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Binge Eating and Bariatric Surgery

By Michelle May, M.D.

During our last Am I Hungry? Mindful Eating for Binge Eating Retreat,  it was clear how common binge eating and bariatric surgery are. Five of the participants struggling with binge eating had already had bariatric surgery (weight loss surgery or WLS)!

Fuel vs. NeedsI asked if they would be willing to sit down with me and talk about their experiences. They all enthusiastically consented, saying that they hoped it would help other people who were struggling with binge eating disorder (BED) and bariatric surgery.

I learned that they were all at least two years out from their weight loss surgeries. They had had a variety of procedures: Roux-en-Y gastric bypass, gastric sleeve, and adjustable gastric band. One of them had a band that was later converted to a sleeve. They all had symptoms of binge eating disorder prior to their procedures; they had hoped that surgery would “fix” the problem but it hadn’t. That’s why they had come to the retreat. Let me first share some of the things they told me (anonymously but with their permission of course), then I’ll talk about my take-aways from working with them during the retreat.

Observations about Bariatric Surgery and Binge Eating

“I was never diagnosed with Binge Eating Disorder prior to the surgery. But I had it.”

“I’ve always felt that I was missing something. Something must be wrong with me—was I missing willpower? I am very successful in my work though, so I figured there had to be another answer.”

“I’ve been on a diet my whole life and that never cured my binge eating! Having surgery was just another diet.”

“I’ve been going to the yearly follow-up but I’ve been gradually regaining weight.”

“My surgery team told me the surgery was only a tool but I didn’t want to listen. They kept saying ‘You have to make changes,’ but they don’t tell you how to make changes.”

“I took an Am I Hungry? Mindful Eating Workshop before surgery so my expectations were more realistic.”

“I’m glad I had the surgery; it allowed me to become more active, which I love. Now I need to deal with my binge eating disorder.”

“I had been going to support groups for two years but all they do is support you. They didn’t actually tell us how to heal our relationship with food.”

“The procedure was effective for weight loss, but now I am medical care-dependent.”

“Until I learned mindful eating, I still wasn’t free of my issues with food!”

“I don’t regret having the surgery. I had the lab work of a 70 year-old woman. I had a Lap Band in 2009. I lost 40 pounds on a diet so I could have the surgery, then I lost 100 pounds after surgery. I have regained 40 pounds so far, so I am here to finally address my binge eating.”

“I always eat – I’m never hungry, never full.”

“I was told that if you eat too much too fast, the food will get stuck. That’s all I had learned about mindful eating until now.”

“Since my surgery, I eat to throw up.”

“I had the band. I could eat a Snickers bar, but not protein so I just stick to “slider” foods or “cheater” foods.”

“My mother had weight loss surgery too and only ate junk food afterward. That isn’t healthy either and I don’t want it to be like that.”

“I am seeing a therapist now.”

My Take-Aways

I loved working with all of these individuals! They were all obviously highly motivated to get better; after all, they had even had a surgical procedure to try to stop binge eating. Having already gone through bariatric surgery, they clearly understood that binge eating wasn’t going to be fixed by one more diet.

Most were glad they’d had bariatric surgery but were disappointed (even surprised) that it hadn’t stopped them from binge eating. As we explore in the Am I Hungry? Mindful Eating for Bariatric Surgery program, maladaptive eating is a common challenge for people after weight loss surgery and can lead to complications and weight regain.

Unfortunately, too many people (and health care professionals) think that the problem is weight and miss the diagnosis of BED, or prescribe the wrong treatment: weight loss. (Be sure to read this post too: What is the Association Between Weight and Binge Eating Disorder?) Ultimately, it is essential to resolve the underlying issues driving the binge eating.

During the retreat, these participants learned that it wasn’t about the food or about having enough willpower. They learned to tell the difference between meeting their needs for fuel and meeting their other needs. Together, we had many lovely mindful meals and mindful movement opportunities. I am happy to say that they are now on the right track toward healing their relationship with food and their body!

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About the author

Michelle May, M.D. is a recovered yo-yo dieter and the founder of the Am I Hungry?® Mindful Eating Programs and Training. She is the award-winning author of Eat What You Love, Love What You Eat: A Mindful Eating Program to Break Your Eat-Repent-Repeat Cycle , winner of seven publishing awards. She is also the author of Eat What You Love, Love What You Eat with Diabetes, Eat What You Love, Love What You Eat for Binge Eating, and Am I Hungry? Mindful Eating for Bariatric Surgery. Michelle shares her compelling message and constructive keynotes with audiences around the country, offers workplace wellness programs, and has trained and licensed hundreds of health professionals to facilitate Am I Hungry?® Mindful Eating Programs worldwide. She has been featured on Dr. Oz, the Discovery Health Channel, and Oprah Radio, and quoted in Diabetic Living, Fitness, Health, Huffington Post, Parents, Self, USA Weekend, US News & World Report, WebMD and many others. Her personal success story was published in Chicken Soup for the Dieter's Soul. Michelle cherishes her relationships with her husband, Owen and grown children, Tyler and Elyse. She regularly enjoys practicing yoga and hiking near her home in Phoenix, Arizona. She and Owen, a professional chef, share a passion for gourmet and healthful cooking, wine tasting, photography, and traveling.

4 Comments

  1. CB says:

    This surprises me. I enjoy the mindful eating program and have had bariatric surgery as well. I literally can not binge eat anymore. I used to eat so much–example: 3 slices of pizza followed by chips then a frosting filled sandwich cookie from the mall. That was typical. No way is that possible now! The surgery literally saved my life.

  2. Thanks for sharing CB. I’m so glad you are doing well! Remember that this is a group of people who came to our Binge Eating Retreat so they probably don’t represent the average so I appreciate you adding your perspective. Do you mind sharing what type of procedure you had and how long ago?

  3. JC says:

    I have had gastric sleeve surgery as of two months ago. I have lost 45 pounds thus far. However, I cannot stop the evening binge eating. I can eat a lot of food in one sitting, but not all food. Meats and breads are really hard on my stomach. But soft foods and small foods (rice for example) I can put a lot away. I often joke it’s like I didn’t have the surgery at all because my friends and family are amazed at how much I can eat and not feel uncomfortable. It’s a private shame I feel and truly wish I could be rid of his binge eating curse. I don’t want to waste this golden opportunity I have been given.

    • Thank you for writing. I’m sorry you are struggling. You’re not alone! Please listen to Jenn’s story in the Personal Stories section. Please also click on Programs > Mindful Eating for Binge Eating > Get Started for resources that will help you. Please also seek counseling from an Eating Disorder therapist who has training in bariatric surgery. You have a self-care voice that can be nurtured and that will guide you toward the life you crave.

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