With Thanksgiving knocking on the door, America is gearing up for an evening of overindulgence in the form of high-calorie mouthwatering Thanksgiving Dinner. It is safe to assume that even the most health-conscious of people are likely to intake richer food than they normally. The question that plagues everyone near the end of the meal when their clothes feel strained at the seams: what does this one evening of gluttony do to the body?
The American Chemical Society released a comprehensive video explaining the stomach’s reaction to the debauchery of Thanksgiving Dinner. The video explains that the stomach is pretty flexible and stretches over a liter in volume, if necessary. When swallowing food, we swallow air too, filling up the stomach and intestines with gas along with food. Carbonated beverages tend to fill the stomach with a lot of gas, taking up room and making you feel fuller.
The gas squeezes your internal organs and it is therefore, not surprising that with each new helping of the rich creamy food, you start to feel increasingly ill-at-ease. The idea of stomach bursting due to overeating, however, is unlikely because when its near the point of reaching its limit, the brain works on overdrive to do everything it can to slow you down. The queasy feeling after a session of overeating is a hormonal reaction to prevent you from eating again till the existing food is digested. These hormones are less influential when you eat fast, so slowing down between courses is a good idea.
The heartburn experienced during a heavy meal is because the stomach has to produce more hydrochloric acid that usual to break down the unusually high amount of food intake and this acid irritates the lining of the esophagus and the stomach. Antacids contain bases which neutralizes this stomach acid, but also releases carbon dioxide. Antacids will help with the heartburn, but in turn make you feel more full.
One of the most widespread Thanksgiving myth is that the turkey makes you sleepy. Before blaming the poor bird, it is important to understand that the drowsiness after a Thanksgiving meal is not just the turkey’s fault. Turkey does contain an amino acid called tryptophan which produces serotonin, a neurotransmitter that regulates sleep, but a lot of food contains tryptophan (e.g. cheddar cheese).
The real reason behind the drowsiness is actually the act of overeating. A lot of carb intake results in higher insulin release to keep blood sugar level in check. This results in an uptake of most amino acids from the blood to the muscles, all except tryptophan. All amino acids leave the bloodstream, while the remaining tryptophan goes to the brain to produce sleep-inducing serotonin. If there had been no insulin surge triggered by overeating, the tryptophan would have to compete with the other kinds of amino acids to make its way to the brain through a common transport route. Therefore, the bird is not to be blamed but rather the other dishes you eat alongside it. Diving straight to dessert and adding more sugar into the bloodstream is not a good idea, if you wish to avoid drowsiness.
To summarize, eat slowly, pause between courses and please heed the signals your brain is giving you to enjoy a fulfilling, but not too filling, Thanksgiving dinner.