According to research published in Surgery for Obesity and Related Diseases, post-op bariatric patients reported “significant reductions in overall cravings for, and consumption of, craved foods.”
While this is good news, it comes with a caveat: “Despite these decreases, patients’ cravings do not fully reduce to ‘normative’ levels and are not associated with postoperative weight loss.”
In other words, while bariatric patients may see a drop in cravings after surgery, this reduction alone will not lead to weight loss. So how can you help patients manage ongoing cravings in order to reach their weight loss goals? These five tips can help.
Many people with obesity eat out of boredom or stress. Being aware of these habits can help weight loss patients avoid falling back into them. According to research published in Complementary Therapies in Medicine, mindfulness-based interventions are not only “highly acceptable” to bariatric patients post-surgery, but may also be effective when it comes to reducing emotional eating.
“Participants universally expressed improved eating behaviors, reduced stress reactivity, and a desire for continued mindfulness-based support in qualitative interviews,” conclude researchers.
In addition to being mindful of the foods they’re eating, patients can also benefit from being more mindful of their motivations. Before giving in to a craving, patients can benefit from asking themselves whether doing so will ultimately help or hinder their progress on the journey to weight loss and better health.
As bariatric patients become more mindful, they should become more aware of the stressors in their lives that lead to cravings and overeating. Avoiding these situations — or having a plan in place to deal with them, if they’re unavoidable — can give weight loss patients an inside edge.
For example, if in the past a patient has succumbed to food cravings while dining out, preparing food at home may be a wiser choice. If dining out is a unavoidable, checking out the menu ahead of time can help patients identify healthy options and head off spur-of-the-moment bad choices.
When cravings strike and there are no healthy options in sight, binging on unhealthy foods is often the unfortunate result. Rather than setting themselves up for a backslide, patients can lay the groundwork for success by keeping bariatric-friendly foods available at all times — not just in the cupboard, but also in the car, at work, and other places where cravings commonly occur. Having healthy alternatives at the ready can prevent that trip to the vending machine or fast food drive-through.
One great go-to for bariatric patients is Achieve from Rational Foods. Not only are they portable, packed with nutrition, and shelf stable for up to 18 months, but they also contain 20 grams of protein, which is associated with feelings of satiety, according to The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.
Speaking of protein, it can be a key defense against cravings. In fact, eating a high-protein breakfast not only leaves eaters more satisfied, but continues to prevent overeating throughout the day, according to research from the University of Missouri-Columbia.
Says Heather Leidy, assistant professor in the MU Department of Nutrition and Exercise Physiology: “Incorporating a healthy breakfast containing protein-rich foods can be a simple strategy for people to stay satisfied longer, and therefore, be less prone to snacking. People reach for convenient snack foods to satisfy their hunger between meals, but these foods are almost always high in sugar and fat and add a substantial amount of calories to the diet. These findings suggest that a protein-rich breakfast might be an effective strategy to improve appetite control and prevent overeating in young people.'
Inadequate hydration is associated with high BMI and obesity, according to research published in the Annals of Family Medicine. The takeaway: “Improving hydration is a strategy commonly used by clinicians to prevent overeating with the goal of promoting a healthy weight among patients.”
While adequate hydration is important for everyone, it's vital for bariatric patients. Not only is dehydration the leading cause of hospitalizations among weight loss patients, but thirst is also often mistaken for hunger, which can lead to grazing — a major no-no for weight loss patients.
For weight loss patients dealing with hunger pangs, drinking a glass of water can mitigate against these cravings. However, patients should also be reminded not to drink with meals, as this can lead to food moving through the pouch at a quicker rate and therefore may promote overeating.
But remember that not all cravings are bad. If a patient is experiencing persistent cravings, revisiting the post-surgical nutrition and fluids guidelines can help determine whether a nutritional deficiency or other issue may be to blame.