”I didn’t even drink last night, so why do I feel so awful?” Is this a question you tend to ask yourself most mornings? If you can’t put your finger on it but just feel sluggish and tired each day, it could have something to do with the food you had the night before – and not just the units of alcohol you consumed. Many people have come to realise that coffee in the evening keeps them awake meaning they wake up the following morning drained and as such, they avoid drinking caffeine after 5pm. But similarly, eating too late, eating too much or eating too heavily in the evening can have a similar effect leaving you feeling just as exhausted the next day, if not more so.
A client found she was feeling terrible every morning, and in fact she was feeling so bad, so consistently that how she was feeling and the cause of her exhaustion became an obsession and a daily struggle. By simply asking her what she had eaten the night before, the story started to unravel. One Saturday night, my client and her husband decided to order a pizza. She told me that it seemed a good idea as they spend Saturday night without drink but loved a naughty takeaway.
Her complaints the following morning were terrible and plentiful:
Feeling hot, bothered and a bit irritable
Unable to concentrate and mentally foggy
Slow and inefficient with a lack of motivation
Nauseous and feeling in need of a cleanse or detox
Heavy and swollen with water retention
Angry with herself for not living to her standard of wellbeing
Not being able to get a grip and seize the day, feeling as though life was passing her by
Feeling the need to recover and take care of herself
Feelings of sadness and guilt, tinged with depression
Totally exhausted after poor quality sleep
Internally fighting with getting out in the fresh air and wanting to curl up under a duvet and hide from the world.
I asked her if she had heard of a food hangover? Many things play a role in whether you will be suffering from a food hangover the day after, such as the type of food you eat, the amount you are eating, when you are eating it and how much it is digested before you go to sleep.
Type of Food & Quantity
The type of food plays an enormous role. The heavier the food such as wheat, cheese or meat, the harder the body has to work in order to break it down into chime. (This is the post digestive juice, which travels to the small intestine for absorption). Think of it as the difference between having chalk and stone in your gut and two guys sitting in your stomach with hammers waiting to break them down.
The one breaking the chalk is finished earlier and gets to rest for the remainder of the night but the poor guy tasked with breaking down the stone will not be finished by the morning and will be utterly exhausted at dawn.
So a great dinner for your stomach are soups as, in a way, it is pre-digested because the blender and the watery consistency have done a lot of the breaking down already. So the imaginary little guy with the hammer kicks back and has a completely restful night.
Another issue is the quality of the food, which is often compromised due to mass farming, generations of seeds infested with pesticides, herbicides, fungicides and artificial chemical fertilisers as is the case with many wheat products. The food, which is ‘manufactured’ by food scientists as opposed to grown and naturally fermented (real cheese vs. artificial cheese) is not natural to our bodies and therefore harder work on our digestion.
Digestion & Timing
The digestive capacity determines how fast and how effectively a meal is digested. A person with a strong digestion will face fewer problems than a person with a weaker institution. However, stress and modern living has taken its toll on all of us to some extent and most people now have an impaired capacity to digest; but fear not as this can be improved.
Nighttime is for regeneration and the body’s time to rest. When we are mentally sleeping, our whole body, including our bodily functions should be resting and slowing down, including the digestive capacity and the strength of the digestive acids. Therefore our digestive abilities are slowest at night and at their peak at noon when the sun is at its strongest. So as a rule of thumb it is generally a bad idea to go to bed with a heavy undigested meal sitting in the stomach, simply because the body is not efficient or effective at digesting at night whilst resting and re-generating. It is best to go to bed with a very light, easily digested meal to help the “sleeping body” cope.
High blood sugar levels in the morning are not necessarily an indicator for diabetes, but are instead an indicator that a heavy meal was eaten far too late the night before which put pressure on the body. In other words, if you have a big day ahead, a tough presentation or you want to feel your best, it is paramount that you have a light, nutritious meal the previous evening.
In hindsight now, I am sure you can recall an experience with a food hang-over but yet still some of us just can’t stop eating the wrong thing at the wrong time.
The reason being, that snacks, junk food and convenience options which are all laden with sugar, fat, salt and wheat (which turns into sugar), are addictive. The junk food topic is currently a bit taboo, often misunderstood and can fill the individual with guilt and anger at being unable to control their eating. This is a very big problem which our generation and the next generation needs to deal with now. It is very hard to navigate through a jungle of this still unknown and misunderstood addiction, when our whole food culture is commercialising and ‘feeding’ this addiction. Once you have had an experience of how a sugar rush (even from a fast food pizza) can make you feel so ‘good’ the instant you consume it, the more you want to replicate the experience. But slowly you may realise that this rush of endorphins is only short lived and results in weight gain, a lack of control over your eating and unhappiness and therefore you need to start attributing the negative after-effect symptoms to the food you eat if you are to be able to make the required changes.
But what about the people who have been caught by the addiction? People who would say they have addictive personalities? Or people who haven’t been taught about alternatives and hence do not know how to break the cycle? Children who don’t know better and suffer the yoyo effects of their family’s diet?
Food addictions are real and often attached to emotions. Some of us eat because we want to feel better and food is the drug of choice. Part of our brain lights up and gets stimulated upon sugary and sweet foods and we love this warm feeling of mental stimulation. A full stomach will make you tired and this is the moment when you can fully relax and kick back, not feeling any discomfort apart from the ‘lovely’ full belly which takes all your worries away – until the next morning!
Food Is Cultural
What makes this so dangerous is that this is ‘normal’ within our Western culture. We need to eat and therefore we overeat and feast on what is widely available – in our case convenience and fast foods.
We have instant access to the wrong type of food – in the shops, in restaurants, on TV and plied to us in adverts. We eat on the go, diving in to a fast food restaurant for a quick pick-me-up or buying a fizzy drink for a sugar high to get us through the afternoon. And this is down to our society and the culture within which we live. Food and produce manufacturers are not looking to create health, but to get a share of the wealth, and therefore they are willingly fuelling our dysfunctional and unhealthy 21st century relationship with food.
With high salt, high sugar, high carb and even higher fat content in most off-the-shelf meals and foods, we need to start being more conscious of this; stop making them part of our daily food intake and ultimately break the attachment to unhealthy foods in general.
A complete cultural food awareness shift, an unhealthy revolution, has occurred without anybody noticing….We need to reverse this shift and actively hold ‘positive food values’ which promote positive results include productivity, motivation, a zest for life, passion and clarity of thought – the exact opposite of the symptoms of food hangovers.
Sonja Breuer (Msc. ayur. med.), The Nutrition Healer, www.thenutritionhealer.com, firstname.lastname@example.org, 07454-928028, Organic fruit and vegetable delivery service; health coaching, training and courses.