!
  • Avoid triggers. Some people have a fat tooth rather than a sweet tooth, meaning that candy isn’t nearly as appealing as a brownie. If you can stop at one sugar-free popsicle but will hoover an entire bag of sugar-free cookies, then skip baked goods, even if they’re low-carb.  

Remember that if you’re truly unable to stop yourself from eating sugar, you’re probably genuinely addicted. I recommend seeking professional help from a therapist who specializes in addiction counseling.

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