Have you ever woken up in the middle of the night with a food hangover? You know what I’m talking about – a creepy feeling in your stomach, clammy skin and a sense of dread due to the damage you may have inflicted upon yourself due to excessive eating? You need not imbibe one drop of alcohol to experience the symptoms of a hangover, and all you puritan teetotalers who’ve sworn off beer but are still overeating? Well, you might as well head to the bar because your liver takes the brunt of your overindulgence regardless of whether you’re drinking those excess calories or chewing them.
Now take the shame and embarrassment you’ve experienced from suffering through a night of food-induced malaise and channel them into a firm resolution to structure your day so that you avoid those traps that lead to a food hangover. Let’s start from the beginning:
Morning: If you have overindulged the night before, drink a hot or cold low-calorie beverage of your choice in the morning and then get moving. Your body needs to use up excess calories before you add more fuel to your fire, so as soon as possible upon waking open up your curtains or blinds to let in the light. You may feel as if you’d like to roll over and stew in your juices of self-loathing, but resist this temptation and recognize it for the trap that it is. Once you’ve gotten yourself out of bed and had your water, green tea, or coffee, take a 10-minute walk or perform a workout that you believe may make up for the amount of calories you over-consumed the day or night before. Follow this activity with a light meal when you feel genuinely hungry.
Afternoon: After a morning of relative prudence you may feel as if you could eat a buffet-style lunch, but again, this is a trap that you need to avoid if your goal is to mitigate the effects of the previous day’s food debauchery. Try to include healthy fat, protein, and carbohydrate in your meal to give your body the appropriate nutrients it needs to function well and to re-establish a healthy appetite pattern. The hormones leptin and ghrelin are responsible for appetite suppression and stimulation, respectively, and when they are in balance, you eat just enough to maintain an appropriate body composition. Overeating, lack of sleep and negative self-talk about your poor lifestyle habits disrupt the regulation of appetite hormones, thus leading to a vicious cycle of overeating, lack of sleep, and negative self-talk about your poor lifestyle habits. Do your best to practice self-control but give yourself a break for not being perfect. If possible, fit in a 10-minute exercise break into your mid-day schedule to increase your energy level and to burn some extra calories.
Evening: As the sun goes down the night brings about a whole new array of temptations. You are tired and you may be preparing food for others who need more calories than you do today, but remember that you have a goal and in only a few more hours you will enjoy a good night’s sleep after suffering through the night before. Again, try to include healthy fat, carbohydrate, and protein in your dinner meal, and follow your meal with a low-calorie, decaffeinated beverage to keep your hands and mouth preoccupied. Rather than stay up watching television or getting lost in the depths of the Internet, go to bed early. In doing so you avoid mindless snacking, derail worrisome thoughts, and provide your body and mind the rest they need to get you back to optimal health. Light exercise such as stretching, dancing or walking before bed-time may be helpful if you still have calories to burn, but take care to keep the intensity and duration level consistent with your goal to attain a restful night of sleep.
The Japanese are known for eating ‘just enough’ to maintain a healthy body and mind; on the contrary, here in the U.S., we are known for our overindulgence with food, and hence our propensity for obesity and poor health. If you wake up with a food hangover more often than you believe is reasonable, follow the suggestions provided here and make the appropriate changes either on your own or seek out the guidance of a qualified professional. In Portland, consider the local Overeater’s Anonymous chapter or the services of treatment centers such as A Place of Hope or A Better Way Counseling Center.