As this video points out, it’s not unusual for many to overindulge during Thanksgiving or other holidays, but there’s more at stake than indigestion and feeling bloated. Loading up on the turkey, mashed potatoes and gravy, stuffing, cranberry sauce, rolls and butter, pumpkin pie and other foods can not only increase your chances of starting on a “holiday overeating streak,” but it can also increase your risk for obesity and heart attack.
The Calories Control Council says that, on average, Americans consume approximately 4,500 calories and 229 grams of fat (mostly unhealthy fat) on Thanksgiving Day. Dr. Pamela Peeke, assistant clinical professor at the University of Maryland’s School of Medicine, says that the typical Thanksgiving meal is “like a tsunami of fat coming into the body.”
When food travels through the body, it releases digestive fluids, chemicals and hormones along the way. An average meal takes 1 to 3 hours to leave the stomach, but a large meal such as the Thanksgiving meal may take 8 to 12 hours to leave the stomach. Interestingly, the average stomach capacity is about 8 cups. That’s a lot of stomach room—and many people pack it full during the holidays, but after about 1,500 calories in one sitting, the gut releases a hormone that causes nausea so most folks may begin to slow their eating. Many people push those limits, however, and keep eating.
The stomach isn’t all that’s stretched during a big meal, though. The body is stressed and works harder, too. The extra digestion required makes the heart pump more blood to the stomach and intestines—which can stress the heart. Consuming larger amounts of unhealthy fatty foods also causes the blood to clot more easily, says Dr. Francisco Lopez-Jimenez, a researcher at the Mayo Clinic College of Medicine. That could result in higher heart attack risk. Dr. Lopez-Jimenez says there’s a four-fold increase in heart attack risk in the two hours after eating a large meal. Likewise, Israeli researchers noted that there is a seven-fold increase of heart attack risk after eating too much at one sitting.
The gallbladder works extra hard after a big meal, too, to help with fat digestion. This exertion may spark a gallstone attack. It can be a sneak attack for many, too, since they don’t even realize they have gallstones until they overeat and experience the discomfort of gallstones.
Then there’s the “carb coma” that often follows big meals, making people feel like they need to nap. For those who get back on the road soon after eating, drowsiness could overtake them and make them more susceptible to accidents.
All this doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy Thanksgiving meals and other holiday celebrations, though. Just be sure not to stuff yourself. Leave the stuffing for the turkey.
Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!