We’ve all done it. Taking comfort in food. And we all know that comfort food is rarely the healthiest for us. Ice cream, bread, cake, fried foods…the list goes on. Emotional eating is something that virtually everyone indulges in during their lifetime. For bariatric surgery patients, emotional eating can represent an even greater challenge. Why? After bariatric surgery we “deprive” our bodies and mind of the foods that we may have liked or loved most before surgery. Typically, the foods that created our obesity problem are the same one that we crave. The body no longer has those familiar foods to enjoy.
Like any other addiction, we often use and abuse food to cope with or mask an underlying problem. Whether it is stress from work family situations, trauma in early life, stigma from our weight or otherwise, humans have an exceptional ability to create coping mechanisms – wittingly or unwittingly – to feel better. Food is certainly one of those.
While bariatric surgery helps hundreds of thousands each year handle physical and medical problems that have plagued them, sometimes their whole lives, repairing the psychological damage is neither easy nor immediate. In fact, when first discussing life after bariatric surgery, you will learn that bariatric surgery is not a cure-all, but rather an assistive procedure to allow you to face and fight these feelings and thoughts that have plagued you for so long.
So how do we manage our emotional eating triggers?
First, it is important to understand what the triggers these feelings in the first place. You may know the triggers well, or you may have to start a journal to analyze when, how and where you begin to crave food to fill a void. The results may be surprising. Things that you never thought stressed you or gave you anxiety, may actually be causing psychological anguish. You can even retain professional help in the form of a therapist or a counselor to help you through this process.
Next, it is important to develop a strategy to effectively manage these triggers and work through them. One very helpful strategy is to create a routine. After bariatric surgery, start following a simple routine of eating, sleeping and waking at the same times every day. And always devote some time during the day for self-improvement – whether it is through relaxation, exercise or a combination of both.
Distraction is also a great way to avoid emotional eating, especially in the early days after surgery. When you feel the need or deserve food to get you through the next minutes or hours, develop a series of activities that can distract you from the “hunger”. Those in recovery from drugs and alcohol have sponsors. There’s no reason not to have the same go-to person after bariatric surgery. A quick phone call to them can put your mind at ease and remind you that it’s not worth breaking your progress. Other distraction techniques may be as simple as going out for a walk, spending a few minutes on your favorite hobby, playing with your kids or grandkids or listening to music and relaxing.
Most importantly, don’t punish yourself. Recognize that it will take months and maybe even years to reverse the psychological scars that obesity has caused. Rather than spending your time worrying about whether you will be successful, redirect that energy into seeing your progress. Document it in a journal and take progress pictures showing how far you’ve come, tell others about your successes. There will be days where you indulge, and the first reaction is to get upset and discouraged. None of us are perfect and we are certainly not perfect every single day of our lives. So, pick yourself back up the next day – get a good amount of sleep, eat well, drink lots of water and get back on track.
There is no shame in asking for help from a close, trusted friend, a “sponsor”, a professional therapist or from the support team at our office. We are dedicated to helping you achieve the life that you both need and deserve, and we want you to be open and honest about your struggles. Talking about them with others makes it all the easier to manage and ultimately overcome them.