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Medical News Today: Healthy Thanksgiving: the science of overeating and avoiding food poisoning

Thanksgiving – the gluttony season where the masses unashamedly unbutton their pants due to dinner-table overindulgence – has arrived. Medical News Today take a look at the chain reaction inside our bodies when we overeat and how to avoid a food-poisoning disaster that will sour your celebrations.
thanksgiving dinner
With all these gastronomical delights on offer at Thanksgiving, it is difficult not to overindulge.

It is that time of year again: when celebratory food is ever-present, and temptations are equally abundant. A time when even the most health-conscious diner succumbs to the lures of the holiday buffet.

Holiday eating can result in an extra pound or two of weight every year – but is pigging out a harmless indulgence or a real health concern?

The most common side effects triggered by the Thanksgiving Day binge involve indigestion, flatulence and a large dose of drowsiness. However, vast helpings of turkey, stuffing and mashed potatoes travel on an epic journey around the body, activating a simultaneous release of hormones, chemicals and digestive fluids.

Research from the Calorie Control Council indicates that the average American may consume an enormous 4,500 calories and a whopping 229 g of fat during a typical holiday gathering. This gastronomical excess can quickly amount to 45% of calories derived from fat and a holiday meal equal to three sticks of butter.

The human stomach can comfortably hold a volume of around 1 liter of food, about the size of a burrito, and can stretch to a capacity of 3-4 liters after a blowout meal. While the stomach will not burst, overeating will make your body work harder.

The American Chemical Society have released a video exploring the voyage of food during a Thanksgiving dinner rampage and what happens to our body when we overeat:

‘Satiety hormone’ signals when we should put down the fork

When we finally flop on the couch, feeling sluggish, either submitting to or fighting off the urge to nap, our body is busy dealing with the Thanksgiving-splurge aftermath.

gastric acid in stomach
Heartburn occurs when the acid contents of the stomach pass backward up into the food pipe (called the gullet or esophagus).

The stomach is jam-packed full of culinary delights resulting in it squeezing against other organs and giving you the sensation of feeling “stuffed.” The stomach and intestines fill with gasses, adding to the swollen feeling along with air jetting along for the ride with every bite – especially if soda or beer is also consumed.

The gasses that make drinks fizzy fill much more space in the stomach than the liquid it arrived in, leading to your body expelling the excess gas in one way, or another!

Heartburn is often an unwanted after-dinner guest. The stomach produces hydrochloric acid to break down food – more food means more acid – irritating the stomach lining and creeping up the esophagus to create an unpleasant burning sensation.

Antacids, such as calcium carbonate, use bases to neutralize the acid, which causes more carbon dioxide to increase the feeling of fullness, until your next burp.

Mental reactions are every bit as important when feeling full. Messenger molecules, or leptin hormones (the satiety hormone), signal to the brain when it is time to put the fork down and stop eating.

During a big meal, cells in your intestines secrete a hormone called peptide tyrosine-tyrosine (PYY). When PYY reaches the brain, it binds with receptors that give you a belly-busting feeling of fullness or perhaps even makes you feel a little queasy.

Fun Thanksgiving facts

  • Americans consume 736 million pounds of turkey on Thanksgiving Day alone
  • About 50 million pumpkin pies are consumed each Thanksgiving
  • The largest pumpkin pie ever baked weighed 2,020 pounds and measured just over 12 feet long
  • The food with the most calories is none other than our beloved pecan pie
  • 40 million green bean casseroles are made each year.

Some hormones react more strongly to meals that are high in fats, carbohydrates and proteins, but they all serve the same purpose – to get you to stop eating and avoid seconds.

Top 10 tips to feel less stuffed this Thanksgiving:

  1. Eat breakfast, do not fast
  2. Drink plenty of water
  3. Quality not quantity
  4. Load up on veggies and fruits
  5. Eat slowly and consciously
  6. Thanksgiving workout – although not immediately after dinner
  7. Do not go carb crazy
  8. Do not treat Thanksgiving as your last meal on Earth
  9. Eat seconds of dessert later in the day
  10. Eat “clean” the next day.

On the next page, we look at ways to strike the dreaded food poisoning off your Thanksgiving guest list.



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