While many changes occur as a result of bariatric surgery, one of the most unexpected may be a change in the way patients taste their food. This can manifest as food aversion after bariatric surgery, in particular.
Taste distortion or food aversion (to varying degrees) is common feedback we hear directly from our patients here at WeightWise. Some of our patients tell us food tastes super sweet or metallic — or just plain bland.
And our patients are not alone. Studies have shown that bariatric patients (gastric bypass, gastric sleeve or sleeve gastrectomy, and other weight-loss surgeries) do indeed experience changes in taste (and smell, sometimes, too!).
Dr. John M. Morton, the inaugural Vice-Chair for Quality and Division Chief for Bariatric and Minimally Invasive Surgery at the Yale School of Medicine, said in 2014 that post-bariatric patients noticed a variety of changes in the way they experienced taste after surgery.
Additionally, in a report published that year by Reuters, Morton, then the chief of bariatric and minimally invasive surgery at Stanford University, said obese patients prior to surgery were already “uniformly less taste sensitive than normal-weight patients.”
Thus, Morton continued, “obese patients may seek to derive satisfaction through volume rather than taste appreciation.”
Do Taste Buds Really Change Post-Op?
We know that our patients really do have changes in their taste buds after surgery, and these studies and the numbers they report confirm that other patients experience this as well.
Morton’s study observed 55 bariatric patients and 33 individuals with weights considered within the normal range. Each participant sampled the five tastes — sour, sweet, bitter, salty, and umami — both before and after surgery to determine if there were any changes in their sense perception.
After surgery, as Reuters noted, “The majority (87 percent) of patients reported a change in taste perception after bariatric surgery, with 42 percent saying they ate less because food didn’t taste as good. Morton said that, in particular, “after surgery, patients did note less preference for salty foods.”
Furthermore, nearly half of the study’s participants stated that they experienced even less of a sense of taste than they had before surgery. This in turn caused them to choose to eat less, leading to 20% more weight loss than those who reported an increase in taste perception. And as noted, a preference for salty foods dropped across the board for post-op patients.
Implications for Weight Loss
While this study, presented during that year’s annual ObesityWeek, was one of the first to test for taste changes in bariatric patients, more research has followed. Researchers like Morton were interested in not only discovering how taste variance affects the way individuals eat, but how to increase a person’s ability to enjoy and savor food without over-indulging.
“Theoretically,” Morton told Time magazine, “if you teach people to have better appreciation for food — taking your time when you eat and really savoring those flavors — perhaps people will gain satisfaction through appreciation rather than through volume.”
How to Handle Taste Distortion and Satisfaction
How do your foods taste after bariatric surgery? Are you satisfied with your meal even without the ability to over-indulge? Have you found non-food alternatives to fill the pleasure/gratification food used to provide after surgery? Including variety in your diet and examining your relationship with food can help to avoid diet pitfalls and assist you in making healthy food choices.
Whether you fall into the group that has taste distortion or not, eating flavorful foods that surprise your taste buds is one way to make the most of each bite. It’s a great time to play with spices/herbs/marinades, new vegetables, and combinations of foods that you have never tried before.
Foods you did not like before surgery may taste great after surgery. Don’t be afraid to use spices. Our patients here at WeightWise love spicy foods, especially if they experience a high degree of taste distortion.
Don’t hesitate to ask one of our dietitians if you need ideas on how to make your foods taste right. Food aversions (and cravings) can be triggered by strong smells and tastes. The important thing is to continue eating healthy foods, and nutrition plays a role in helping us lose weight — and keep it off.
How do you truly enjoy your food? Leave a comment below! We love to hear your stories.
If you have any questions or concerns, please feel free to get in touch with the friendly and helpful staff at WeightWise. We look forward to speaking with you and to working with you to achieve your health and weight-loss goals.
If you’re curious, be sure to take a look through our WeightWise “Weight Loss Surgery Success Stories.” We think you’ll find a lot of inspiring information there.