Why do carbs go down the best?
Why do carbs or “bad foods” go down the best?
Alright alright, hold on. I put “bad food” in quotations because yes, we don’t want to label our food as good and bad. We want to build up a healthy view and relationship with food. We don’t want to determine if our day was good or bad based on the foods we ate.
While this is all true, it is also true that foods serve us in different ways. After bariatric surgery, protein foods that have a dense texture are very filling. They serve us well in hunger and blood sugar control.
Bariatric eating guidelines encourage protein-focused meals. Research shows patients who lose more than 80% of their excess weight and keep it off after 5 years are eating protein first.
So the question we are answering in this article is not about good food versus bad food.
What we are discussing in this article:
Why do foods that are high in starch (think crackers, popcorn) feel better in the post-op pouch than the foods that would serve your hunger better (chicken breast, lean beef.)
Does your pouch prefer starchy carby food?
Popcorn. Crackers. Pretzel thins. Why do carbs go down the best?
These are foods you know aren’t ideal for controlling hunger and hitting your goals after surgery. You don’t need another class from a dietitian to know that
But why do these foods go down so easily after your bariatric surgery?
It can be frustrating when the foods you know would serve you better, aren’t serving you anything but heartburn and chest pain.
This conversation is also for you if you:
Prefer yogurt over chicken.
Need crackers to get your tuna salad down.
Would rather live on soups.
You aren’t alone. Here are a few common scenarios I hear from post-ops consistently:
All three of these scenarios are SO common. Truthfully, each of them is very much validated. I get it. But I also have good news. There are some tips, tricks, and tactics to help you experience more comfort in a wider variety of foods. No one actually wants to live on soups forever.
Cutting out foods because they hurt is not something I would want anyone to live with long-term. Certainly, there is a time of learning after surgery but if you’re past the first three months, take notes and try some of these tips.
(Okay, I have another freebie option. If you want to learn more about building a healthy relationship with food I would love to support you in that with my free eBook )
Why the starchy carbs go down easier
Some foods start mechanical digestion in the mouth AND enzyme digestion. That means these foods get broken down even more so in the mouth. For carbohydrates, the enzyme salivary amylase is breaking down the food along with your teeth grinding the food.
A carbohydrate food gets softer, faster compared to protein.
If you set a saltine cracker on your tongue and left it, you’d begin to taste sweetness instead of saltiness. Salivary amylase is breaking down carbohydrates into sugar. Carbohydrate Sugar in the body. The enzymes have begun the process and you haven’t even swallowed.
This means, by the time a cracker or pretzel , or popcorn reaches your stomach pouch, it’s been digested pretty darn well beforehand. It is much softer and therefore hits the stomach softer. This also means it absorbs faster and moves from the digestive system to the bloodstream faster.
Back to protein.
While some enzyme digestion of protein starts in the mouth, it primarily gets digested by hydrochloric acid and proteases in the stomach. Don’t worry about the fancy names. Stick with me.
When a solid protein like chicken reaches your stomach pouch, it has only started to be digested. Your stomach is harder at work on a protein. Keeping in mind you have a smaller stomach with more limited space to fit that less digested, dense protein.
This means if you have eaten a teensy bit too fast or too large of a bite, you are going to notice it with a protein. It is not as forgiving. It has not been softened up before it reaches that tight little stomach pouch.
(By the way bite size is the most common issue. I recommend bites somewhere between the size of a pencil eraser and a black bean. How does yours measure up? ✏️ )
If you go too fast on some popcorn, no problem. If you go too fast on turkey chili, problem. This is also why protein is so great for hunger control and weight management. It takes longer to digest so you don’t experience hunger for a longer amount of time.
One quick note on that. Have you ever experienced eating a solid protein and being full fast, but hungry a few hours later? That is another sign your bite sizes need a shrinkerizer (made up word from my 4-year-old).
What is a post-op to do?
I know I’m a broken record but you want to take smaller bites and eat slowly to feel your best eating protein after surgery.
Now let’s have some real talk. Cutting up food before you start eating, using small forks, and putting the Baritastic timer on to slow down won’t make starchy foods stop sounding good.
What it does is help you better tolerate solid protein and feel comfortable after your meal. You will feel more options in your meal planning and be less scared to try new bariatric-friendly recipes.
Sure, you still have to choose to plan your meals, focus on protein and take small bites. It does require more work than crackers and a tuna kit. But it is worth it to maximize the benefits of surgery and enjoy more variety in your meals.
A quick PSA. If you’re avoiding meats and feel like your body is telling you something, it’s telling you that the meat isn’t fitting well in your small pouch. Like a game of Tetris, it needs more attention to fit things comfortably. What it is not telling you is that you are deficient in something or that you have to be vegetarian.
Yes!! You should take your bariatric vitamins and have your annual labs drawn. However, don’t assume your cravings mean you are lacking a nutrient if you don’t have data.
And, if you want to become vegetarian for other personal reasons, that choice is yours to make. However, don’t let discomfort from food force you into vegetarianism especially if you haven’t explored slowing down and reducing bite sizes.
Starches feel good because they are soft and mushy and are easier to tolerate. However, protein-focused meals allow you to better hit your nutrient needs. Research supports successful patients have protein as the main focus of their meals. (Here is a link to a poster I like to illustrate this).
A note on finding the crunch
Oh yes! For some it’s not as much about it carbs going down easier than protein but rather about finding crunch and flavor.
This is an example of how food serves us in other ways.
As humans, we get enjoyment out of food and that is a good thing! Otherwise eating would be a chore. If you’ve been through a season after surgery when food had no enjoyment, you know that it’s awful. It does get better but it can take some time.
Finding foods that can serve you both nutritionally and provide enjoyment is the real golden nugget. Those foods are worth finding. It might take trying a new food or trying it in a new way but go searching for those golden nuggets.
This is where it takes getting creative. Some post-ops with use raw veggies like bell pepper or snap peas with a Greek yogurt dip one day or cucumber slices dipped in salsa another.
You can also try some protein chips made by Quest (aff link) or HealthWise. Either can be purchased online and Quest chips are available at some grocery stores or nutrition stores.
You CAN do this and it is not too late
You did not break anything. You did not stretch it all out. Read this blog about the fear of stretching your pouch.
Let me wrap this up by saying you can do this and it’s not too late. If you have found yourself very scared of certain foods, you don’t have to start with those. Make a list of what protein foods you are willing to start with and find recipes using that protein. When it comes to bite sizes, somewhere in between a pencil eraser and a black bean is most common for patients to feel their best.
Another great post on this topic was in my 10-Day Habit Refresh series on Starches and Sweets.
If the anxiety around eating protein foods is more than you feel you can manage on your own, seek a professional for help. Get connected with your bariatric dietitian, ask around, or search for therapists that focus on food. Healing your mind around food is a very worthwhile journey!
Don’t forget your freebies! If you’d like to grab my guide to protein textures click here. And if you’d like to get my Health Relationships with Food eBook click here.
Steph Wagner, MS RDN
13 thoughts on “Why do carbs go down the best?”
Such a timely and needed article for me to pull me up short before I started down the wrong path. Thanks!
I am two and a half years out and I can still sometimes have trouble with meat. I never quite know if chicken is a friend or foe.
I often supplement with high protein dairy and eggs. I enjoy Greek yogurt with some fruit or I make it into a high protein veggie dip.
If I am on the go, I try to pack some extra cheese slices, eggs, or yogurt. That way I am not not risking pain and I can still make better choices.
Awesome post. I always wondered about this but never wanted to ask why. I need to reread this every time I tell myself that something is easier to eat.
@Susan I’m so glad this has been a helpful article for you! It’s certainly something to revisit from time to time :)
Thank You so very much!!!!! I appreciate all your help.
I have gained 24 lbs back and I had surgery on my hip in Feb of this year. What can i do to help lose this unwanted weight?? I had sleeve surgery 3 or 4rs ago and I don’t know what to do snacking is so hard to stop.
@Charlene grider Regaining weight after surgery is the number one reason why members join my site and online community. Through my coaching and resources, and the support and encouragement of the members it’s possible to get back on track! Feel free to email me if you have more questions (firstname.lastname@example.org) or you can click here to find out more and join – https://www.bariatricfoodcoach.com/product/premier-access/
Thankyou, Thankyou, Thankyou.
I’ve been slowly falling into this trap I realise now.
Great timing for this blog post … I’ve been wondering myself why some starches and “bad” food go down so easily, and I feel protein sitting in my stomach working its way through.
I am looking for a bariatric food list for the right food , and no no food
@Charleen Alves if you click on Member Resources and then “Bariatric Food List” you will find the food list I recommend in order of priority. It lists protein first, then non-starchy vegetables, then fruits and then healthy fats.
It does not include starches (bread/pasta/rice/potatoes) or sweets as those are the ones to keep close watch on. You can always email me at email@example.com for more specific questions or watch a video course for more about my recommendations!
I get tired of meat honestly. I avoid starch throughout the day as I find it makes me hungrier. I wait until dinner to eat it. Sometimes I’m hungry during the day and snacks are hard. I’m avoiding dairy so it doesn’t interfere with supplements and not wanting meat. I find your 3 meal rule impossible but maybe the further out I am the easier it will be. Currently 1 year out.
Thanks for your comment! I wouldn’t say it’s a rule as much as it is a starting point for a structure. Some patients will need planned snacks and that’s fine! It’s not black and white for everyone. Keeping variety and enjoyment is also an important part of the journey so you can stick with it long-term! Yes, starch increases hunger for most (me included!)