Feeling Hungry After Eating: Why It Happens and What to DoMarch 10, 2021
“I know I just ate, but I still feel hungry” is a statement I hear a lot. One major benefit of bariatric surgery is reduced hunger. So why, do some patients of feeling hungry after eating?
Head Hunger vs. True Hunger
Head (emotional) hunger and true (physical) hunger are not the same things, even though at the time either hits, they may feel the same.
Physical, true hunger: Can present itself as an empty feeling, growling stomach, and “hangry” symptoms (irritability, fatigue, and weakness.) True hunger is your body’s way of saying, “Hey! I need nutrients to keep you going!”
Head hunger: The desire to eat for any other reason than physical hunger. Strong emotions, ingrained habits, and boredom are just a few things that can fuel this type of hunger.
Eat on a schedule - Planned out meals and snacks are typically needed every 4-5 hours to help prevent hunger. Going longer than this can lead to feeling over-hungry, which can lead to poor food choices or overeating at mealtimes. Try to be as consistent as possible day to day with your meal schedule.
Also, if you know when your next meal is coming up, you can make it to your next meal time without snacking. It is much easier to give in to hunger (true or head) if you don’t know when your next meal or snack is happening.
Eat enough protein - Always, always, always have protein first at your planned meals and snacks. Incorporate lean meats like chicken, turkey, or fish, low-fat dairy, eggs, and/or vegetarian protein sources every time you eat. Even at your planned snacks. Choosing these foods first after surgery fills your smaller stomach pouch quicker and results in a fuller feeling for longer than carbohydrate foods.
Eat enough fiber - After protein, high fiber foods should be your next choice at meal and snack times. High fiber foods include vegetables, fruits, beans/legumes, and whole grains. Try to eat these foods as close to their natural state as possible.
The more processing that goes into food, the more simple that food becomes. Not only will fiber help keep you full, but it will also help keep your blood sugar more stable, has heart-protective benefits, and it will help prevent constipation.
Drink enough water - Don’t drink at mealtimes. Staying adequately hydrated is super important to the weight loss process for a variety of reasons. One of those reasons is to prevent hunger. Our minds often interpret thirst signals for hunger. If you feel hungry, but know that you have recently eaten and should not be physically hungry, so drink water! The fluid will help fill you up and quench your thirst. It is not recommended to drink with or for 30 minutes after meals, because this causes the food to flush from your stomach too quickly. If this happens you can end up hungry faster than you should, even with an appropriately planned out meal.
Drinking with meals is 100% habit. If your drink is on the table, you will probably reach for it. So make it difficult to drink with meals. Keep your drink across the room or in the fridge or just don’t fix a drink. Set a timer for 30 minutes after meals to remind you it is time to start drinking.
Avoid slider foods - Ever noticed that some foods go down so easy, while other foods don’t? Those easy foods are probably slider foods. Your smaller stomach pouch should signal fullness. However, slider foods do not register the fullness feeling because they slide through your stomach pouch easily.
These foods can lead to larger portions at meals, higher calorie intake, and yet still leave you hungry, because they were not in your stomach long enough. This is why it is so important to fill up on good solid protein and high fiber foods first. Common slider foods are soups, dry simple carbs (crackers, pretzels, chips, cookies, and popcorn), mashed potatoes, hot and cold cereals, and ice cream/frozen yogurt.
Never have a slider food alone. You will be able to eat big portions and end up hungry very quickly. It is ok to feel yourself digest (should not be painful) and it is ok to get full on a smaller portion than the max recommended by your surgeon. It is much better to get full on a half cup of chicken breast and broccoli than to be able to eat 2 cups of broccoli cheddar soup, which would leave you hungry fast.
Practice mindful eating - This is a biggie for eliminating head hunger. Some ways to practice mindful eating are:
- Eat slowly and stop multitasking - Meals should take 20-30 minutes of focused chewing time. This allows you to eat the appropriate portion size of food to fill you up appropriately. While it might seem like multitasking would cause you to eat slower, the opposite is usually the case. How big were your bites between running here and there? Did you really need the whole plate of food or could you have eaten more of your protein?
- Set boundaries - Some boundaries might be: “I will only eat at planned meal and snack times.”; “I will pre-measure my foods (both meals and snacks)”; “I will drink a glass of water if I am feeling hungry, but I know it should not be time for a meal”; “I will go for a walk or call a friend if I am stressed/sad/anxious” Boundaries are guideline you put in place to stay “safe”.
- Put food in its place - I think everyone has heard the phrase, “Eat to live and don’t live to eat.” Food is fuel. Finding other outlets for emotional or boredom eating is key. Take up a hobby that uses your hands and/or mind. Crochet, Suduku, woodworking…the options are limitless.
- Exercise - Exercise is a great stress reliever and a great way to take up time. Consider counseling or join a support group. Years of ingrained habits can be hard to break alone. You can also reach out to your surgeon and/or dietitian for help. We are not the food police! I guaranteed they want to help you succeed.
Hunger can happen for many reasons after surgery. It is important to identify the type of hunger you are experiencing (true or head) and then you can take appropriate steps to tackle it.
ABOUT THE AUTHORCala Dittmer, a Harbin Clinic registered, licensed dietitian, provides nutrition education for patients throughout the bariatric process. She leads preoperative group classes, teaching nutrition guidelines and providing education on the various stages of meal plans after surgery. Cala meets one-on-one with patients to evaluate their readiness for surgery in terms of lifestyle changes with diet and exercise.