Day 5 Habit Refresh: Starches & Sweets

Steph Wagner

January 14, 2022

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10 Day Habit Refresh


Day Five: Starches & Sweets



blog image 10 day habit refresh series on bariatric food coach me day five starches and sweets




Click below to listen to the audio recording of this blog or continue reading!

Day 4 Habit Refresh


Three questions we’ll answer about each habit in this series

In this series I will answer three questions about each of the habits:

What benefit does this habit bring a post-op patient?

How might the lack of this habit effect a post-op patient?

How can you best build up this habit in the post-op daily life?

What benefit does understanding and watching starches and sweets bring a post-op patient?

Disclaimer, this section is going to get long. To answer this question in short, understanding starches and sweets is super helpful for a patient to understand the WHY behind the bariatric diet.

At the end of the day, bariatric surgery is a tool to fight against the disease of obesity. Understanding the food recommendations that make the surgery work to its full potential is key to battling against obesity!

We are really digging in today.

But first, some real talk. I’d rather not be the bearer of bad news and talk about starches and sweets. This is no simple topic. It’s worth acknowledging that this topic comes laced with feelings.

Instead of going down too much of a rabbit hole and fill this page with disclaimers on the fact that there are no evil foods and they are not out to get you, I will point you to an eBook I wrote about Healthy Relationships with Food. This eBook is included in the Premier Access Membership.

Healthy Relationships with Food eBook Bariatric Food Coach with Steph Wagner dietitian

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With all that aside, it’s time to cover what starches and sweets are and what they do in the body. Then we’ll talk about how it benefits a post-op to have control on these foods and how to build up the habit.

What foods are considered starches and sweets

Sometimes we confuse the word carbohydrate with foods that are rich in carbohydrates.

Starches are rich in carbohydrate. Many other foods contain carbohydrate (again, it’s an essential macronutrient for the body) but foods in the starch category will be naturally high in carbohydrates.

The starch food group will include grains which of course encompasses a lot. Breads, pasta, rice, cereal, oats, starchy vegetables ( butternut and acorn squash, corn, peas, potatoes), muffins, tortillas and so on.

There are certainly grains that provide more nutrition than others. You may have heard the term ‘refined’ carbohydrate or have heard ‘complex carbohydrate.’

Refined or ‘simple’ carbohydrates are foods that contain a high amount of carbohydrate and are in a simple form to digest and absorb quickly in the body (more on that soon). A ‘complex’ carbohydrate would instead be something with more grains in their whole format and are more difficult for the body to break down and absorb.

Complex carbohydrates will be more of the whole grains, brown rice, oatmeal but also includes vegetables and beans. Some dietitians may slowly add in complex carbohydrates for patients but will have you focus on how it impacts your hunger.

Refined carbohydrates would be more of the white breads, rice, pasta, tortillas, sugary cereals, potato chips, etc.

What starchy foods and sweets do in the body

I am circling a lot of the same words around here. Starch, grain, carbohydrate rich. I am also adding sweets into the mix because desserts often fall into the simple carbohydrates category.  All of these descriptors fit the bread/pasta/rice/potatoes we are referring to.

Let’s talk about what happens with these foods in the body.

🍏 Digestion 🍏

First up, the mouth.

Digestion is the breaking down of food. Digestion starts in the mouth when you chew. Chewing is called mechanical digestion.

That’s not the only digestion process going on in the mouth though. We have an enzyme in our saliva called salivary amylase. This enzyme breaks down starch.

In college one my professors had us all put a piece of saltine cracker on our tongue and wait. The cracker eventually became sweet. This was salivary amylase at work to break down the starch and turn it into glucose (sugar). It was doing its job!

This means when a starchy food is chewed, then swallowed, it goes down into the pouch already starting the digestion process with both chewing and chemical digestion from the enzyme. It will arrive very soft which means it tends to feel better to a post-op patient.

(FYI protein does not have chemical digestion in the mouth, only mechanical, which is another reason why it’s so filling. It requires more work to digest in the stomach.)

🍏 Absorption and Blood Sugar 🍏

This also means it is ready to absorb into the blood steam faster because its ready. Carbohydrates turn to glucose (sugar) and that sugar is absorbed into the blood  (blood sugar).

A few things happen as a result. One noticeable impact is hunger because the food is absorbed faster and the pouch is empty sooner. The other is changes in blood sugar.

If a post-op patient has a high starch meal and blood sugar rises quickly afterward, they may experience what many call “late dumping syndrome” which may be 1-3 hours after the meal and includes feeling shaky, dizzy, lightheaded, etc. It would feel very similar to hypoglycemia (low blood sugar) because that is what it is.

🍏 In the brain 🍏

It is also worth taking a minute to talk about some of the impacts in the brain from high carbohydrate, starchy foods. We have a very powerful neurotransmitter in the brain called dopamine. It’s often called the “pleasure reward system” in our brains.

High sugar or high starch foods are often found to have a strong dopamine release causing the pull towards those foods even stronger. (Source) Its worth nothing this is especially true with those refined, simple carbohydrate foods.


How might the lack of this habit effect a post-op patient?

Phew that was a lot of words so far.

I won’t take too long in this section because I will venture to guess most of my readers and listeners already know the effect of not understanding or controlling starches means for them.

If a post-op patient is having a lot of starchy foods or sweets, they will experience a lot of hunger, lack of weight loss or weight gain, drops in blood sugar and strong cravings.

Anything you’d add here?



How can you best build this habit in the post-op life?

Keep trying.

Yes, that was my tip yesterday too on taking small bites and eating slowly!

Never give up.

What I will say about trying to take control of high carbohydrate containing foods is to know that it takes a good week to transition yourself.

I think knowing that in advance helps you feel more equipped and ready to face some eating changes head on.

If a patient tries to cut back slowly, it may prolong the process and cravings and hunger make it harder to stick with it. Also, it is hard to know what ‘cutting back’ really means.

If you’re ready to really get back on track, my suggestion is meal planning. Set aside some time to plan out your dinners this week, then work backwards to lunch (especially if you use leftovers from dinner) and add in breakfast.

Focus on tons of water, allow yourself some protein based snacks when hunger and craving comes on because in that first week, it will. You will likely find you don’t need as many protein snacks after the first week.

Take heart. The more you stick with water, protein, non-starchy vegetables and managing complex carbohydrates (if any) the better you are about to feel!! I love knowing at any given time I’m only a week away from feeling so much better and more in control of my food choices.

I know this brings up so many more questions. I imagine one of them is “how many carbs is okay?” Every program will differ on this and it’s not a one sized fits all but I do like this research poster from an ASMBS meeting.

Feel free to comment below and I will email/comment back!

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image for blog homework starches and sweets after bariatric surgery


Click here for Day Four: Bite Sizes & Speed


10 thoughts on “Day 5 Habit Refresh: Starches & Sweets”

  1. I have been on the high carb slippery slope throughout the holidays. Particularly bread. I love hearing I am only a week away from less cravings. This series has been great and so helpful! Thank you!

  2. I also have been on a carb binge. I did buy the Ninja Foodie so I could eat more plain protein. My problem is I get cravings and eat carbs even if I’m not hungry. It’s good to know it only takes a week. I’m starting today to get “back on track.” Love this series.

  3. I like the fact there is some hope! In one wrek I can feel better and start feeling less of the grip of the carbs TY!
    in Oct I lost my Fad and made a major move. Life was very sad, painful and just a mess. my eating followed suit! Up until then 2 years in , i was doing fairly well.
    Blessings and TY again!

  4. That’s a great question @Karena! I would turn the question back you and ask what you think? If there are some that are easier than others, you can start there and consider what makes the other ones harder.

  5. I am so sorry to hear of the trials and losses you’ve faced! Yes, one week of healthy choices like water, sleep, fitness, quality meals…it can help you feel better soon! We tend to look at the scale for results when really we could just think about how good we feel!

  6. @Carla you’re in good company with most all humans! There are a lot of reasons why our brains and bodies would trigger wanting breads and carbs. Understanding what’s going on is our best trick to feeling in control of it (control doesn’t mean never eating it, but feeling like you call the shots and not the food)

  7. I’m so glad you’ve enjoyed the series! I hope you’re enjoying the Ninja Foodi grill. I use mine all the time!

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