The BF Survival Guide to Making it through a Meltdown

365.034 Tired and Frustrated by marvin L, on Flickr
Creative Commons Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic License   by  marvin L 


Whether you call it “falling off the wagon,” going on a binge or, my reigning favorite, “carbapalooza,” meltdowns have the opportunity to be one of two things in your weight loss journey—a great learning experience or a total disaster.

Hopefully this guide will help you toward the former. So let’s talk about this.

First, what is a meltdown? Well, from my experience a meltdown is when we begin, for whatever reason, to eat things we damn well know we should not eat in quantities we damn well know we should not eat them. Newbies, this is not meant to scare you but there will be a time when you can eat way too much of the wrong things. And we hear people talk a lot about what to do in the aftermath of a meltdown. But how do you survive right then and right there when it’s happening? Here’s my best advice.

Step One: Speak Up!

Ok, so you’ve lost control. You know this because if you hadn’t lost control…those last two fun-sized Snickers would have been a lot more…fun. What do you do? Out loud in a clear and demanding voice say, “Stop! Now!” This may sound silly but it accomplishes a couple of things. First, there’s a lot of stuff going on in your brain in this moment. There’s whatever is going on with you that you’re trying to soothe with food. Maybe there’s some guilt, maybe some shame. Definitely very negative feelings. Your brain doesn’t really have the ability to be commanding right now. But if you can just think those two words and say them out loud, it will shock your system into taking pause.

And that’s what you need—a pause. A moment to just stop. Once you’ve done that immediately move to step two.

Step Two: Get the HELL outta dodge!

Get out of the kitchen. Hell, get out of the house if you need to. I find in these moments taking a walk can be a life saver. If you have a friend who knows of your journey and your issues, call them and see if they mind an impromptu visit. Do let them know you’re having a meltdown (if you trust them enough to do so), so that they don’t offer you anything else to eat (as people often do when you are a guest in their home).

Whatever you do, make sure you’re gone for about an hour. Why? Well, from our experience it takes a little while for all the biochemical e-mails to arrive in the proper inboxes, so to speak. But when they do, your body begins to feel the effects of what you did. In general, eating crap food does not make the body feel good. So you’re probably going to feel a little gross. Maybe even repulsed by food. You might even find that you really don’t have an appetite at all. This always begs the question, “why did I eat so much then?” Well, when you’re in the moment you have this amazing ability to override physical cues. Getting away from food, letting your body adjust and feel the effects is important in getting you to stop.

Step Three: Once you’re home…get thee to a food journal, stat!

It doesn’t matter if you keep a hard copy journal or an online one. If you don’t keep a journal, now might be a good time to start. The point here is that you need to take responsibility for what you did fairly soon after you did it. Seeing it on paper or on a screen makes it all very real. This is NOT for the purposes of beating yourself up. Yes, you feel like crap. You feel like you’ve failed. But here’s the thing: if our brains were the best decision makers in this situation, we wouldn’t be here. Hard, objective data helps.

Most times we don’t know how much we ate when we go off the rails. For the purposes of this exercise, assume you ate a portion of everything you list (I’ll tell you why in a minute). If it seemed to you that you ate more than a portion, round up to two portions. Don’t dwell as you add things and don’t lie—you’d only be cheating yourself.

Step Four: Deal with the rest of your day

The food journal thing has a practical application too. You still have the rest of the day to get through and I can tell you this: if you went on a carb binge, you will probably get hungry again before the day is through. That’s why early day meltdowns are brutal.

But now you have some information on your side. If you count calories, you have an idea of how much you’ve taken in so far (and since you’ve rounded up to the nearest number of portions, your estimate is probably quite liberal, meaning when you plan your food, based on those numbers, you’ll probably end up in a halfway decent spot at the end of the day). And you know how much of the day you have to get through.

There is one other tool in your toolbox: exercise! You can offset some of those calories by being active. So make a plan. What can you eat the rest of the day? I remember one meltdown had me so high in calories that I was relegated to water based protein shakes and veggies for the rest of the day. Not a great look for your girl, Nik. And what activity can you fit in to offset some of those calories?

I have this game I like to play. I like to pick the worst, most egregious food choice I made that day, look at the calories and THAT is how much I aim to burn in my workout. That works well if your choice was 400 calories or less. Any more than that and I would advise, going to the next worst choice.

Also, while planning, make sure you are factoring in water intake. If you ate high sodium foods and refined carbs your body will need water. And drinking lots of water occupies your pouch so that you don’t eat as much the rest of the day.

Step Five: Be careful how you relate to the scale the next few days

For some of us, stepping on the scale after a meltdown is a precarious thing. For some, weighing is a necessary thing (much like doing the food journal) to accepting responsibility for the meltdown. To others, it can be a toxic thing, fueling negative emotions that will drive you straight into your next meltdown.

And here’s the really tricky part: you may not get negative reinforcement. I can’t tell you how many people have told me they actually LOSE weight after a meltdown. Well, you shocked your body with more calories and that may have affected your metabolism a bit. This does NOT mean you should meltdown every week to avoid stalling. It means that thankfully your behavior did not impede your weight loss this time.

So if you feel you can handle weighing and can accept whatever consequence comes your way, go for it. If not, stay off the scale for a few days and focus on getting back on track, not just physically but mentally. If you keep a journal, make some time to write in it. If you have support group coming up, attend. Whatever way you best express your emotions, do that so that you can figure out what hunger you were really trying to feed.

What Not To Do

We may get some flack for this but we feel we have to speak up about one thing. The “Five Day Pouch Test” (Google it if you don’t know what it is. We won’t waste energy linking to it…ever). We’ve heard from a lot of people that they do this crash diet after they meltdown to “refocus” and “get back on track.”

Here’s the deal: crash diets didn’t work before. They don’t work now. Why? A few reasons from our perspective.

First, with the “test” (and it isn’t a test), you are dealing with what you’re putting in your mouth. Your meltdown wasn’t about what you put in your mouth so much as what was going on in your head. Many people skip that part. It’s one thing if you want to adhere to a stricter eating plan while doing the mental work, but the “test,” like your pouch, should not be expected to do all the work.

Second, you are only a new-post op once (and newbies have NO business doing the “test”). Your pouch matures. It’s supposed to. That’s why “protein first” is THE most valuable rule you can follow for the rest of your life. I can only eat about 3-4 oz. of chicken breast before feeling stuffed. I still haven’t figured out how many tortilla chips I can eat because I have not yet reached my upper limits (mainly because halfway through I began to follow the steps outlined above).

You can’t trick your pouch into becoming a new pouch again. You have the pouch that you have and if you want to be successful for LIFE you have to keep coming back to the healthy behaviors and habits that make you successful—lean proteins, complex carbohydrates, good fat, plenty of water and vitamins! That really is the only way.

And yes…you may lose a few pounds as a result of the “test.” I am no doctor but I theorize it’s probably water weight. Think of it. Most do the “test” after having a meltdown of some degree. Well, you likely have eaten more sodium than you should and are retaining a bit of water. Then you drop your calories down way low and the first thing your body will ditch is excess water.

Sorry to sound preachy, but we aren’t a fan of the “test” and we don’t, nor will we ever, publish recipes that intentionally fit into the test parameters. This is a lifestyle change, folks, not a diet. Like our friends at Weight Watchers say, “Diets don’t work. So stop dieting, and start living!”

If you need more help

Bariatric Foodie has you covered! Check out the “Bariatric Foodie Back on Track Toolkit.” It gives you a week’s worth of weight loss surgery friendly meals, mixed with a little tough love and advice. If you need a jumpstart, it’s there for you!

And if you liked this Survival Guide, check out guides to:


  1. Thank you, thank you, thank you.

  2. I so agree about the 5 day pouch test, but I've given up trying to educate people on what a bad idea it is. Folks want magic, glitter & unicorns and don't want to do the work.

  3. Yo… this is the best thing I have read in the 7 years since Ive had my rny surgery. YOU know how to lead others. Your advice is exactly what I would share with others to do….just after I'd rushed to the toilet to vomit.

  4. I'm just over 3 1/2 months post op. I fell off the wagon yesterday. I had those Auntie Annie's cinnamon sugar pretzel nuggets. I couldn't stop, they were so buttery and sweet and yummy. I didn't get dumping but I did feel gross and felt like I was going to crash. I continued my carb crazy at dinner with a baked potato with some cheese on it and some edamame on the side. This morning I opened your blog to find my way back. Thank you for what you do! You make a difference!

  5. Hey Amanda,

    Your note is exactly why I KEEP doing what I do. I'm so glad it helps. <3

  6. Love your "carbapalooza" term…and I have unfortunately experienced one recently. Thanks for the reminder that, first of all, I am not alone and, second, that an episode of making bad food choices does not define me or mean that I can't turn things around with the next choice I make. I am so glad I found your blog!

  7. I'm only 3 weeks in, but enjoy reading and mentally preparing myself for life the life ahead of me. I know I'm gnna fall, because I fell a lot before, and surgery did not fix my brain…it just made my stomach smaller. {Or totally tubular in my case *sleeve*}

  8. Thank you so much for this. I think I just had my first "meltdown" last night and I've been sad and condeming myself ever since. Your post is a God-send and I almost cried reading it. Thanks for not judging, but just giving tools for a better path next time! I feel better, thanks 🙂

  9. Have you read both of the books on The Pouch Test? I haven't done the test, but the information in both of the books is priceless. The plan isn't meant for crash dieting, but for people several years post-op that have regained. The research is interesting.

  10. Thank you Ms. NIK!! As always, your posts come at just the right time!!

  11. Finding your website today was nothing short of a miracle for me today. I'm 15 months post op and really needed some guidance and encouragement which is exactly what I found on here. I love your positive approach to so many of my real life concerns. This website is done in such a cool way and I enjoy reading through it. Thank you.

  12. So needed this, thank you!!!

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