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We’ve made countless jokes about our “Thanksgiving pants” and planned belt unbuckling as we prepare to indulge in a big meal on Thursday. And, in case you missed it, we’ve also done our best to calculate the number of calories we might consume if we don’t rein it in a little bit. But what actually happens to your system when you overeat during the holidays?
We asked Dr. Jay Kuemmerle, a gastroenterologist and professor of medicine at Virginia Commonwealth University and Dr. Daniel Hurley, an endocrinologist and consultant in the Division of Endocrinology, Diabetes, Metabolism and Nutrition at the Mayo Clinic, Rochester to walk us through how our bodies really handle the feast before us.
“The main difference that relates to Thanksgiving is the volume and constituents of the meal,” says Kuemmerle. “In large part the high fat can lead to feeling very full and slower digestion. This can cause the stomach to expand to a greater degree, which can be uncomfortable.”
Uncomfortable how? Well, as the stomach gets more distended from overeating, the growing pressure is relieved by releasing gas — that means some people will experience acid reflux and the urge to belch. Kuemmerle suggests thinking of the stomach as a balloon: It has some elasticity, but eventually reaches a breaking point and must relieve pressure.
Our bodies have a natural stopping point, but the brain is capable of overriding the stomach’s wishes to stop eating. That’s particularly true during a holiday meal, where variety and abundance are prized.
“There’s some suggestion that a wide variety of food, like at the Thanksgiving meal, tends to increase food intake,” says Hurley. This is often referred to as the “smorgasbord effect,” according to the Columbia University Press.
Thanksgiving differs from other meals mostly in ritual: The holiday prizes tradition over digestive mindfulness, hence the problems with variety and satiety. But in all other ways, the meal looks about the same to your digestive tract. (Which may be a comment on our abundant year-round food supply and not this holiday of abundance).
Below, how digestion works — on Thanksgiving and on all other days:
It turns out the expression “feast your eyes” is pretty dead on. As soon as you sit down at the table, the sight and smell of the food sends a signal to the brain and then down to the stomach to prime your digestive system for the meal, according to Kuemmerle.
That means, at the very first bite, your stomach is primed and ready to go. “When the first bite of food hits the stomach, it’s already revved up: acid and digestive enzymes have been released,” says Kuemmerle. “The stomach starts to expand to accomodate the meal.”
Your mouth plays a role too. “As food is chewed, digestive juice from the salivary glands starts the digestion,” explains Hurley. “The teeth involved in mastication break down the food into protein, carb, fat and then in the stomach, breakdown continues.”
As you eat, your stomach stretches and secretes acid and digestive enzymes to help digest the food. Once you get to a point where your stomach feels full, stretch receptors — a collection of sensory nerves in the stomach — send messages to the brain to tell it that it’s time to stop eating.
Again, this is where your brain can really misguide your body. “When we eat, ghrelin — the hormone that stimulates back to brain to say I’m full or I’m hungry — increases and activates the hunger or satiety centers in the hypothalamus of the brain,” explains Hurley. “But your central nervous system can override the hypothalamus — it’s the same reason we can stay awake, even if our brain is telling us we’re tired.”
Once your body determines fullness, the stomach grinds the food down into two to three millimeter pieces — small enough to fit into the small intestine. As the stomach does this, it begins to contract and reestablish its tone, while pushing the ground up matter and digestive liquid through the pylorus and into the duodenum, which is the upper part of the small intestine.
This process can be slowed, depending on what you ate. “A high fat meal with gravy and butter delays emptying of the stomach because fat is harder to digest,” says Kuemmerle. In other words? Your stomach’s ability to efficiently process its contents may rely on how much butter your Aunt Mable put in those mashed potatoes. This can delay stomach emptying, which is an important step of digestion because the food’s presence in the small intestine signals the release of important enzymes from the pancreas and gallbladder. These pancreatic enzymes and bile help to digest carbs and proteins and emulsify fats, breaking the food down into amino acids and simple sugars to be absorbed into the blood stream.
Of note, Hurley explains, our metabolism can actually increase if we eat too much to help with digestion, which requires energy. But don’t get too excited, he says, “it’s not enough to overcome the calories we don’t need — it’s just enough to help us.”
The release of sugar in the blood stream triggers insulin, the hormone responsible for regulating blood sugar. Insulin and another hormone glucagon will store some sugar in the liver as glycogen (some fat is also stored in the liver). Every cell of your body requires glucose and muscles also requires a store of glycogen. What the body doesn’t use for these functions will be sent to fat tissue to be stored as fat — either subcutaneous fat or abdominal visceral fat.
As the digested material hits the end of the small intestine, specific vitamins get absorbed, bile gets reabsorbed and hormonal signals are sent to the brain.
Next, the body performs a really fascinating self-cleaning maneuver: As the matter continues into the colon (where water is reabsorbed and some additional nutrients are absorbed, according to Kuemmerle), the interdigestive period begins. All of the “indigestible material” — the detritus that didn’t make it through the first time — gets pushed through. The pylorus opens widely and the bigger stuff gets swept into the colon. A gallbladder contraction allows the pancreatic duct to get cleaned out. It is, Kuemmerle explains, a form of housekeeping to prep the body for the next meal.
“While the [conscious] brain is involved in chewing and swallowing and ‘starting’ the machinery,” says Kuemmerle. “The vast number of functions occur in the GI tract without us being able to regulate or be aware of it.”
And here you thought you were just sitting on the couch.
Let’s face it: Everyone blows his or her calorie budget every now and then.
But you can forget that old saying, “a moment on the lips, forever on the hips.” You can get your eating back on track. Here’s how.
You need some perspective.
You need to eat 3,500 calories to gain one pound of body fat. One unplanned treat — a slice of cake, some fries, or even a rich meal — probably won’t make a major difference on the scale.
“We call these ‘taking timeouts,’ and we all take them,” says San Antonio nutrition consultant Rebecca Reeves, RD. “No one is perfect in their eating habits. What we have to learn is that we are giving ourselves permission to do this, and as soon as it’s over, we should go back to the eating plan we normally follow.”
The goal is to not make a habit of it.
“Most people overeat somewhere between 500 and 1,500 calories every single day,” says cardiologist Allen Dollar, MD, assistant professor of medicine at Emory University in Atlanta.
Don’t Give Up
Too many dieters throw in the towel after a splurge, says Kathleen M. Laquale, PhD, a nutritionist and athletic trainer.
“You may feel defeated and say, ‘Oh, I blew my diet … and the heck with it,” Laquale says.
“When you do overindulge, don’t be self-deprecating. You overeat for one day; let’s get back on track again. Let’s be more conscious of our portion sizes the next day.”
Cut Back a Bit, But Not Too Much
Don’t try to make up for the extra calories by skipping meals the next day. That just leaves you hungry.
Instead, cut back throughout the day with a series of small meals packed with fruits and vegetables. Their fiber will help you feel full, says Joan Salge Blake, RD, clinical associate professor at Boston University.
- Wait until you’re hungry. Then have a light breakfast such as a bowl of low-fat yogurt and berries.
- Mid-morning snack: a piece of fruit and an ounce of low-fat cheese
- Lunch: a big salad with lean protein such as fish or chicken, or a whole wheat pita pocket with lettuce and tuna or turkey
- Afternoon snack: a cup of vegetable soup and an orange
- Dinner: a piece of fish and plenty of vegetables
After a feast, you may weigh more. That’s not because you gained body fat, but because of water retention from extra salt that was in the food you ate.
So don’t weigh yourself. Salge Blake tells her clients to weigh themselves on Fridays, when they’re likely to weigh their lowest, since people tend to overindulge more often on the weekends than on weekdays.
Stick to Your Normal Exercise Routine
Exercise is a good idea. But don’t do a mega-workout to try to burn off all the calories you just ate.
“If you overload and do more than your regular routine, you could strain a muscle, you could hurt a joint. So muscle soreness may set in. Then you can’t exercise,” Laquale says.
Track What You Eat
Set a goal for your daily calories, and write down what you eat. That helps you stay aware of what you’re eating, Dollar says.
“You have to be conscious every time your hand goes from a plate to your mouth.”
What Happens When You Sleep in Your Makeup?
There’s no shame in admitting it: We’re all guilty of sleeping in our makeup once or twice (or more). Whether the cause was an exhausting work week or a few too many cocktails, spending the occasional night with our favorite foundation or mascara seems harmless enough provided it isn’t happening on the regular…right? Wrong. It turns out that this lazy girl mistake can do some serious damage to your skin—yes, even if it only happens once in a while.
“The more you sleep while wearing your makeup, the greater the damage there is to your skin,” says dermatologist Jeannette Graf, M.D., assistant clinical professor of dermatology at Mount Sinai Medical Center in New York. “Our skin, like the rest of our body, functions on the circadian rhythm. At night the skin’s most important function is to renew itself. Wearing makeup and foundation at night prevents the renewal process, causing damage to the skin.” It is true that the more often you sleep with your makeup on, the more damage your skin will sustain over time, but even just the rare occasion can have negative effects on your complexion.
What about light makeup days? Does one product in particular make the most difference? Graf breaks down the effects.
“Foundation is thick and is generally overlying other products that have been on all day,” says Graf. The large particles and pigments break down over the day. Plus, they’ve been exposed and metabolized by natural processes as well as exposure to environmental pollutants and bacteria, molds, and mites from the outside. The metabolic byproducts—as well as the breakdown of the makeup itself—prevent the important role of microcirculation, which helps renew skin. This can result in the breakdown of collagen, resulting in wrinkles and clogged pores, which hold onto bacteria and result in acne.
Primer does have the potential to harm your skin, but it depends entirely on how you wear it. “If the primer has been on all day, it’s very damaging because all the pollutants are still on your skin,” says Graf. “If it’s smoothed on freshly cleansed skin and used for moisture, then it’s okay.”
Sleeping in any type of lipstick will result in dryness and chapping, says Graf. With highly pigmented lipsticks, scrub the lips with a cleansing wipe to fully remove before bed, then apply a generous coat of balm to build moisture back up.
If you’re the kind of girl who leaves her eye makeup on to get the “slept-in” look, stop. “Mascara particles clog the follicles and irritate them as it would on the skin,” says Graf. “If irritation occurs, the swelling can cause blepharitis—and the bacteria can cause conjunctivitis the longer it stays.” If that isn’t terrifying enough, sleeping with your mascara on can also cause the eyelashes to become brittle and break easily.
Of course, just because you’re more aware of exactly how bad sleeping in your makeup is doesn’t mean you’ll never have another lazy night when all you want to do is crawl into bed, foundation and all. “Keep makeup remover wipes at your bedside,” says Graf. “This way, when you get into bed it reminds you to remove your makeup simply by reaching over to your night table and wiping it away.”
Smoothie Ingredients to Help You Lose Weight Faster
To kick-start your metabolism, eating breakfast is key. It not only fills you up to help prevent mindless snacking on unhealthy noshables, but it also energizes you for calorie-burning workouts. Smoothies are one of the best breakfasts you can have, because you can throw just about anything healthy into your blender, and all you’ll taste is the fruit. To maximize your weight-loss potential, add these ingredients to your smoothies.
The key to weight loss is filling up on low-cal foods that are high in fiber to keep you satiated longer. Flaxseeds contain both soluble and insoluble fiber, and when ground into flax meal and added to a smoothie, you’ll hardly taste it. As a bonus, flax also offers essential omega-3 fatty acids. Try this pear berry weight-loss smoothie that offers almost 20 grams of fiber.
While fruits offer tons of fiber, berries are your best bet. Try this chocolate banana berry protein smoothie made with strawberries, blueberries, and raspberries. The almost 11 grams of fiber will keep that “I’m full” feeling going strong to discourage mindless snacking. It also doesn’t hurt that eating blueberries helps diminish belly fat.
Protein in the morning is a must if you’re trying to lose weight, because it offers you sustained energy to prevent the morning blahs from forcing you to reach for a high-sugar pick-me-up. While protein powder is a great way to increase the fiber in your smoothie, it can cause bloating or gas if you’re not used to it. Tofu is another source of protein, but it’s easy to digest, and since it’s virtually flavorless, it’s the perfect smoothie ingredient. Here’s a smoothie that tastes like a vanilla milkshake made with soft tofu, soy milk, and peanut butter that offers over 17 grams of protein.
Don’t knock it till you try it! Adding cannellini beans to your smoothie seems like a weird idea, but just like tofu, it adds a creamy consistency without any flavor. But what’s really important is the amount of fiber it offers to keep you full and satisfied all morning long. Give this metabolism-boosting smoothie a try, and you’ll wonder why you didn’t start adding beans to your blender sooner. It also has a sprinkle of cinnamon for calorie-free flavor and to speed up your metabolism.
Greek yogurt provides a decent amount of calcium and protein, both of which can aid in weight loss. It’s an easy ingredient to add to smoothies, and to save even more calories, go for plain instead of flavored. This flat-belly smoothie is also made with pineapple, which contains an enzyme that helps ease digestion and banish bloat.
Fats have a bad reputation, but eating the right kinds — monounsaturated fats (MUFAs) — may actually quiet hunger. This clear-skin smoothie is made with ripe avocado, a great source of oleic acid. Be careful not to overdo it on this healthy ingredient, as it’s also high in calories.
A mild-tasting green, throw in a big bunch of baby spinach (kale works too). You’ll be increasing the fiber to help you stay full and to also prevent constipation, which won’t help you lose weight but will make your belly look flatter. Mix up this chocolate banana cashew smoothie, and aside from spinach, it’s also made with chocolate soy milk to satisfy your sweet tooth and to prevent you from devouring a high-calorie dessert bomb later.
A source of protein and healthy fats — that’s two reasons walnuts can help you drop pounds. Try them in this cherry berry ginger smoothie, which also contains satiating, fiber-rich kale; cherries; strawberries; and wheat germ.