The Bariatric Fear of Food

Cibophobia is the phobia where sufferers fear food.  Cibophobics are generally afraid of undercooked or overcooked foods, unsanitary food preparation, and food served past the expiration date. This isn’t quite the same but is pretty close to an eating disorder that I see in bariatric patients. The first year after weight loss surgery is a year of carefully following a nutritionist’s diet and eating guidelines. Once the patient moves into the second year they generally become more lax. It’s at that point that the fear of eating raising its ugly head.

Do you recognize some of these signs of bariatric fear of eating? You are uncomfortable in a restaurant or dining out at a friend’s house. You avoid your favorite foods for fear of overeating. You limit yourself to a “safe” diet with a limited variety of food and food that is not common, on-the-shelf items. These are just a few of the common behaviors that I have observed in longer term post-op bariatric patients.

Reading the above scenarios do ring true to a certain extent. It’s only natural to fear slipping back into your pre-op routine and watching the weight gradually reappear. It’s at the one year point that most people see their weight loss dwindle to a trickle or stop. A single digit weight gain or loss puts many a post-op patient into distress.

One year post-op is the time that we become more complacent with our weight loss and new lives. One casualty of this complacency is becoming more lax in diet, exercise, and following bariatric post-op living principles we learned from our surgeons. We challenge the tools that the surgery gave us. I can tell you that I know my Lapband well and can play it like a fine violin. After a year, I knew how to cheat it and eat around the band.

You need to understand that obesity is a disease. Your surgery did not make this disease go away. Your surgery was the tool that helped your weight go away. It is only you that can make the disease go into remission (It never goes away.). The good eating habits, proper diet guidelines, everyday exercise routines, and healthily living guidelines you learned are what really made you a success to this point. Believe me, you need to monitor these and battle weight gain every day.

Fear of food happens when your new life is confronted with those old friends from your old life. For me, it’s that juicy half pound cheeseburger, the Panera Cinnamon Crunch Bagel, bag of Hershey Kisses, and anything on the Bucca di Beppo menu. You most likely have your own trigger foods. We fear them because after our year of dietary education we know that they were instrumental in leading down the road to obesity.

How do you personally confront this fear?  I take it head-on. If friends are going to Panera, Bucca di Beppo or Five Guys, I go along. They may not be my choice of a restaurant today, but I know they are many peoples’ choice. I have learned I need to learn how to order and eat in these establishments. I have found that there are good menu choices in almost all restaurants. I now make careful choices and usually take half of my meal home.

Don’t let the fear of eating take you hostage. Make a commitment to eat a healthy diet that follows the bariatric dining guidelines. If you are like me, you will cheat now and then. Keeping the cheating to a minimum is the task you need to master. You might eat a few Hershey Kisses once in a blue moon. If you are buying bags of them on a regular basis then you definitely need to rewind, recommit to your bariatric diet, and follow the rules.

Taking this fear and turning it into a lesson is a key to your ongoing success. If you fall off the wagon, get back on and keep on driving forward. Use the lessons from your past to keep you on track. Enjoy life and be happy. Happiness involves friends and socializing. This means that you will be put into awkward dining situations where menus are loaded with cheesy, deep fried, frosted and drenched in butter selections. Remember your first year post-op lessons and make the right choices. Let that fear feed your success.

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  1. I used to call this my “Bariatric Bubble” — I feared venturing outside of it, never went out to restaurants, never ate at friend’s houses, and packed a bag of food for my car. I brought my protein and fluids with me EVERYWHERE. Now, 3+ years post gastric bypass, I’m not *quite* so rigid, and I have learned (what I believe to be) a harmonious balance between “real world” and “bariatric bubble.”

  2. My Fiance and I are 21months post surgery and he is doing fine with his eating but every meal time i panic, Inside me i feel tense and scared, i do have a serious fear of eating anything, It does upset him that i am happier to miss meals rather than eat them and i would be happier to eat nothing for days until i truly feel weak and i have to give in and eat something, If i could get away with eating plain biscuits and bananas for all food intakes i would be happy but seeing a plate of food i just see the old me again, I freak out if i put even a pound on again and if my weight doesn’t move for a week it is like the end of the world, I am good at giving myself targets that aren’t totally out of reach and i normally get to them but if i don’t, i will starve myself to get there, I have 6lb to loose in the next month before my brothers wedding and i know that is reachable and i can do it… Should i worry about this far of being over weight? Is it normal to have this fear in the 2nd year? Please help me, i feel so alone :(

    • Jo,

      The first year after weight loss surgery is a time when the pounds fly off with minimal effort. It is during the second year that it becomes more of a challenge. The weight loss slows as your body adjusts to its comfortable place. So, the second year is a time when you need to refocus.

      Most WLS post-ops have the fear of regain in their weight. This becomes more obvious when the weight loss slows and maybe some weight begins to come back in the second year. Seeing the scale go back up is painful when you lived a life of that happening after a diet.

      You are at a time when you need to stop worrying about the pounds and the scale. I am not saying that you should never weight yourself. It should not be the tool to support your weight loss.

      What you need to do is focus on what it means to be healthy and happy. Eating a healthy diet with correct portion sizes is a definite. You need to overcome that fear of food. Know the food nutrition information and use it to guide a healthy meal. If you eat healthy, the weight will stay off and possibly go down.

      It is also a goodtime to focus on other things that make you happy. Being happy directly affects your weight loss. A good attitude helps you make good choices and builds your self-confidence. For me, that means cycling and being active. Exercise is a means to lose weight, be healthier and be happy.

      My advice to you is to not focus on your weight and worry about it going up. Instead, focus on eating a bariatric friendly diet and your body should respond properly. Too often bariatric patients focus on calories and food. The thing to focus on for long term success is changing habit s to good habits that last. Keep yourself busy with something that makes you happy. Exercise and find fun ways to get in your exercise like cycling, walking or hiking.

      Good luck!

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