It's Still Not About the Food
By Michelle May, M.D.
Adjusting to a New Normal after Bariatric Surgery
While bariatric surgery may be controversial, even bariatric surgeons agree that bariatric surgery is a tool, not a quick fix. And like any other tool, it requires the skillful management by a knowledgeable user to work effectively.
Adjusting to a New Normal
Many people who decide to try bariatric surgery believe that they've tried everything else—counting every calorie, point, exchange, or carb and every minute on the treadmill—but most have never even heard of intuitive or mindful eating. Some believe or hope that having bariatric surgery will solve all of their problems, but nothing could be further from the truth. For example, if you’re an “emotional eater,” the situations and emotions that triggered eating in the past are unlikely to disappear simply because you’ve chosen to have bariatric surgery. As one patient said, “They didn’t operate on my brain!” Some discover that they “miss” their friend—food—leaving them with a feeling of loss. As one person told me, "I've cut out my coping skill!" Others believe that after surgery they won’t need to think about their eating anymore. In fact, it is just the opposite. You need to become very thoughtful about eating in order to use this tool optimally to develop and maintain a healthy lifestyle. If you’re not mindful about your eating, this “tool” can cause you to experience uncomfortable, even serious consequences—and you’ll be far less likely to get the results you hoped for.
An Essential Tool
Mindful eating is an essential tool for building a healthy lifestyle. Mindfulness is beneficial because it teaches us to focus our attention and awareness on what is happening right now, which in turn helps us disengage from habitual, unsatisfying, and unskillful habits and behaviors. Specifically, mindful eating skills help resolve the mindless habits and emotional eating issues that commonly lead to overeating and problems after bariatric surgery:
- Eating too quickly, taking large bites, and/or not chewing thoroughly
- Eating while distracted leading to overconsumption
- Not savoring food and therefore having difficulty feeling satisfied with small volumes of food
- Eating too much, leading to discomfort, vomiting, and/or distention of the pouch
- Grazing throughout the day and/or eating "slider" foods and high-calorie soft foods and liquids
- Emotional eating
- Not consuming enough protein and other nutrient-rich foods
- Feeling deprived or left-out in social situations
- Struggling to establish consistent physical activity
- Continuing to struggle with the eat-repent-repeat cycle
Bariatric Surgery and Mindful Eating
The life-changing concepts of intuitive and mindful eating can help prevent, identify, and resolve these and many other problems in people who are having difficulty adjusting to their “new normal” after bariatric surgery.
Most people who make the difficult decision to have bariatric surgery want to improve their health and energy so they can live the vibrant life they crave. Yet without the additional tool of mindful eating, bariatric surgery can feel like a permanent diet that continues to consume your life. One of the most meaningful changes that happens when you learn to eat mindfully (whether you've had surgery or not) is that it allows you to think about eating when you need to—and free up your energy and attention to focus on living in between.
If you have had (or are considering) bariatric surgery, download this list of key mindful eating concepts. After all, even after bariatric surgery, it still isn't really about the food!
Michelle May, M.D. is the founder of the Am I Hungry?® Mindful Eating Workshops and Facilitator Training Program that helps individuals learn to break free from mindless and emotional eating. Her newest book is the Am I Hungry? Mindful Eating program for Bariatric Surgery.