Photo by Element5 Digital
According to the Calorie Control Council, the average American will eat as much as 4,500 calories on Thanksgiving Day. With so many decadent dishes on the table, many just can’t refrain from the inevitable overeating that occurs. However, many of us don’t realize that as that piece of pie slides down our throats, our bodies go through a fair amount of extra work in order to process those extra calories. Let’s take a close look at the phases that our bodies encounter when we consume a super-sized Thanksgiving meal.
The Sugar “High”
As you are eating, the carbohydrates and starches in foods get turned into glucose, which is absorbed into the bloodstream. This is known as a rise in blood sugar. Once your body detects a spike in blood sugar, the pancreas goes to work by releasing the hormone insulin, which helps cells to absorb the glucose out of the bloodstream for energy. Through this absorption, the molecule tryptophan (yes, the same tryptophan in turkey) gets turned into serotonin, which is often known as the “happiness” neurotransmitter. Excess carbohydrate intake is known to affect reward-related brain regions, resulting in a short-term feeling of euphoria and satisfaction. It’s possible that the “happiness” effects derived from serotonin, along with the pleasure from simply tasting the carbohydrates, combine to create that “high” feeling that some of us experience after a large meal.
The Sugar Crash
All good things must come to an end. An overdose of carbs, sugars, and starches leads to an overdose of glucose in the bloodstream. This causes the pancreas not only to go to work but to go into overdrive and send out a flood of insulin to help absorb all of the extra glucose in the bloodstream. In this case, insulin works too quickly and removes too much of the bloodstream’s supply of energy. Also, while serotonin may be a “happiness” neurotransmitter, along with melatonin it promotes sleepiness in the body. Furthermore, in order to help the body digest all of that food, the body activates the parasympathetic nervous system (the system in charge of calming our bodies). This perfect storm of factors helps contribute to the infamous Thanksgiving food coma.
All of this extra work is taxing on our bodies. Instead of eating in excess, it is best to have a normal, everyday meal. However, that is often easier said than done when you are faced with a table full of delicious looking and smelling food, and a gang of friends and family peer-pressuring you to celebrate by eating. Here are some tips on how you can avoid overeating, and the inevitable sugar high and subsequent crash, on Thanksgiving Day.
5 Do’s and Don’ts for Thanksgiving Dinner
- DO drink a glass of water before and after your meal. Drinking before will help your stomach to feel more satiated so that you lessen how much you eat, and drinking after aides your body in digestion. Make sure you drink water, not punch or alcohol. These drinks won’t have the same satiating effect as water, and if anything, alcoholic and sugar-rich beverages may actually promote more eating.
- DO prepare and eat vegetable appetizers as opposed to the starchy or carb-heavy ones. If you are a guest at a party, you can also bring a nice large plate of vegetables for the health-conscious partygoers to nosh on.
- DON’T fall victim to food pushers. People often try to get you to taste different foods and when you are resistant it can lead them to push even harder. Just say no if you don’t want something. Don’t eat food that you know is bad for you in order to avoid an awkward social interaction. If someone offers you a piece of apple pie and you don’t want it, just say “No thanks. I’m full.” If they persist, find a way to change the subject. You don’t need to justify or defend yourself to others regarding your food choices.
- DON’T choose the potato side dishes as part of your meal. While many dishes have some nutritional value, the potato-dishes tend to be the ones with the highest carbohydrate and fat content.
- DON’T put too much on your plate at once. It’s hard to stop eating (even if you’re full) when you see that there is still more food on your plate. It’s better to get a second helping later if you’re still hungry than to put all the food you may want on your plate at once.