The season for postprandial somnolence, or as it is more commonly known, food coma, is upon us.
Food coma is that feeling after a huge meal of not being able to keep your eyes open and barely having the strength to slowly walk over to the couch and pretend you are watching football. The stimulation of a Thanksgiving table covered with luscious food often leads to overeating. Don’t blame the tryptophan in the turkey for a food coma. The condition is caused by overeating everything else on the table, particularly the carbohydrate-rich stuffing, potatoes and rolls. Turkey has no more tryptophan than chicken, fish eggs and other protein foods.
After a big meal the parasympathetic nervous system, which controls digestion, kicks into rest and digest. Your GI tract is on hyper-drive, which can lead to lethargy. In addition, the release of the hormone cholecystokinin (CCK), which leads to fullness after eating, also activates the area of the brain associated with sleep. Overeating releases more CCK.
It is possible to enjoy holiday meals and avoid a food coma. Start with your clothing. Wear something with a waistband that will provide a gentle physical reminder of fullness. Will you want to be the person at the table loosening the pant button to fit in a few more bites? Don’t fast all day in anticipation of a big meal. Extreme hunger leads to overeating.
Fill half your plate with veggies and a quarter with turkey or another protein. That leaves just the right amount of room for stuffing or potatoes. Add extra chews to every mouthful to slow down eating. This allows time for messages of fullness to make it to the brain and releases the flavor of the foods, which increases sensory satisfaction. If possible, step away from the food after you have finished eating. It is in our nature to mindlessly pick at available food.
Avoiding the food coma allows you to fully enjoy family, friends and fantastic food. Happy Thanksgiving.
Sheah Rarback is a registered dietitian on the faculty of the University of Miami Leonard M. Miller School of Medicine. Follow her on Twitter @sheahrarback.