Does Gastric Sleeve Surgery Affect Taste Buds?

If you feel like your taste buds have changed since your vertical sleeve gastrectomy, you’re not wrong. Nor are you alone. Multiple studies have shown it is, in fact, extremely common for bariatric surgery patients to experience aversions to food or drinks that they previously loved. Whether you’re sad to discover an aversion or deliriously happy not to have the craving anymore, let’s delve further into the taste bud issue.

What’s behind the shift?
Cassie was startled to find that she could no longer stand the taste of beloved sweet tea soon after having VSG. Likewise, Demetress noticed that the coffee she used to drink all day long now turned her stomach. Getting tired of something like protein shakes that you practically lived on during your pre-op liquid diet may not come as a surprise, but when things you’ve loved for a lifetime suddenly make you gag, it can give you pause.

Cassie and Demetress are in good company. An 11-year study out of the University Hospitals of Leicester found that nearly three-fourths of the bariatric patients they polled indicated that food tasted different after surgery than it did before, and about half noticed changes in the way food smelled.

Scientists aren’t sure exactly what causes this common issue, though the general consensus is that it’s largely hormonal. It makes sense that changes in ghrelin and other hormones that reside in and impact the stomach can have a big effect on the nervous system (a “highway” between the brain and GI tract that communicates when you’re hungry, when you’re full, and what sounds good).

Most of the time, these changes are actually a good thing, at least as far as weight loss is concerned. Many patients report that things like sweets and fatty fast food meals no longer appeal to them, whereas they develop new cravings for fruits and veggies. Weird, right? But VSG patients who report changes in their taste buds tend to lose more weight than those who don’t.

And the more weight you lose, the more your cravings can change. Many hormones are tied to fat, so when you reduce how much body fat you have, you change your hormones, too. This happens most drastically right after your gastric sleeve in Mexico, but can occur to a lesser extent while you’re dropping pounds later.

What to do about new aversions
Sometimes, the only thing to do is rejoice! If your new distaste for something you shouldn’t be eating anyway, just enjoy the fact that it’s no longer an issue. If it’s an emotional food items—say, your mom’s famous brisket—you might actually need to mourn a bit. Don’t feel silly about that. As many of us can attest, there’s much more to our relationship with food than just something to fill our stomachs. There can be a million emotions wrapped in a single forkful.

But if a newly formed aversion is to a beneficial food or food group, there are steps you can take to “reprogram” your taste buds. Start by trying to identify the problem. Is it the appearance of scrambled eggs that’s making you shudder? Try poaching them instead. The texture of chicken or steak not doing it for you? Maybe stewing it until it’s fall-apart-tender will help. Protein shakes too sweet? Use unflavored protein powder in things you do like to boost your intake. A bit of experimentation may be the key to developing a menu of healthy, palatable foods. And whatever you’re eating, take your time with chewing. Anxiety about choking, nausea, or other “dumping” symptoms can often be overcome simply by slowing down and taking it bite by bite.

The good news/bad news is that food aversions don’t always last forever. They’re more common in the months right after surgery and may wear off, for lack of a better term, down the road. In the meantime, our staff is happy to offer suggestions and support in order to maximize your weight loss—and enjoyment of eating—through every step of your VSG journey.

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