What Thanksgiving Dinner Really Does to Your Body Slideshow
November 21, 2016
If you dare to find out
What Thanksgiving Dinner Really Does to Your Body
Overeating is practically a must on Thanksgiving. There are probably more side dishes available than people at the table. Your family is serving those once-a-year foods you’ve been dreaming about for weeks. Who wouldn’t overdo it?
One night of overeating does put your body through the wringer — but it’s doubtful you’re really overeating that much on this day. Think about it. You’ve gone out to dinners, attended parties, and frequented other gatherings where food is the main event and lived to tell the tale. Are you really eating that much less on those days than at your Thanksgiving dinner table? Probably not. Plus, you hardly want to spend the cozy, heartwarming dinner with your family obsessing over how many calories you’re putting into your mouth.
If you’re thinking about not eating more than you’re focused on just enjoying your food, you’re actively restricting yourself from what you want. Those restrictive thoughts can turn mean really quickly (think: “you better work that off tomorrow” or “if you go for seconds, you’re being gross”) and put a huge damper on your meal. Instead of feeling uplifted, loved, and nourished, you’re going to start feeling ashamed, anxious, and body-conscious.
Honestly, you deserve better from your holiday. Those thoughts are all assuming that overeating for one night is going to wreck your body. But that’s not really true. We delved into the science of it all and discovered what really happens to your body when you overload it with stuffing and pie.
The Pre-Dinner Jitters
Before a big family meal, all kinds of anxious thoughts could be flying through your head. I really don’t want to deal with my annoying cousin. Is Uncle Bob going to get too drunk? Will Grandma point out my acne again?
Whatever fretful scenario is bouncing around your brain, it’s causing some anxiety and anticipation. As a response, the body sends off stress hormones, which can inhibit your body’s signals that tell you to stop eating. Let the stress eating commence.
Things Get Emotional at the Table
Consuming all that food takes a long time. Thanksgiving dinners can often last hours, testing your resilience to keep up small talk, smiling at your relatives, and living through family tension. That takes some emotional endurance — but your ability to tolerate these emotions deteriorates the longer you sit down. Josh Klapow, Ph.D., a clinical psychologist, explained to Yahoo that overstimulation can lead to “emotional twitchiness,” where your mood fluctuates up and down faster than you can devour your serving of potatoes.
You Feel Like You Can Keep Eating Forever
When you continue eating past the point of fullness — and on Thanksgiving, you’re probably passing that point within the first 20 minutes — you mess with the natural neuron responses that signal hunger and fullness. Once those messages get jumbled, your body has a harder time picking up on the fact that it’s done eating, encouraging you to keep going and going and going… until your plate is empty and your stomach is way past full.
Alcohol Slows Down Your Digestion
Most Thanksgiving feasts come with a side of wine. Not only are these beverages adding extra calories to your heavy meal, they’re also disrupting your digestive system. When you ingest alcohol of any kind, your organs work hard to metabolize it before it tries to process anything else. They prioritize the alcohol to prevent your body from staying drunk indefinitely, meaning that the absorption of other food and nutrients — like, for instance, your heaping pile of gravy-soaked stuffing — gets delayed and impaired.
Your Body Feels Seriously Nourished
Your digestion is helped out a bit, though, by the enjoyment of your food. On Thanksgiving, we get to indulge in casseroles and desserts that would otherwise never make it on your family’s table. You might enjoy these special foods more than you’d enjoy your basic weeknight meal. The more you enjoy and savor your food, the more nutrients you’re able to gain from it. And when you think about it, Thanksgiving foods have a ton of whole grains, protein, fruits, and vegetables. Cranberry sauce, green bean casserole, sweet potatoes… Even stuffing is pretty much packed with nourishing foods. Your body gets to soak up all of those nutrients at once.
You Grow a Food Baby
Your stomach lining is elastic — as you continue to eat, it expands. The food baby is real, people. Slipping on your tightest pair of genes for the holiday is a really bad idea.
Your Body Releases Insulin
When you eat a ton of any sort of carbohydrate (like, say, the ones in sweet potatoes, stuffing, cranberry sauce, cornbread… need I go on?) your blood sugar spikes. In response to a heightened blood sugar, your pancreas releases insulin to help process all the glucose floating around in your veins.
Your Blood Pressure Drops
After you’ve eaten far more food than your body was prepared to handle, your blood rushes to your stomach like an army rushing in for battle. Your digestive system’s battalion is going to need all the help it can get. This rush of blood to your torso can cause a dilation of your blood vessels, instigating a drop in blood pressure. This could cause dizziness, nausea, or fatigue.
It’s Basically a Workout
After the dip in blood pressure, your heart rate kicks into overdrive. In order to push all that blood to your digestive system, your heart has to beat faster and with more force. You’ll experience a speedily beating heart that, for some people, can mirror the effect of low-intensity exercise.
The Post-Thanksgiving High
The insulin that’s released in response to all that extra food triggers a serotonin response from your brain. Serotonin is the “feel-good hormone” that combats depression and lifts your mood after a delicious meal. It’s also released when you taste something delicious — so everything at Thanksgiving. So if you feel especially elated after that last slice of pie, this is probably why.
You Get Sleepy
While turkey’s tryptophan is often pinpointed as the reason you can’t help but retreat into an after dinner food coma, it’s not the real reason you feel so tired. It plays a tiny role, but insulin plays a huge one. Once the insulin in your bloodstream dips back down, it’s common to feel sleepy and experience brain fog. It’s like a massive sugar crash.
You Feel Uncomfortably Full
Since you’re loading all that food on in a really short time frame, your stomach has to work overtime to parse through it all. The process of digestion is messy, and some foods are tougher to process than others. High-fat foods, high-protein foods, and starches are especially time consuming to digest; they stick around in your stomach for longer, resulting in that residual discomfort long after your meal.
You Start Burping
As you digest, your stomach collects gas. It’s got to be released somehow — and often, this gas escapes your mouth in not-so-elegant burps.
You’ll Feel Ready for Black Friday
Finally, hours later, your body has started to metabolize all those drool-worthy dishes you inhaled at dinner. Filled with energizing carbohydrates, you’ll feel flushed with a new gush of energy hours after meal time. Going to sleep is going to be tough — might as well hit Black Friday!