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5 Ways to Avoid a Food Coma This Thanksgiving

Family eating and visiting around the Thanksgiving table

There are so many things to be thankful for this year, but a food coma isn’t one of them. With Thanksgiving only a few days away, it’s time to start preparing for family time, football watching and the familiar overconsumption of festive foods. 

It can be tricky to avoid overeating and the post-Thanksgiving meal nap. While we’re obviously fans of sleep at Happsy, don’t let the Thanksgiving food coma and energy zap keep you from making memories with loved ones this year. Here’s everything you need to know about food comas and how to avoid them for a happier and healthier holiday. 

First things first: is the turkey to blame?

Thanksgiving turkey along with side dishesThanksgiving turkey along with side dishes

For years, many have placed blame for their post-dinner sleepiness on the star of the show on Thanksgiving Day: the turkey. Turkey is notorious for inducing the phenomenon known as the "food coma" during holiday feasts. The reasoning is that tryptophan, an amino acid found in turkey meat, is a precursor to serotonin and melatonin – the neurotransmitters associated with relaxation and sleep.  

However, the reality is more complex, as the amount of tryptophan in turkey is not significantly higher than in other meats. In fact, some of the other foods on your Thanksgiving table, like nuts and cheeses, have higher levels of tryptophan than turkey! The true culprit is likely the combination of a large, indulgent meal rich in carbohydrates and fats along with factors like wine or other alcoholic beverages, holiday travel, the stress of dinner preparations, and more. 

Regardless of the science, the tradition persists, and many people who find themselves succumbing to the post-feast lethargy attribute it to the mythical turkey-induced food coma.

What is a food coma?

A food coma, medically known as postprandial somnolence, refers to the overwhelming sense of drowsiness that often follows a hearty meal. This phenomenon occurs due to various physiological processes triggered by the consumption of large quantities of food, especially those rich in carbohydrates and fats like the traditional Thanksgiving meal. 

After eating, the body directs a significant amount of blood to the digestive system to aid in the absorption and processing of nutrients. This shift in blood flow, coupled with the release of insulin to manage elevated blood sugar levels, can result in a temporary drop in energy levels and an increase in the production of serotonin and melatonin. 

As a result, individuals may experience a feeling of fatigue and sluggishness, creating the colloquially termed "food coma" that often accompanies indulgent or sizable meals like that of Thanksgiving. 

Woman napping on the couch due to food comaWoman napping on the couch due to food coma

Common causes for a food coma

Several factors contribute to the onset of a food coma. Firstly, the consumption of high-carbohydrate and high-fat foods often eaten on Thanksgiving, such as pie, potatoes, stuffing, and macaroni and cheese, can trigger an increase in the production of serotonin and melatonin. 

Secondly, large meals prompt the digestive system to work overtime, diverting blood flow to the stomach and intestines and temporarily reducing circulation to other parts of the body, including the brain. This shift in blood flow, coupled with the release of insulin to process the influx of nutrients contributes to feelings of fatigue. 

Lastly, the act of overeating itself can cause a drop in blood pressure, leading to a sense of sluggishness. Ultimately, the combination of physiological responses to heavy meals results in the familiar phenomenon of the food coma.

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5 Ways to prevent a food coma this holiday

To avoid a food coma on Thanksgiving, it's essential to practice mindful eating and make conscious choices about portion sizes and food combinations. Here’s how to tackle your Turkey Day meal. 

Young girl biting directly into a big cakeYoung girl biting directly into a big cake

1. Don’t fast for the big meal

Many people fast on Thanksgiving to make more room in their stomachs and ensure a large appetite. Instead, opt for smaller, balanced meals throughout the day to maintain steady energy levels and avoid a rapid spike or crash in blood sugar. 

2. Chew slowly

Our brains and bodies aren’t always on the same page. When consuming a big meal, chew your food slowly and savor each bite, allowing your body ample time to signal satiety to the brain.

3. Limit carbs and sugar

Avoid consuming excessive amounts of refined sugars and carbohydrates, as they can contribute to post-meal lethargy. If you do choose to indulge in these dishes, always “dress” them with a healthy fat and eat your protein beforehand to avoid a glucose spike. 

4. Stay hydrated

Drinking more water really can solve any problem, right? Okay, maybe not, but you should stay hydrated by drinking water before, during and after your Thanksgiving meal, as dehydration can exacerbate feelings of fatigue. 

5. Take a walk

Finally, consider taking a short walk after eating to stimulate digestion and encourage blood circulation, helping to mitigate the onset of a food coma. 

Steering clear of a food coma this holiday involves adopting mindful eating habits and making thoughtful choices during your Thanksgiving meal. By being mindful of our eating patterns and making conscious decisions, we can enjoy our holiday even more without succumbing to the drowsiness of a food coma and missing out. 

Happy Thanksgiving from Happsy! And, of course, if we didn’t include a Thanksgiving-related sleep tip, we wouldn’t be us. Here are five fall foods that help you sleep better!

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