A hysterectomy can be a life-changing surgery for a woman. While it may bring relief from some symptoms, it can also leave women feeling confused and overwhelmed by post-operative cravings.
What are these cravings caused by? How can you deal with them effectively?
This article will answer those questions and provide some helpful tips on how to cope with cravings after a hysterectomy.
What causes cravings after a hysterectomy?
Cravings are a common occurrence after a hysterectomy. Hormone fluctuations, being tired, and wanting comfort are all possible triggers for cravings. Let's explore each of these triggers in more detail.
One of the most common causes of cravings after a hysterectomy is hormone fluctuations.
In many cases of hysterectomy (though not all), the ovaries are removed during surgery. Your ovaries are where the hormones estrogen and progesterone are produced.
When your estrogen levels drop, you may experience hot flashes, night sweats, vaginal dryness, mood swings, and fatigue—all of which can contribute to cravings.
Estrogen plays a role in regulating metabolism and blood sugar levels; when your levels are low, you may be more likely to crave sugary or high-carb foods that will give you a quick burst of energy.
Even if you keep your ovaries, just the surgery itself can disrupt your hormone levels. It can take several months for your body to adjust and for hormone levels to stabilize again.
To counteract these effects, your doctor may prescribe hormone replacement therapy (HRT), which comes in the form of pills, patches, gels, or injections.
HRT can help stabilize your hormone levels and lessen the intensity of your symptoms, including food cravings.
Another common side effect of a hysterectomy is fatigue. This can be caused by the surgery itself, as well as by the stress of dealing with the aftermath of the procedure (e.g., recovery, managing pain, etc.).
When you're tired, it's natural to want to reach for comfort foods that will give you a quick burst of energy. However, these sugary or fatty snacks will only leave you feeling sluggish and unsatisfied in the long run (and contribute to weight gain).
To combat fatigue and its accompanying cravings, make sure to get plenty of rest and exercise regularly (when cleared to do so). Exercise helps increase energy levels and can also help stabilize your mood.
The sudden change in hormones after a hysterectomy can also lead to feelings of sadness, depression, or anxiety—all of which can trigger cravings.
When we're feeling down or stressed out, we often turn to comfort foods as a way to make ourselves feel better. Unfortunately, these comfort foods are usually unhealthy choices that we later regret eating.
If your cravings are being triggered by emotions, it's important to find healthy ways to cope with your feelings instead of using food as a crutch.
Talk to your doctor about your feelings or consider talking to a therapist who can help you deal with your emotions in a healthy way.
How to reduce cravings after a hysterectomy
Reduce stress levels
The hormone cortisol is released when you're under stress. Cortisol can increase your appetite, so it's important to find ways to relax and de-stress.
Yoga, meditation, and spending time with friends and family can all help reduce stress levels.
Replace unhealthy snacks with healthier alternatives
If you typically reach for sugary or salty snacks when you're feeling down, try replacing them with healthy foods like fruits and vegetables.
Not only will this help reduce cravings, but it will also boost your mood and energy levels.
Drink more water
Dehydration can sometimes be mistaken for hunger, so make sure you're drinking enough water throughout the day. Aim for eight glasses a day.
Get more sleep
Sleep deprivation can also lead to increased cravings. Make sure you're getting at least seven hours of sleep each night.
Chewing gum can help keep your mouth busy and distracted from cravings. Choose a sugar-free gum to avoid any unwanted calories.
Eat more protein
Protein helps keep you feeling full longer, so include lean sources of protein at each meal and snack throughout the day.
Avoid getting very hungry
When you let yourself get too hungry, it's harder to resist cravings. To avoid this, eat smaller meals more frequently throughout the day.
Break bad habits
If you have any unhealthy eating habits, now is the time to break them. This includes things like skipping meals, mindlessly snacking, or emotional eating.
Replace these bad habits with healthier alternatives, like preparing meals in advance or keeping a food journal.
Find other ways to cope with emotions
If you're eating in response to negative emotions like sadness or anxiety,. look for other coping mechanisms. This could involve talking to a friend or therapist, writing in a journal, or listening to music.
Talk to your doctor about medication
If you've been struggling to reduce your cravings, talk to your doctor about medication options. Several medications and supplements, including HRT, can help reduce food cravings, so this is an option worth considering.
What to do when cravings hit
Whether it's for something sweet, salty, or savory, these cravings can be powerful and difficult to resist. If you're trying to eat healthy, though, giving in to these cravings can completely derail your diet.
The next time a craving strikes, try one of these healthy alternatives:
Instead of French fries, try roasted sweet potatoes. Sweet potatoes are a great source of fibre, vitamins A and C, and potassium. They're also lower in calories and fat than traditional french fries. Simply cut them into thin wedges, toss them with olive oil and your favourite spices, and roast in a 400°F oven until crispy.
Instead of ice cream, try frozen bananas. Frozen bananas are a sweet and satisfying treat that can easily satisfy your sweet tooth.
To make them, simply peel and slice bananas into thick rounds. Place on a baking sheet lined with wax paper or parchment paper and freeze for at least 2 hours. Once frozen, place bananas in a food processor or high-powered blender and blend until smooth.
For an extra treat, top with dark chocolate chips or chopped nuts before serving!
Instead of potato chips, try roasted kale chips. Kale is an extremely nutrient-dense food, meaning it packs a lot of vitamins and minerals into very few calories.
To make kale chips, simply remove the leaves from the stem, tear them into bite-sized pieces, toss them with olive oil and sea salt, and roast in a 400°F oven for 10-12 minutes. Keep an eye on them towards the end of cooking as they can go from perfectly crispy to burnt very quickly!
Another alternative to chips is nuts, such as cashews or peanuts. The only downside to these is that many are calorie dense, so you can only eat a little.
Air-popped popcorn is a great, healthy alternative and a large bowl is relatively low on calories when compared to potato chips.
Cake or candy
When a sweet craving strikes, hit it with some sweet fruit like strawberries, pineapple, mango, or watermelon. These fruits are sweet and satisfying but won't pack on the pounds as cake or candy would.
If you're looking for something a little more substantial, try a bowl of oatmeal with some diced fruit mixed in. The oats will help fill you up while the fruit adds a touch of sweetness.
You don't have to give up chocolate altogether. In fact, dark chocolate is actually quite healthy!
Look for dark chocolate that has at least 70% cocoa content or higher. Dark chocolate can also help to reduce stress levels, so it's a perfect snack when cravings strike.
Try to avoid milk chocolate or white chocolate, as these varieties are typically high in sugar and low in cocoa content.
As a general rule of thumb, the darker the chocolate, the healthier it is.
Eat more veggies
When all else fails, have a variety of veggies ready to go; these can be eaten as-is or with a healthy dip like hummus. Veggies are filling and low in calories, so they're the perfect snack to reach for when cravings hit.
By cutting and prepping your vegetables before a craving hits, you'll be more likely to reach for them.
Celery, carrots, cucumbers, broccoli, and cauliflower are all great options. If you have a little time, make roasted veggie chips by thinly slicing your favourite veggies and roasting them in a 400°F oven until crispy.
Snack cravings can be tough to resist, but with a little planning and some creativity, you can easily find healthy alternatives that will satisfy your cravings without derailing your diet.
If you’re experiencing cravings after your hysterectomy, there’s no need to worry; it’s perfectly normal!
In most cases, cravings are caused by hormonal fluctuations or fatigue. In some cases, they may be triggered by emotional factors as well.
If you find yourself craving sugary or fatty foods, try to satisfy your cravings with healthier options instead.
And if you’re feeling overwhelmed or emotional after surgery, talk to your doctor; they can help you manage your feelings and get through this tough time.