The Thanksgiving Food Coma


With week 8 now on the horizon, the holidays are up and coming.  Starbucks has pretty holiday cups, projects are due, and if you listen carefully…you may even hear Michael Buble’s Christmas album.

Synonymous to holidays are the wonderful, calorically-dense foods that we can finally justify eating.  But in a couple of weeks, when you find your plate empty of 8 ounces of turkey, a heavy helping of mashed potatoes, and a slice-and-a-half of pumpkin pie, you may find yourself with the inevitable food coma.  Maybe the tryptophan did it, or the extreme spike and drop in blood sugar.  But before you go pointing fingers at the turkey, let’s take a look at what causes this infamous, nap-loving holiday.

Tryptophan levels in Thanksgiving turkey have been blamed for this phenomenon for decades, but new science has uncovered that turkey isn’t to be blamed.  Tryptophan is one of the key ingredients in producing the relaxation hormone serotonin, which is then converted into melanin, a predominant sleep hormone.  Things like chicken, cheese,
and tofu contain just as much tryptophan as turkey, technically giving it the same effect.  However,the larger portion sizes of tryptophan-containing foods on Thanksgiving may increase the sleepy sensation, in turn making you all the more drowsy.

Portion size can’t be ignored when the overwhelmingly full feeling sets in after eating heaps of food.  Overeating causes the parasympathetic nervous system to induce the “rest or digest”response, telling your body to stop seeking food and to focus on what you were already given (ironically true to the Thanksgiving theme).

Macronutrient composition also plays a part and is a fancy phrase for explaining this high carbohydrate, high-fat meal.  Hand-in-hand with simply excess calories, the fatty, starchy foods we love to eat on Thanksgiving force our bodies into a blissful, sleepy state.  When we eat high-carb foods, our bodies release serotonin, relaxing the body.  Paired with tryptophan (which itself is used to making more serotonin), this a drowsy duo.

The excess of fatty foods also taps into the brain’s pleasure centers, a way of rewarding itself for finding high-calorie foods (we’re looking at you, gravy).  The combination of sugars and fat ultimately put you into a state of euphoria, like sliding ice along a slippery slope into a food coma.

From hormone responses to feelings of pleasure, it is no mystery that we may feel a little dopey and groggy after Thanksgiving dinner.  The infamous food coma cannot be pinpointed to one reason in particular, but rather the combination of several sleepy effects  of our favorite holiday foods that make the meal a triple-threat.  Enjoy your Thanksgiving break and eat on, Broncos.


“Fight or Flight” vs. “Rest and Digest”

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