Written by: Emma Squillace
The feeling of wanting food is a complex one. Sometimes we know we are physically hungry, but other times we just ‘feel like’ eating. The difference between actually being hungry, and wanting food, is an important one. This can get even more tricky after weight loss surgery or a gastric balloon, when the feeling of hunger can change, sometimes significantly.
What makes us feel hungry?
You know that feeling of hunger – but what causes it? One important factor is a hormone called ghrelin. Ghrelin is so well known for its role in encouraging us to eat, that it’s often called the hunger hormone. While it feels as though ghrelin affects our stomachs, technically it is made in our stomachs and targets our brains. This hormone is triggered when your stomach is empty and/or blood sugar is low. In these cases, the release of ghrelin is a protective and positive event. It reminds us to eat so we do not get light-headed or run out of energy. However, sometimes ghrelin is secreted when we don’t need to eat. You know those commercials with enticing images of burgers, french fries, or cookies? If you think seeing images like these makes you feel hungry, it’s not your imagination. These images can cause ghrelin to be created by your stomach, making you physically feel hungry.
Do weight loss surgery patients still feel hungry?
Soon after weight loss surgery, the majority of patients report feeling much less hunger. This is especially true with the gastric sleeve and gastric bypass operations. During the gastric sleeve, we remove a large portion of the stomach that is responsible for releasing ghrelin. This means your body is not producing much of that hormone that makes you feel hunger. Not only do most patients feel much less hunger after surgery, often they tell us they feel as though their brains have been rewired to want healthier food. Some report craving vegetables and protein more than the carbs or sugar they used to want.
It is important to note that this significant decrease in hunger is not necessarily permanent. While many patients find they have 6 or 7 months of very low hunger, after that point it is normal to begin to feel some more hunger. They key is after bariatric surgery, as you return to eating solid foods, focus on making healthy food choices. These new eating habits will help you continue your weight loss, even as you start to lose that more drastic reduction in hunger you may feel soon after your operation. Often patients find that with bariatric surgery, their hunger does not return to the level it was before surgery.
Does a gastric balloon make you feel less hungry?
Unlike a gastric sleeve or bypass, the balloon does not alter your anatomy. Instead, gastric balloons fill most of the space in your stomach, which makes most people feel less hungry. With a balloon, you can generally eat a small amount of food for each meal, and feel full. Over 6 months with gastric balloons in place, people often lose weight because of their decreased hunger. They also learn healthy eating habits that can help them maintain their weight loss after the balloons are removed. It is normal to feel an increase in hunger when the balloons are removed, but maintaining good portion sizes and eating plenty of vegetables and lean protein, can help balloon patients continue on a successful weight loss journey – long after the balloons are removed.
How can I reduce the feelings of hunger?
There are a few things that can help if you find that you feel like you’re ‘always’ hunger:
- Think about whether you’re feeling actual physical hunger, or want to eat because you are bored or stressed.
- If your desire to eat is because of emotion instead of true hunger, try to distract yourself with activities like going for a 10 minute walk, having a cup of hot tea or coffee, or calling a friend.
- Some people find that brushing their teeth after they eat is a good sign to their body that eating time is over.
- Have lots of healthy snacks available, especially high-volume, low-calorie snacks like raw vegetables. You can pair them with a little hummus or some almonds.
- Remember that seeing or even thinking about tempting foods can cause your ghrelin levels to rise, so try to avoid images of foods that can push you to make less healthy choices.
If you have questions about surgical or non-surgical weight loss, please call our expert team at West Medical. We are happy to explain your treatment options, and can be reached at (855) 690-0565.