Have you ever wondered why you felt tired or wanted to nap after a holiday meal?
You would probably assume the combination of attending to festivities and the winter blues is causing the tiredness.
You are partially correct; the holiday season tends to put us into that relaxed state where we want to sleep in or take a nap.
However, eating a large meal is the primary cause of “food comas”. Also known as postprandial somnolence, food coma is our body’s physiological response to overeating.
You may blame yourself for eating too much turkey because you have heard that tryptophan is naturally present in it – an amino acid that produces serotonin, which consequently induces relaxation and sleepiness.
If turkey is to blame, then other protein-rich foods, such as meat, fish, eggs, dairy nuts and seeds, should be blamed, too.
The truth is, food comas are caused by overeating and ingesting too much carbohydrate-rich foods and drinks in one sitting.
As our body breaks down carbohydrates into its simplest form, glucose, for energy, this causes a spike in our blood glucose level.
This triggers the release of insulin, a hormone produced by the pancreas, into the blood stream, which manages our blood glucose level by transferring glucose from the blood into body cells for energy use and into the liver for storage.
The combination of our body working its way to digest the food by drawing blood to our digestive tract and our body’s hormonal response to insulin results in the production of sleep-induced hormones, such as serotonin and melatonin, which causes some of the classic symptoms of a food coma.
In other words, eating more than you need and consuming the typical carb-rich foods over the holiday meal, such as the turkey stuffing, the mashed potatoes, the candied sweet potatoes, the mulled wine and the desserts are the contributors to a food coma.
On top of feeling lethargic and extremely full, you may also feel gassy, drowsy and wanting to loosen your trousers.
At this point, you may also feel disgusted for eating too much and wonder what you can do to avoid experiencing these symptoms in the future.
While overeating during one or two holiday meals is not detrimental to your health, you probably do not want to gain a few extra pounds and feel regretful once the festivities are over either.
So, with the holiday season upon us, here are a few eating strategies to keep in mind.
Do not skip meals
Attending a festive meal does not give you the excuse to skip a meal or two and arrive to your event with an empty stomach. Skipping meals will lead to overeating and is likely the number one cause of food comas.
Tip: eat your regular meals as if you were carrying out your typical day. Doing so helps set the tone of your day’s appetite and minimises the likelihood of overeating.
You may also want to consider having a small snack an hour or two beforehand to avoid eating too much at the feast.
You can forget about the need to unbutton your trousers by being selective about what you choose to put on your plate.
Tip: enjoy foods that are only typically available over the holidays, but keep your usual food portions in mind at the same time.
Take the time to chew every bite
Festive holiday meals are meant to bring everyone together to create fond memories. Since our brain requires at least 20 minutes to register the feeling of fullness, take your time to eat your meal by enjoying the conversations around the dining table.
Tip: by eating slowly and savouring every bite, you are pacing yourself to avoid overeating.
Go easy on the alcohol
Alcoholic beverages, whether they are wine, beer, spirits or cocktails, are carbohydrate-based. You may experience food coma if you drink too much in one sitting
Tip: keep a note on the number of drinks you have as the calories add up quickly.
Enjoy some non-alcoholic beverages in between your meal, such as carbonated or still water. Sipping on carbonated or still water during your meal also helps pace your food intake.
Go for a walk
Just because you are in the holiday spirit, this does not mean you should throw your regular exercise routine out the window.
Tip: instead of lying on the sofa, go for a brisk walk after your festive holiday meal to get some fresh air and re-energise yourself.