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The Truth About the “Thanksgiving Coma”

Why do you get sleepy after a great Thanksgiving dinner? Some have heard that the amino acid L-tryptophan, found in turkey, causes that classic sleepiness. But that’s probably not the case. Tryptophan eventually turns into Seretonin, a brain chemical associated with a number of things including sleep, mood and even pain perception. Ever heard of Prozac or other antidepressants? They are called “Selective Seretonin Reuptake Inhibitors” for a reason – they improve seretonin levels, which help with mood like anxiety or depression. The interesting thing is that other foods contain tryptophan such as chicken, milk and eggs to name a few. If anything, there’s actually more tryptophan in chicken than turkey!

So why the sleepiness? There can be a number of reasons. Maybe you didn’t get a good night’s sleep. Maybe you drank some wine with that turkey. The more likely reason you get sleepy is because you stuffed yourself! I know a lot of folks who get sleepy on a daily basis right after lunch. I’m sure many can relate. If you overeat, your body has to work pretty hard to digest all that food. Stuffing yourself simply requires a lot of energy. So you get sleepy simply because your body is focusing on digestion.

Here are some general suggestions to boost energy and to prevent that post-Thanksgiving meal coma:

  1. Move Around. Take a light walk after your meal. You can burn a higher amount of calories, which will increase your metabolism. Just don’t go for a big workout like a run- remember that you’ll cramp up because your muscles are focused more on digesting that meal!
  2. Listen to your body, not your eyes. If you start to feel full, then stop eating! I guarantee you’ll regret it in about 10 minutes. It takes at least 20 minutes for your satiety (“feel full”) hormone, Leptin, to activate.
  3. Lemon water before meals. Bitter foods like lemon stimulate your digestive enzymes. So by the time you start eating, your digestive tract is primed and ready to go and digests more efficiently. An even better approach is to take a digestive enzyme supplement with meals. This will break down foods better.

As Shannon, my MA says, “Eat tiny little portions. Don’t load up.” If you want to try every dish during Thanksgiving, that’s fine. Just eat small portions.

Michael Corsilles, ND, PA-C

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