Thanksgiving is perhaps the one day of the year when it’s totally acceptable ― and even expected ― to completely overdo it at the dinner table.
While there’s nothing wrong with indulging in a delicious meal, going in for third servings of stuffing, mashed potatoes and pecan pie may have some consequences. Come Friday morning, you might find yourself experiencing a nasty “food hangover,” the unscientific but all-too-real ailment characterized by fatigue, bloating, brain fog, general discomfort and maybe even nausea and heartburn.
It may not be the same thing as a real hangover from drinking too much alcohol, but it can feel pretty darn similar. Overeating ― particularly rich, heavy foods ― can leave you with an array of unpleasant physical symptoms, plus a bad mood. Sound familiar?
“Some people can get constipation, while others may get diarrhea,” Barbara Mendez, a registered pharmacist and integrative nutritionist, told The Huffington Post. “You’ll likely also feel tired and groggy. Lethargy is definitely connected to overeating the wrong kinds of foods.”
Avoidable as this situation may be, many of us will find ourselves overstuffed and feeling gross on Thanksgiving. Nutritionists offer advice on coping with the aftermath.
Where ‘Food Hangovers’ Come From
The four main culprits are fatty, sugary, salty and carbohydrate-rich foods ― all available in abundance on most Thanksgiving tables.
“If you look at the spread of food on a Thanksgiving table, virtually every side dish is rich in carbohydrates ― mashed potatoes, stuffing/dressing, rolls, cranberry sauce, sweet potatoes,” Lily Nichols, registered dietician, certified diabetes educator and author of Real Food for Gestational Diabetes, told The Huffington Post. “These are the very foods that lead to food hangover when consumed in excess.”
These foods lead to hangover-like symptoms by overwhelming the digestive system and triggering fluctuations in in blood-sugar levels.
“By overwhelming our digestion with too much [fatty and sugary foods], our digestive and enzyme capacity doesn’t have the ability to keep up,” Mendez said.
What To Do When You Overdo It
Prevention is the best medicine. As much as possible, allow yourself to indulge without stuffing yourself. Eating more slowly and mindfully can help you better recognize when you’re too full for more.
Mindful eating “means eating until you’re satisfied, but not stuffed,” Nichols said. “It also means you have permission to serve yourself smaller portions or to not clean your plate if you’re already full.”
If you do find a food hangover creeping up on you come Friday morning, there are a few ways to ease the discomfort. First, drink plenty of water and make sure you’re getting lots of fluids throughout the day to ward off dehydration. Nichols and Mendez both recommend starting your morning with a glass of water with fresh lemon juice, which can stimulate digestion.
“The best thing to do is to give your digestion a break,” Mendez said. “Keep your eating light by having broths, salads and green juices. Eat vegetables. The fiber in veggies will help move things along.”
Nichols also recommends making turkey soup with leftover bones and veggies, which is “naturally soothing and calming to the digestive system.”
Light exercise ― even just a 30-minute walk around the neighborhood ― also can help.
“Movement offers a gentle massage to your digestive organs and helps get things moving along,” Nichols advised.
Better yet, said Mendez, take a walk before bedtime on Thanksgiving night if you’ve overindulged. It could make a big difference in how you feel the morning after.