Dr. Karin Schwartz, Licensed Clinical Psychologist

Coping with Emotional Eating (Bariatric Surgery)

Having bariatric surgery does not necessarily mean that you’ll be free from cravings or bouts of emotional eating. Succumbing to food cravings and emotional eating can lead to weight regain and, for gastric bypass patients, possible dumping syndrome.

 During the process, patients will typically be faced with several changes, including:

1) Initial dietary restrictions

2) Permanent changes in eating and dietary habits

3) Altered body sensations and experiences

4) Shifting body image and self-care behaviors

5) New cognitions and feelings

6) An emerging and different lifestyle

7) Sometimes unexpected and significant changes in relationships that may result in high stress.

Successfully overcoming cravings and emotional eating takes patience and knowledge of a few coping techniques.

 Coping with Cravings

Cravings can be difficult to deal with. A lot of people fight the craving for a period of time and then try eating the desired food to get rid of the craving. This often results in eating too much of the food and then feeling guilty. Giving in to the urge often makes the craving stronger and more frequent with time.

It is actually more effective to avoid the desired food. With time, the craving will pass and will be less likely to return.

If you experience difficulty in coping with cravings, you don’t have to go it alone. Contact your bariatric program or attend a support group meeting.

 Tips:

Distract yourself when you have a food craving: Take a quick walk, read a book, or call a friend.
If a food craving is associated with a specific room or activity, break it by changing your habits. Go to a room that you don’t eat in or avoid the activity for a period of time.
Keep high-fat, high-sugar, high-calorie food out of the house. Encourage your family to eat healthfully and to reserve these empty calories for rare occasions.

 Coping with Emotional Eating

For some people, eating is a way to cope with emotions.  It can often serve as a sort of “numbing mechanism” in order  to avoid feeling certain painful emotions.  After bariatric surgery, this can be a painful and unhealthy coping mechanism. You should know that breaking the pattern of eating in response to stress, frustration, or sadness is possible.

 Identifying the Emotion

When you experience a strong emotion that leads you to food, stop and identify the emotion you are experiencing. You may open the refrigerator and realize that you feel sad or angry rather than hungry.

 Ask for Help When You Need It

Breaking the connection between emotions and food can be difficult. If you feel overwhelmed or out of control, attend a support group meeting or contact your bariatric program’s mental health professional. These two resources can help you identify what’s causing the emotion and provide you with strategies and alternatives to eating.

About Dr. Karin Schwartz

Dr. Karin Schwartz is a Licensed Clinical Psychologist in private practice. Her office is located at the Cedars-Sinai Medical Towers in Los Angeles, California. With over 17 years of experience in providing psychotherapy for individuals and couples, Dr. Schwartz believes psychotherapy is more than simply changing certain behaviors (i.e. just eliminating symptoms). She views psychotherapy as a powerful process of self-discovery, which leads to a place of understanding, self-acceptance, and ultimately, greater relationship happiness and life success.

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