Food comas are real. And I'm not talking about those restful siestas Europeans take in between meals in the afternoon. This is when you stuff your face to the point of no return and then you unwillingly are too exhausted to function. Yes, this is the dreaded food coma. Or more technically called, "posprandial somnolence." But how do you get out of it and back to winning at life when that happens? First we have to go back to the origins of this fateful food fest and figure out why all this delicious food makes us feel so sleepy afterward.
Food Coma Cause #1: Blood flow shifts
How can eating so much yummy-looking food go so, so wrong? Well, for one thing, after you nosh on your short stack of buttermilk pancakes, your gastrointestinal tract is activated. According to David Levitsky, a professor of nutrition and psychology at Cornell University who spoke with CNN, this
shifts your blood flow from your brain and muscles to your stomach and intestines. And when the blood leaves your brain, your mind gets woozy, tired, and makes you more prone to yawning. Essentially, this is all par for the course for the "rest and digest system" (aka the parasympathetic nervous system), which is the part of the nervous system that informs our body it's time to digest the food we've just eaten.
Food Coma Cause #2: There actually can be too much of a good thing
If you eat food that's too fatty, fried, salty, spicy, sugary starchy, or just too much food in general, there's a good chance you will feel bloated, sluggish, or nauseous afterwards. While normally food stays in your stomach for two to six hours, depending on what you eat, high-fat food can reside in there for a longer period of time.
And on top of that, eating too many simple carbs found in white bread or white rice definitely expedites your potential to pass out. This is because of the amino acid tryptophan, which in theory, produces too muchserotonin and would make your brain relaxed and sleepy. Hence, food coma central.
Food Coma Cause #3: Time of Day Matters
Eating earlier is better. Thanks to our circadian rhythms, we naturally feel a dip in our energy levels around 1 or 1:30 pm, but that could be a little later depending on when you wake up. Whether you eat lunch or not, you'd still get sleepy around this time. But if you grab everything in your fridge or off the cafeteria table at your internship for a hearty lunch, just consider that a double knockout making you more exhausted during your mid-afternoon meetings or classes.
Ok so we've talked about some of the causes of this food hangover, but how do you get out of it or prevent it? Here are some tips.
1. Drink water and non-caffeinated tea.
Water already is super important to drink throughout the day, but in this case, it can help start moving food more quickly through your GI tract to get you back on your feet again. Along with peppermint and chamomile tea, these liquids help flush out the high sodium levels in your body and dilute excess stomach acid. These teas can also help reduce how bloated you feel, while ginger teaassists with nausea.
2. Do some aerobic exercise.
No, not horizontal running. Although that's probably what you want to do the most. Instead, aerobic exercise like going for a brisk walk for 30 to 45 minutes will help get your digestion flowing again and boost your metabolism. Exercising also gives you endorphins, which, as Elle Woods knows, makes you happy, thereby reducing how awful you feel post-feast.
3. Eat smaller meals for the rest of the day.
For one thing, you're totally stuffed. But also, the larger your meal, the higher chance you'll have of facing that mid-afternoon slump. Having a light lunch, earlier in the day around 11:30 or 11:45 am, is a proactive choice because you know you'll be sleepy no matter what around 1 pm. But it won't be as drowsy of a dip if you don't have a super heavy meal. Maybe try a light salad or vegetable soup instead. Going back to the liquids thing, having a soup or meal with higher water content is better for your digestion.
4. Also eat some probiotics.
While probiotics might not help immediately, eating a serving of yogurt can help relieve any bloating, diarrhea, or constipation you might be feeling. A little TMI, but hey, the more you know.
5. Eat carbs that are low on the glycemic index.
Aka eat some complex carbs of the whole grain or wheat variety. Low-GI carbs include whole wheat bread, oatmeal, beans, peas, most fruit, and non-starchy vegetables (sorry, potatoes). That's why as you have those smaller meals or snacks as the day goes on, you should also stick with low-fat and low-salt foods to help balance you out. That means white bread, bagels, pretzels, and crackers might not be the best idea.
5. DO eat breakfast the next day.
Breakfast is considered the most important meal of the day for a reason. Make sure to start your day off right the next day by eating a healthy breakfast rather than avoiding food altogether.
6. No alcohol.
While drinking non-caffeinated liquids is smart to get your digestion moving, alcohol is a sedative that'll only make you drowsier aside from being dehydrating.
We all love to eat. Clearly, because you're reading a Spoon article. But sometimes, we get a little ahead of ourselves and eat more than is good for us. And while none of us want to fall asleep at our internships, if you can't help but overindulge, maybe save it for the weekends when you can take a nap without fear of your boss walking in.