Making good choices about food is important for everyone, not just those that have undergone gastric bypass. Our population is obsessed with dieting with thousands of books, websites, products and programs dedicated to healthy eating, portion control, food limiting, and making better food choices. The Bariatric Center of Kansas City has been working with gastric bypass patients for years on post-bypass eating. All too often we find that addressing why we eat is just as important as what we eat.

Why we eat can be broken down into four basic reasons:  Hungry, Angry, Lonely, and Tired (HALT). Although many people eat because they are hungry, there are a number of people who eat because of emotional triggers. They eat as a coping mechanism; a reaction to a feeling where food is used to feel better or secure.

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Since infancy, tears and anger are rewarded with food, clean diapers or cuddles. Our body and mind have spent years being conditioned to associate food with need and pleasure. Individuals who have had or are about to have a gastric bypass are aware that their food-viewpoint will have to change. They will have to evaluate not just why they eat, but also when they eat to determine if food is consumed for need (hunger) or pleasure (coping mechanism). Some eat to feel good or to prolong a pleasurable feeling. Others eat because they are stressed or bored. Most commonly, emotional eaters do so without even realizing they have a dangerous habit. These individuals eat because food is available, a distraction from whatever is causing discomfort and often the food selected is impulsive or unhealthy.

Perhaps you think that movies and popcorn just go together or dinner out with friends every other night is being social, and you may be right; however, this is not true for an emotional eater. Upon investigating the root cause of your “normal” eating you may find that you watch a movie because you are bored or you go out with friends because you are uncomfortable being alone at home. Some eating events may seem like a “normal” function of life, but may in fact be hiding an emotional eating habit.

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Being aware of why/when you eat is key to changing your emotional eating habits. Remember to allow time for a deep investigation into your eating motivations and permission to be realistic in your process of creating change. Once you have uncovered some of your strongest emotional eating habits it may be time to consciously decide to learn to “BE” more aware.  

Step One:  SIT with your feelings

  1. STOP
  2. Inspect
  3. Take a breath

Step Two: Recognize your negative self-talk

  1. Name the critical voice
  2. Be curious/not critical
  3. Is it true?
  4. Distance yourself from the thought
  5. State how you wish to feel
  6. Implement positive self-talk

If you hear a voice within you say, you cannot paint, then by all means paint and that voice will be silenced.  Vincent Van Gogh

Step Three: Eat Mindfully

  1. Sit down
  2. Slowly chew
  3. Sense
  4. Savor
  5. Smile

Step Four: Consciously choose healthy distractions

  • 5 people to call
  • 5 ways to relax
  • 5 places to go calm down
  • 5 encouraging statements to tell yourself
  • 5 activities that will keep you otherwise busy & distracted

No matter where you are in your relationship with food and weight, pre or post gastric bypass, dieting or contemplating implementing a few healthier choices, understanding why you eat is essential to reaching your goals. The Bariatric Center of Kansas City encourages all our patients to seek counseling to tackle the tougher issues and establish a support group from your friends and family that can be there to help you throughout your journey. You can HALT emotional eating!

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Coker, Michelle, Ph.D.. 2018. HALT Emotional Eating, PowerPoint Presentation, 

Albers, Susan. 2015. 50 More Ways to Soothe Yourself Without Food. Oakland, CA: New Harbinger Publications, Inc.

Alexander, Cynthia. 2009. The Emotional First Aid Kit: A Practical Guide to Life After Bariatric Surgery. Westchester, PA: Matrix Medical Communications.

Brewer, Judson.(2015,Nov.). A Simple Way to Break a Bad Habit. Retrieved from                

Koenig, Karen R. 2015. Outsmarting Overeating. Novato, CA: New World Library

Rossy, Lynn. 2016. The Mindfulness Based Eating Solution. Oakland, CA: New Harbinger Publications, Inc.