Ready for big meals this holiday season? Well, you might feel tired or sleepy after eating a lot. So, take steps to prevent food coma.

We all know the feeling of eating too much and then feeling too sleepy, don’t we? It is what food coma is – the sluggish and lethargic feeling you get after enjoying a big meal. It can be common during the festive or holiday season, but adjusting your eating habits a little can help you prevent a food coma.

What is a food coma?

When we eat, especially a substantial amount of food, the digestive system requires increased blood flow and energy to break down and process the nutrients. Consequently, there is a shift in blood flow toward the digestive system, which can lead to reduced blood and oxygen supply to the brain, potentially causing feelings of fatigue or drowsiness. This state of extreme drowsiness or fatigue after consuming a big meal is known as a food coma, says dietician Bhakti Adkar.  Lethargy, drowsiness, a general sense of heaviness and difficulty concentrating are common indicators of a food coma.

Woman yawning
Know what is a food coma. Image courtesy: Adobe stock

What are the causes of a food coma?

The diversion of blood to the digestive system to aid in the breakdown and absorption of nutrients results in reduced oxygen and blood supply to the brain, causing a food coma. Other causes are:

1. Choice of foods

Certain foods, particularly those rich in carbohydrates and fats can trigger the release of specific hormones like insulin and serotonin, which play roles in regulating sleep and mood. Elevated levels of these hormones can contribute to feelings of relaxation and drowsiness, says the expert.

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2. Pressure on the digestive system

Consuming large quantities of food can overwhelm the digestive system, requiring more energy and time for processing. The body’s effort to manage this excess can contribute to fatigue and lethargy.

3. Food with alcohol

Pairing a meal with alcoholic beverages can exacerbate feelings of drowsiness. Alcohol is a central nervous system depressant and can amplify the sedative effects of other factors contributing to a food coma.

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People drinking
Food with alcohol can lead to a food coma. Image courtesy: Shutterstock

How long does a food coma last?

The duration of a food coma varies from person to person and depends on factors such as the size and composition of the meal. Generally, it lasts for a few hours as the body works to digest and process the consumed food.

What are the ways to prevent a food coma?

To avoid feeling sleepy after eating a big meal, do the following, as suggested by the nutrition expert:

1. Plan balanced meals

Your meals should be balanced, so have a mix of fiber, protein and healthy fats. These will help to stabilise your blood sugar levels.

2. Consume smaller portions

Avoid eating large and heavy meals even if they are tempting. Go for smaller and more frequent meals throughout the day.

3. Stay hydrated

Drink plenty of water before and after meals. This will help to help you with digestion and also prevent dehydration.

4. Indulge in mindful eating

Chew your food slowly and savour each bite. This will allow your body to signal when your tummy gets full.

5. Limit refined carbohydrates

Reduce intake of refined carbohydrates. Aerated drinks and foods like pastries, cakes and pizzas can cause rapid spikes and crashes in your blood sugar levels.

6. Choose lean proteins

Opt for lean protein sources like fish and tofu. They are known for promoting satiety without the heaviness of fatty meats.

7. Regulate caffeine intake

Limit intake of caffeinated beverages, especially close to mealtime. This will help to prevent interference with sleep and digestion.

8. Include fiber-rich foods

Incorporate fruits, vegetables and whole grains for a healthy dose of fiber. This will help to aid digestion and promote a feeling of fullness.

9. Exercise regularly

Engage in light physical activity after meals, but not immediately after eating. This will help to stimulate digestion and prevent sluggishness.

10. Avoid overeating

No matter how good the food smells or tastes, listen to your body’s signals of fullness. Avoid overeating so that the feeling of tiredness doesn’t take over.

If you do find yourself in the grips of a food coma, consider taking a short walk to stimulate digestion. Stay hydrated, and avoid caffeine or alcohol, as they can exacerbate feelings of drowsiness.

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