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Don't stuff yourself silly this year. Here's how to avoid a Thanksgiving food hangover

Blame tryptophan or the carbs. Feeling full to the point of busting is as much a part of the Thanksgiving ritual as the mashed potatoes and gravy themselves. But keep these practical tips in mind and you just might not feel as sick this year after feasting.

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Thanksgiving is calling you...

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This story is part of Holiday Survival Guide 2019, featuring tips on the best ways to manage the holiday season.

We've all been there -- you just ate the largest Thanksgiving meal of your life, and now you're in a food coma, unable to move from the couch. This situation, called postprandial somnolence if you want to impress the in-laws, is extremely common and completely avoidable. 

It's possible to have a great Thanksgiving with all the foods you love (including dessert) and not feel like a truck ran you over afterward. You simply have to pinpoint what's causing your drowsiness and steer clear of the offenders -- it's not as hard as it sounds, honestly. 

Besides, you'll want to rest up before all the big Black Friday and Cyber Monday sales the day after the big feast. Wouldn't want that food coma getting in the way of making some prime shopping choices. Without further ado, let's get into five reasons why you can't stay awake after Thanksgiving dinner and what to do about it.

1. It's not the turkey that'll get you, it's the carbs

You might have heard of tryptophan, an amino acid that supposedly makes us sleepy. It's found in turkey and has long been blamed for the post-Thanksgiving food coma, but this link is more complicated than it seems. 

It turns out that you can't really eat enough turkey to experience drowsiness from tryptophan, but its effect is multiplied when your insulin is higher. This means that foods with a high glycemic index -- like potatoes, stuffing, and sugary desserts -- are really the culprit. If you just eat turkey by itself, you shouldn't run into any issues. 

To combat this effect, prioritize eating turkey, vegetables and carbs with a low glycemic index, like whole-grain bread instead of white, sweet potatoes instead of russet, and a brown rice dish instead of bread stuffing. Plus, aged cheeses like Swiss and cheddar contain tyramine, a stimulant, so reach over the pigs in a blanket and score yourself a nice slice of manchego. 

Look, we're not saying to forgo your usual pile of mash entirely, but remember that you can always pace yourself now and enjoy the leftovers later.

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Try to slow your drinking pace down to a crawl.

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2. Go easy on the alcohol. Really

The holiday season is often a boozy time. When Aunt Margaret starts talking politics, who can blame you for knocking back an extra glass of wine? But, alcohol has a strong sedative effect. If you do make more than one or two trips to the liquor cabinet, it'll make you even drowsier after dinner. 

The stress of the holidays can also make it hard to fall asleep at night, but try not to use alcohol as a sleep aid. While it may help you drift off initially, you'll suffer poor sleep quality throughout the night.

If you plan on enjoying a drink or two with your holiday meal, try to slip slowly and alternate servings of alcohol with at least one tall glass of water in between. It'll slow your pace down, and water is one of the best energy drinks there is. Plus, the extra hydration will help with your headache the next day if you do happen to overindulge.

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All of those delicious desserts are sometimes too hard to resist.

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3. Eating slower and stick to a mental plan

Maybe you tried to avoid the pecan pie and stuffing, but it still happened. You overate, and now you can't keep your eyes open.

There's a widely perpetuated myth that blood is diverted from your brain to your gut after overeating, but this actually isn't true. Instead, our gut hormones are much smarter than we are, and secrete hormones like melatonin and orexin to intentionally make us sleepy after we eat a big meal. Our gut also plays a role in activating our vagus nerve, putting us in a state of "rest and digest" as opposed to the "flight or fight" mode. Your body does this to protect you -- it wants to calmly digest food instead of having it sit in your gut as you expend energy in an adrenaline-fueled state. 

The key to fixing this is simply to not overeat. I know, easier said than done, but there are strategies to help. Try drinking two large glasses of water right before the meal, eating slowly or putting your fork down in between bites. You can also first fill up on vegetable-based dishes, and get small portions on your first pass through the buffet so that you can taste everything without stuffing yourself. 

Knowing how much food to put on your plate, and not going back for thirds -- or seconds -- will also help fend off that icky food hangover. Here are few more strategies for eating healthy during the holidays.

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Traveling during the holidays is stressful and exhausting.

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4. Combat the stress of traveling and extended family time

Last year, over 50 million Americans traveled for Thanksgiving. Celebrating holidays away from home is stressful -- there's bad weather, sleeping in an unfamiliar bed and not having all of the creature comforts from home. 

Even if you do use these seven Google Maps tools helps get from Point A to Point B faster and with less road rage, being around family members, especially ones that may be tied to unpleasant childhood memories, is exhausting even for the best of us. All of this stress piles up, and once you've had a few drinks and one plate of food too many, all of a sudden you've entered an inescapable food coma.

One tool that you can always pull out of your back pocket when faced with travel and family stress is the power of saying no. No, Uncle Steve, I'm not driving four hours from the nearest airport to your secluded cabin for Thanksgiving dinner. No, I can't go to three parties in one night. No, I'd rather not stay with my older cousins who tormented me -- I'll book an AirBnB. 

Other tried and true tactics for managing stress and anxiety are spending time in nature, meditation, exercise and getting enough sleep. If you load up on all of those calming vibes before the big meal, you can manage your stress well enough so that it doesn't take a huge toll come Thanksgiving afternoon.

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A leisurely walk after a big meal helps with digestion.

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5. Move your body after the meal

Grandma's in a wheelchair, the football game is on and it's snowing outside. In the holiday season, there're a million excuses to sit on our butts and neglect all physical activity. But, all that sitting around can actually make you feel even more tired.

Instead, after you're done eating, try to avoid melting into the couch. Take your niece outside for a game of catch, coerce your parents into taking a brisk walk after dinner, or even offer to do the dishes -- anything to get up and get moving

Even some very light exercise will boost your energy, and a post-meal walk will aid in digestion and even out the blood sugar spikes and dips you may otherwise experience.

Whatever you do, enjoy your Thanksgiving. Good luck!

Originally posted earlier this month.


The information contained in this article is for educational and informational purposes only and is not intended as health or medical advice. Always consult a physician or other qualified health provider regarding any questions you may have about a medical condition or health objectives.

The information contained in this article is for educational and informational purposes only and is not intended as health or medical advice. Always consult a physician or other qualified health provider regarding any questions you may have about a medical condition or health objectives.