In Mindful Eating with Health Issues: What If I Can’t Eat What I Love?, I mentioned the challenges people who’ve had bariatric surgery (aka weight loss surgery or WLS) face. Here’s a partial list of some of the difficulties with “eating what you love” after bariatric surgery:
- Since your stomach is much smaller, obviously the volume of food you’re able to eat is much smaller. Therefore, it is more challenging to consume the nutrients your body needs unless you make every bite count.
- Depending on the type of procedure you’ve had and how long ago, your hunger levels may be much lower. This typically lasts for six months to year after gastric bypass and sleeve (the “honeymoon period”). After that the previous difficulties with food may return.
- The post-surgery guidelines can feel like a lifelong diet, leading to feelings of deprivation and the eat-repent-repeat cycle.
- There may be uncomfortable or embarrassing consequences when you break the “rules” about when, what, and how much to eat.
Despite these challenges, it is necessary to choose foods that are both nourishing and satisfying—even after a gastric bypass, gastric sleeve, or gastric band. An important mindset shift to navigate this very important aspect of eating is the strategy called “Fearless Eating” (from chapter 5 of Eat What You Love, Love What You Eat and Workshop 5 of our Mindful Eating for Bariatric Surgery Program). Fearless eating is one of the keys to developing a healthy relationship with food (yes, even after bariatric surgery). But don’t worry! Fearless eating doesn’t mean that you eat whatever, whenever, without regard to your physical consequences. It means that you are in charge of your eating, and that you eat fearlessly by mindfully deciding what to eat based on what works best for you.
This might mean that you fearlessly avoid foods you enjoyed in the past because you’ve discovered through experience that the consequences aren’t worth it. Perhaps it means that you fearlessly eat a small snack when you’re hungry, even if no one else is eating. Maybe it means that you fearlessly decline that second helping—even though your grandmother might be insulted—knowing that you are the one who will have to deal with the discomfort afterward.
In short, after bariatric surgery, fearless eating means that you are in charge of making decisions about caring for yourself to feel good, not to be good!