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Why am I not hungry after having bariatric surgery?

Bariatric surgery changes the body's routine in many ways which initially includes a loss of appetite, according to Allie Wood, RD/LD, bariatric dietitian for the Kirk Center for Bariatrics at Bailey Medical Center.

Bodies rely on physical and hormonal cues to eat, along with social influences as well. Simply put, there is physical hunger (the need to eat) and mental hunger (the want to eat).

The body goes through numerous hormonal and biochemical changes after having bariatric surgery, which involves removing a portion of the stomach and rerouting the intestine which changes nerve receptors, signals to the brain and chemical and hormone regulation that control blood sugars, blood pressure and hunger. These changes affect appetite, taste and smell. Hormone changes that occur after bariatric surgery cause the communication between the brain and the intestine to be disrupted. Because of these metabolic changes, it can be challenging to find desirable foods and fluids in the early months after having bariatric surgery and occasionally food aversions develop because of these changes. Additionally, patients are educated to introduce foods slowly, according to a diet progression that allows the stomach to heal, which limits the intake of certain foods and food variety. 

Because of the limited stomach size immediately after surgery, it is necessary to schedule meals and fluid intake to maintain healthy nutrition levels. Dietitians work with patients before surgery to encourage them to be more aware of physical hunger, which occurs every two to four hours, then to fuel with a protein containing snack/small meal. Starting the day with a protein shake, most patients notice physical hunger a few hours after drinking their shake. This lays the foundation to begin eating on a schedule reliant on hunger, so when hunger is absent after having surgery, the patient is already in a routine of incorporating protein foods throughout the day.

The Baritastic app is used within the bariatric program at Bailey which has a reminder timer feature to help patients stay on track with their nutrition and hydration.

As the metabolic effects of surgery lessen after several months, hunger does return for most people. This is when implementing additional behavioral strategies becomes crucial to assist with controlling the mental hunger, also known as non-hunger or head hunger.

Maintaining regular appointments within the bariatric program is an important part of a patient’s post-op journey to assist with managing many of the challenges that occur with implementing a new, healthy lifestyle after having bariatric surgery.

To schedule a dietary consultation, please call 918-376-8410.