Can Gastric Sleeve Surgery Help with Food Addiction?

Many people who seek out gastric sleeve surgery are more than food lovers; they’re food addicts. And, having lived with this very real disorder for years, it’s understandable that patients wonder whether the procedure will have any effect on their ability to control their interactions with food. The short answer is yes, it can help greatly. The longer answer is that, while a gastric sleeve is an indispensable tool, each patient must commit to making significant changes to support the work of the sleeve.

Mind vs. Body
I frequently talk about the difference between real hunger and “head hunger,” which is habitual, compulsive, and/or boredom induced. When you have gastric sleeve surgery at Endobariatric, not only do we physically shrink the size of your stomach, but we remove most of the area that produces ghrelin, the “hunger hormone.” So while you’ll likely still experience hunger—though not right after the procedure—the physical sensation of hunger will be greatly reduced. Head hunger, however, is still a challenge for some patients.

One of the keys is simply being aware of head hunger and calling it by its name. You may be surprised at the power of simply telling yourself, “I’m not physically hungry; I’m bored/used to eating at this time/etc.”

If you’re still in the pre-op phase, it’s helpful to draw a box around your old life while you’re preparing for a new life. As sleeve veteran Amy suggests, “Consider the pre-op liquid diet a detox, and you can form a new relationship with food after your surgery…It does get easier, and you certainly can relapse, but you’ll have slips, not slides.”

Action Steps
We encourage everyone to find new outlets—like exercising, journaling, or engrossing hobbies—for compulsive behavior that would typically send you to the fridge. And with help from some of Endobariatric’s “been there, done that” sleeve patients, we’ve put together an additional list of tips to help you combat food addiction.

• Go cold turkey. Trying to cut down on the problem foods you crave doesn’t work for most people. Post-sleeve food addicts who are most successful tend go cold turkey by dumping all the junk in their kitchen—and not restocking it. Dorothy recommends clearing the house of sugar, simple carbs, and soda in order to combat cravings. “The day I scheduled my surgery, all the crap food in my house went in the garbage,” she says. “Then all through my pre-op, I kept something going in my mouth virtually all the time—water, tea, Crystal Light, sugar-free Jell-O, broth, and the allowed protein shakes—and that kept me from getting hungry. And I promise you, I never craved or even wanted anything.”

• Write it all down. Identifying the source of craving-causing foods is a lot easier once you begin writing down every sip and bite you take. Kori advises adding up how many carbs you’re consuming daily and comparing that to the number of carbs you’re supposed to stick to. When she did so, “I could see right away where my weaknesses were,” she says.

• Consider the consequences. Many of you know our awesome staffer, Brandi, who is also a patient. She says thinking about the results of a binge prevents her from returning to compulsive behaviors. “Yes, I want to, but when it comes down to it, I can’t because the possible pain wouldn’t be worth it,” she observes. Overfilling your new, smaller stomach isn’t a pleasant experience. Keep those sensations in mind any time you’re tempted to eat mindlessly.

• Talk it out. Some of our patients are loud and proud about their sleeve, while others don’t want to broadcast their decision to the world. If you’re more on the “keep it quiet” side, know that it can be helpful to have one or two trusted people with whom you can share the good, bad, and ugly. Endobariatric’s online support group is a valuable resource, but a real-life confidante can be indispensable when you need fast encouragement or distraction. Finding a professional counselor who specializes in food addiction is another option for patients who don’t have a great support system or who simply need more structured help.

The sleeve isn’t a cure all, but it does provide a definite advantage in the battle against food addiction. And at Endobariatrc, our staff is always ready to lend an ear, offer advice, and cheer you on!

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“Changing lives…one sleeve at a time”.