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Why Do We Eat?

Many of us would answer this question with a simple “because I am hungry.”  And, probably be a little annoyed with the fact that someone even asked it.   But, if we are truly honest with ourselves, most of us could find other reasons to why we eat.  Hunger is definitely one, but boredom, stress, fear, depression, and happiness are other triggers we might have as well. We live in a society where food is the center of many parts of our lives.  We go out to eat to celebrate achievements, holidays, birthdays, or just the day of the week.  We eat at times just because the food is there.  After weight loss surgery it is sometimes very difficult to differentiate between actual hunger and head hunger.
Actual hunger is manifested by physical signs, although some of us may have rarely felt these signs.  Stomach growling can be one of them, but occasionally the stomach will growl in response to what we smell.  At times we may have pain in our stomach; we can become agitated, have difficulty concentrating on the task at hand, or feel fatigued.  Emotional hunger normally occurs when we see a food we want, have nothing else to do, are in an emotional state such as happiness, anger, sadness; or you feel it is time to eat, whether you are hungry or not.  Initially after weight loss surgeries the majority of patients do not have an appetite; I have had some people tell me they have to set a timer at work to remind them to eat lunch.  As the appetite comes back each patient has to learn their personal true hunger cues.  It is during this time, normally about 6-12 months after surgery that patients can help to retrain themselves.
Mindful eating can help to curb your emotional eating habits.  It incorporates asking yourself Why, When, What, How, How much and Where you eat.  These are all important questions to ask when determining if you are eating to satisfy your mind or your stomach and body.  If you want more information regarding this please visit the site www.AmIHungry.com and look at the pdf for Mindful Eating for Bariatric Surgery.    If you are diabetic or a binge eating there is information for that as well.
A downfall of many weight loss surgery patients is grazing.   Grazing is eating small amounts throughout the day.  We instruct our patients to eat 3 meals daily, not drink with meals; but between meals, and to refrain from snacking.  I promise we have a method to our madness!  The three meals are to give you your daily nutrients, not drinking with meals prevents overfilling your stomach or pouch and to drink In between meals to help satisfy cravings/hunger between meals.   By not snacking you are complying with all of the above, and you help decrease the caloric intake throughout the day and let your tool do its job.  Snacking or grazing can lead to a major increase in caloric intake, and prevents you from getting full because the food is slowly moving through your stomach while you are slowly eating it.   Think of standing in line for an amusement park line vs. having a ticket to ride at a certain time.   Those who get in line will get through slower then those with a ticket.   Because when you eat a meal you tend to eat more at one time, you will stay fuller longer; and will eat less and thus take in fewer calories.   If you eat small amounts throughout the day, you are continually adding small amounts of food as the previous food passes through, so you never feel full, but you end up taking in more calories by eating more throughout the day.
The last thing I want to cover is fullness vs satiated.  In our culture we are under the impression we should eat until we are full and can’t fit another morsel in.  In actuality we should eat until we are no longer hungry.  This is hard to do, especially if you are enjoying what you are eating.  We want you to enjoy what you eat, but cooked in a better way and in smaller portions.  But eating until you are full will not only add extra calories, but can cause nausea and vomiting that can lead to damage to your pouch.  We have set limits on the amount to eat at one meal to help you from becoming too full.  There is a fine line between just enough and too much, this line many times is one to two bites, and yes I said bites.  By learning your cues to when you are no longer hungry, you will learn to stop eating sooner and help prevent the consequences of eating too much.
Remember your surgery is a tool; you have to use it properly for it to work.  Many patients have told us that surgery was for their stomach, but the brain needs it too.  Some have even called the brain their enemy.  By being cognizant of what, why, how, and when you are eating; you can help your enemy become your biggest comrade.

Sarah Grimes, RN, CBN

May, M., Furtado, M., & Ornstein, L. (2014). The Mindful Eating Cycle: Preventing and Resolving Maladaptive Eating After Bariatric Surgery. Bariatric Times February Ed. Retrieved from http://bariatrictimes.com/the-mindful-eating-cycle-preventing-and-resolving-maladaptive-eating-after-bariatric-su

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