Here’s a stat that’s hard to swallow: Did you know that the average American will gain between 1 ½ to 2 ½ kgs from Thanksgiving to New Year? Sure, we all love a feast and if you can’t enjoy good food at Thanksgiving when can you? But this year, before you go carving the turkey and breaking bread, spare a thought to your stomach. While you’re enjoying your day off, it’s working overtime trying to digest the entire day of feasting. And you know that sleepy feeling you get after too many forkfuls? That could be your stomach’s way of telling your brain that it needs a time out. Here’s why this Thanksgiving, you need to think before you thank:
On a regular day, you wouldn’t pile your plate half as high, you’d skip dessert and take a salad on the side. So what makes Thanksgiving different?
Environmental triggers play a crucial role here. Our eating habits are different when we are surrounded by people compared to when we are alone. Conforming to the behaviour of others is adaptive and rewarding. At thanksgiving it’s normal to sit around the table all day, enjoying as much food as possible. Because we want to match these norms, we forget our normal behaviour and adopt the eating actions associated with the occasion – which in this case is eating…a lot. Why stop when everyone’s still socializing over the next course? Here’s why:
Your body’s over it
Apart from the obvious weight gain that comes with eating more calories than you are able to burn, overeating can harm your body in other ways. Digestive problems and bloating are not only uncomfortable and likely to kill the rest of your evening plans, there’s more you should be aware of. Think about the digestion process – the average meal takes around 1 to 3 hours to digest. Now think about your usual thanksgiving feast. It’s likely to be at least 3 to 4 times the size, so therefore could end up taking 9 to 12 hours to digest. This means your body is working harder, for longer. The heart needs to pump more blood to the stomach and intestines to digest the vast amount of food. And that gassy feeling many experience after overeating, this is caused by food, which is harder to digest slipping into the colon and beginning to ferment – not nice, but something you need to know!
When to put down the fork and step away from the table
At some point, the body will indicate that enough is enough. After your heavy Thanksgiving dinner, the parasympathetic nervoussystem, part of the Vegetative Nervous System, gets active and stimulates your body to digest the food and rest. This function is summarized as “rest and digest”. And even more … cells in your pancreas produce the hormone insulin, which in turn leads to an increase in melatonin and serotonin, hormones that makes you feel drowsy as well as happy. You may also struggle to keep your eyes open thanks to a spike in glucose levels from the food you’ve eaten. This can interfere with the neurons in your brain that normally produce the orexin proteins responsible for keeping you awake and alert – especially important to consider if you’re lucky the lucky designated driver that has to get behind the wheel this thanksgiving. Think of it like alcohol – there’s a limit and you shouldn’t drive once you’re over it.
Be thankful, not greedy!
We’ve got big news: Thanksgiving can still happen without you overeating. Sounds impossible. Isn’t. This year, listen to your body. When you have to undo the top button of your jeans, it’s time to stop. Or at least take a break. Get some fresh air and go for a walk around the block. If it’s your turn to throw the dinner party, keep the serving dishes in the kitchen and out of sight. Use smaller plates and avoid finger food – this always makes us eat faster and more. Take it easy, take your time and enjoy the day without feeling full of food and regret in the evening.