Who here hasn’t had suffered from a food coma a time or two? Well, some history is not worth repeating. Take it from me, you can have fun, enjoy all the Thanksgiving harvest, and still fit into your jeans the next day. But how do you avoid this whole “food coma” thing? It starts with understanding what makes you feel that way. There’s a couple things going on and it’s hormonal.
Tryptophan, Serotonin and Melatonin
Tryptophan is an essential amino acid (protein building block the body cannot make). It is high in many protein rich foods, like turkey. Tryptophan helps build muscle like other amino acids, but it is also a specific precursor of serotonin. Nearly all serotonin is in the gut where it regulates GI movement, but about 20% is actually dispersed in the central nervous system (CNS) where it regulates mood, appetite, sleep, muscle contraction, and some cognitive functions including memory and learning. Some serotonin can become melatonin, which regulates your sleep/wake cycles.
Besides turkey, your starchy foods like rolls, potatoes and stuffing have something to do with the “food coma” that ensues. The insulin your pancreas releases after eating carbs does its job, which is partially to pull essential amino acids into muscle (yay for muscle building), but there is one lonely amino acid that doesn’t go into cells… tryptophan. This amino acid didn’t get an invite to the party, and so left alone in the blood it increases serotonin levels and sleep eventually comes along.
Perhaps the real question is “Who cares? What’s wrong with enjoying a hearty meal with family and napping yourself into a more relaxed and carefree state, at least for a day?” If you ask me, we don’t really rest enough and enjoy our families as we should. Our inability to slow down does more to wreck our weight management hormones than one gut-busting, coma-inducing turkey dinner. Nevertheless, your best bet is balance. Strike a “happy middle” with the desire to enjoy food and the urge to overeat.
Here’s are some Turkey Day Eating Tips:
- Most meals are 1000+ calories per plate! So stick to one plate, and that’s it. Include some green vegetables on that plate. Take a little of everything that looks good and enjoy each bite. You shouldn’t need a fork lift to lift your fork!
- Start with a healthy breakfast – stay full with oatmeal made with cranberries and walnuts and have a morning snack of a handful of nuts and low-fat cheese. Try this recipe for Simple Mashed Cranberries.
- Don’t compete for the award for biggest plate and cleanest plate. Just enjoy the conversation and company. This is not about the food. It’s about people.
- Instead of seconds, have a cup of hot peppermint or ginger tea to aid in digestion and put off the dessert a couple hours.
- Make a “top crust” apple pie with thinly sliced apples. They bake crispy and people love the look and it has less guilt!