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Can I eat sugar after bariatric surgery?

By Michelle May, M.D.

In the post, Can I Eat Carbs after Bariatric Surgery?, we talked about general guidelines for consuming nutrient-rich carbs after bariatric surgery. Of course, sugar is also a carb so you may still be wondering, “Can I eat sugar after bariatric surgery?”

The short answer is yes. It gets a little sticky from there though. Let’s explore this question from the perspective of mindful eating.

gingerbread cookiesEating with Intention

Mindful eating is eating with intention and attention, or purpose and awareness. One helpful intention that you can set before eating is to feel better when you’re done than you did when you started. This intention will guide you to decide when, what, how, and how much to eat. (Read more about these Mindful Eating Cycle decision points in this free download of chapter one of Eat What You Love, Love What You Eat.)

With this internal guidance, you don’t need willpower to follow a bunch of rules. Instead, you simply make decisions with nonjudgmental awareness of the effects of those choices. At the same time, you learn how to break the habit of reacting mindlessly to certain foods or certain situations.

All Foods Can Fit

All of the Am I Hungry? Mindful Eating Programs use an “all foods fit” approach to nutrition information—including our programs for diabetes and bariatric surgery. This is important because restriction is a powerful trigger for overeating. Perhaps you’ve experienced this common phenomenon: When you believe you can’t have sugar, it can lead to feelings of deprivation, cravings, obsession, and overeating.

An all foods fit approach means you don’t judge certain foods as good or bad—or yourself as good or bad for wanting or eating those foods.

Well, All Foods Might Fit!

Of course, after bariatric surgery, not all foods do fit—literally or figuratively. Regardless of which surgical procedure you’ve had, because of the limited capacity of your digestive system, it’s wise to focus on eating nutrient-rich foods in order to maintain optimal health. Since sugar primarily provides fuel, not nutrients, you’ll want to take that into consideration when making your decisions about what to eat.

In addition, if you’re prone to dumping syndrome, eating too much sugar is one of the most common causes. (Sugar is not the only cause and the definition of “too much” is very individual. Learn more in our next post about dumping syndrome.)

Eating with Attention

The primary reason for eating sugar is pleasure. Therefore if you choose to eat it, sit down and enjoy it mindfully. Savor it slowly, without distractions. You’ll discover that you experience more pleasure with less food—very important after bariatric surgery!

And don’t ruin the pleasure by feeling guilty or planning to pay penance in some way. Ultimately, that only leads to more overeating.

Eat with attention to notice how foods affect you. Being curious and aware without judgment will help you figure out what foods (and how much) you can tolerate. Many people notice that eating too much sugar leads to a rapid change in their blood sugar level which affect their energy and mood, and leaves them feeling hungrier a short time later.

Further, if your intention is to feel better after eating and you learn through awareness that eating too much sugar leads to uncomfortable or even embarrassing symptoms, you can make the necessary adjustments to your diet. In other words, you can eat sugar, but you may decide you don’t want to!

(This article is based on Am I Hungry? Mindful Eating for Bariatric Surgery. If you have questions about your diet, see a dietitian familiar with bariatric surgery.)


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.

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