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Bariatric surgery is a transformative journey that brings about significant physical and psychological changes. While it offers a fresh start for individuals seeking long-term weight loss, it also presents a unique set of challenges. One challenge is dealing with head hunger after bariatric surgery. In this blog, we’ll delve into what head hunger is, why it’s common after bariatric surgery, and effective strategies to overcome it.


What you need to know

Head hunger, often referred to as “phantom hunger,” is a psychological sensation of feeling hungry even when your body doesn’t require nourishment. It’s a common occurrence after bariatric surgery due to body alterations and the reshaping of eating habits. This sensation can be confusing and frustrating, but with the right tools, you can manage it effectively. As George Hamlyn Williams, Streamlines Head Dietician and Clinical Service Manager, explains, “Head hunger is common after surgery. We eat for so many reasons other than physical hunger – social pressure, emotion, habit, boredom and simply enjoying the taste being a few”.

It is essential to recognise that head hunger is often associated with emotional triggers, habits, or external cues that prompt a person to think they need to eat. This can be particularly challenging for those who are trying to manage their weight or have undergone bariatric surgery, as it can lead to overeating or making poor food choices based on emotional or psychological factors rather than actual physical hunger.


Causes of head hunger after bariatric surgery

Psychological factors

Emotional triggers like stress, boredom, loneliness, and anxiety can lead to head hunger. Coping with these emotions through food might have been a habit before surgery, and those tendencies can persist even after the procedure.


Eating habits

Years of established eating routines can linger post-surgery. Your brain may still send hunger signals at certain times, even though your body’s caloric needs have changed.


Nutritional imbalance

Bariatric surgery can sometimes lead to nutritional deficiencies, which your brain may interpret as hunger. This is your body’s way of signalling that it requires certain nutrients.


Social pressure

Social situations often involve food, and after bariatric surgery, you might feel pressure to eat in order to fit in. This social pressure can trigger head hunger.


Effective strategies for managing head hunger

Mindful eating

Cultivate mindfulness around your eating habits. Before reaching for a snack, pause and assess whether you’re truly physically hungry or if it’s a psychological craving.


Keep a food journal

Track your meals, snacks, and emotions in a journal. This will help you identify patterns and triggers for head hunger, empowering you to make informed choices.


Seek emotional support

If emotional triggers are a major factor, consider seeking support from a therapist/psychiatrist. Learning healthier ways to cope with emotions can drastically reduce head hunger.


Structured eating schedule

Establish a consistent eating routine to train your body and mind to recognise when it’s truly time to eat. Avoid skipping meals, as this can contribute to head hunger later in the day.


Nutrient-dense foods

Focus on nutrient-dense options like lean proteins, vegetables, fruits, and whole grains. These foods support your body’s nutritional needs.


Stay hydrated

Sometimes, dehydration can mimic the feeling of hunger. Prioritise staying hydrated throughout the day to ensure you’re not mistaking thirst for head hunger.


Professional guidance

Don’t hesitate to reach out to a registered dietitian who specialises in bariatric nutrition. They can offer personalised guidance on creating a balanced diet plan that addresses both your nutritional needs and head hunger.


As George Hamlyn Williams emphasises, “The key is understanding patterns – if you know the reason it happens, you can think about strategies to overcome it. For example, if you know you tend to want to eat when you are bored in the evenings, aim to find a new hobby to keep yourself busy – with the extra energy and mobility weight loss should give, perhaps join a walking group or yoga class? Whatever your situation, talking about it should help and this is why maintaining regular contact with your aftercare team is key to success after surgery”.

Dealing with head hunger after bariatric surgery is a common challenge that can be conquered with patience, awareness, and the right strategies. By understanding the causes behind head hunger, practising mindful eating, seeking emotional support, and prioritising nutrient-dense foods, you can regain control over your relationship with food. Remember that this journey is about more than just physical changes—it’s also about nurturing a positive and healthy mindset that supports your long-term wellbeing.

We all experience head hunger at some point, however, like most things in life, overcoming it is possible with determination and perseverance. There are many ways to help you manage head hunger such as meditation, physical activity, socialising and emotional journaling. If you would like more information on ways to manage head hunger, visit our other blog ‘Dealing with head hunger after bariatric surgery’.

To enquire with Streamline about the weight loss procedures we offer, please call 0333 016 3030 or fill in the online enquiry form below.


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