Food Coma | What It Actually Is + How To Avoid It

Have you ever eaten a meal and felt immediately REALLY tired? I know I have. This post-meal fatigue that can follow a large meal—often called a food coma—can range from feeling slightly sluggish to needing a full-blown nap on the couch.

Many of us only experience food comas after a big meal, like the ones we have on Thanksgiving day (well, it’s that serotonin boost with the turkey), but for some of us, post-meal fatigue is a chronic problem and seems to happen after every meal, and can greatly affect productivity and performance.

And here’s the secret that nobody will tell you: Food comas aren’t always the result of eating too much. They can actually be the result of a reversible process inside your gut. The good news is that my Activate Plus daily anti-bloating and digestive support supplement is the perfect solution to boosting healthy, efficient digestion AND optimal energy levels.

But first, let’s unpack post-meal fatigue to better understand how digestion and energy levels are connected in the first place.

Understanding Post-Meal Fatigue

Food is supposed to provide us with energy, so it’s a bit of a head scratcher that it can make us so drowsy and lethargic, struggling to keep our eyes open. But if we zoom out a little bit and look at the role digestion plays in our body’s overall metabolism, post-meal fatigue makes a little more sense. Research suggests we spend between 8-15% of our energy just running our digestive system. Digestion is a big job, we have to produce enzymes and stomach acid, break the food down mechanically into smaller pieces, and then chemically into absorbable units, like amino acids, that our body can actually use to fuel our organs and cells. It’s no easy task!

Research shows that there are many connections between fatigue and digestion. For example:

  • As many as half of people with IBS experience fatigue and exhaustion. A 2016 review found that fatigue occurred alongside other IBS symptoms, including bowel-related symptoms, psychological distress, and health-related impacts on quality of life.
  • Research shows that people suffering from chronic fatigue syndrome have distinct gut microbiomes characterized by a lower number of certain bacteria, such as Lachnospiraceae, and an increased abundance of genera Bacteroides and Phascolarctobacterium.
  • Fatigue has been identified as an extra-intestinal manifestation of celiac disease.
  • Leaky gut and intestinal inflammation can impair absorption of nutrients required for optimal energy levels, such as iron and vitamin B12.

When you eat a meal, especially one that is rich in carbohydrates, that food is broken down into glucose by your digestive system. In response, the body kicks off a bunch of different mechanisms. For example, it releases hormones that start to create feelings of satiety, like cholecystokinin (CCK), glucagon, and amylin. In addition, after a meal your body produces serotonin, which plays an intricate role in gut motility but also mood and our sleep cycles.

And then, there’s insulin. When you eat a meal, especially one that is rich in carbohydrates which are immediately transformed into glucose in your gut, then absorbed into your bloodstream where your blood sugar rises. In response to that rise in blood sugar, your body produces insulin to help shuttle that glucose from your bloodstream into your cells. Once it’s inside your cells, it can be used as fuel for those cells, providing them with usable energy.

As you can imagine, any disruption in the way this process functions can cause fatigue, both mental and physical. In fact, fatigue is a common symptom of insulin resistance, pre-diabetes, and diabetes. As the authors of one study explain, “Diabetes and fatigue seem to have a bidirectional relationship, both feeding and worsening each other, thereby creating a vicious cycle…”

A Happy Gut Guide to Post Meal Fatigue

Whenever a patient comes into my office complaining of post-meal fatigue, I always look at two main things:
  1. The status of their gut health 
  2. The composition of their diet
If the status of their gut health is less than optimal, underlying gut health issues like leaky gut can cause inflammation in the gut and contribute to food sensitivities, microbiome imbalances, and nutrient absorption issues, which can majorly set them up for fatigue. At the same time, a diet high in sugar or inflammatory foods can contribute to post-meal fatigue due to the peak and crash in blood sugar and hormones that often follow these types of meals.

3 Steps for Avoiding Post-Meal Fatigue

Do an elimination diet to identify trigger foods

Do an elimination diet to identify trigger foods

The harder a food is for you to digest, the more energy it will take to digest it. That’s why an elimination diet is so important; it can help you identify foods that may be an issue for you — most commonly gluten, dairy, and foods containing lectins, like peanuts, beans, and soy. You can also test for food sensitivities through IgG Type4 testing, which will reveal what foods are aggravating the immune reaction and need to be avoided in the diet.
Keep blood sugar balanced

Keep blood sugar balanced

If you’ve got pre-diabetes or diabetes, work directly with your healthcare professional to normalize your blood sugar by choosing the right foods and implementing intermittent fasting. But even people with normal blood sugar can be predisposed to food comas when eating too much sugar. Focus on eating plenty of protein and healthy fats, and avoiding the most common blood sugar offenders — refined flours, juice, soda, ice cream and candy. Eating these foods regularly will cause big spikes in blood sugar, which lead to fatigue, insulin resistance, and you needing to find the nearest couch.
Invest in Digestive Enzymes

Invest in digestive enzymes

Even if you’re eating all the best foods for your gut, sometimes you need a little extra support to keep your digestive tract running efficiently. Enter: Activate Plus. I designed this supplement for daily digestive gut health support. It contains a wide range of enzymes, like proteases, amylases, lactase, lipase, and ox bile extract for upgraded nutrient absorption no matter what you eat. It also contains betaine-hcl to optimize stomach protein breakdown offering full-spectrum digestive wellness made quick and easy! When you digest faster, you expend less energy on digesting, and have more energy leftover to stay awake and be active.

BONUS TIP: Get some sunshine

Get some sunshine

A study suggests that using bright-light therapy can help you avoid that post-eating slump. I recommend going on a walk and getting some direct sunlight on your skin if possible!

Foods to Eat and Avoid for Better Energy

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AVOID: Sweet Coffee Drinks

AVOID: Sweet coffee drinks

These beverages might seem like the ultimate solution to fatigue, and they might even help in the short-term! But the sugar in these drinks spike your blood sugar, the caffeine will spike your adrenaline and can contribute to stress, while an afternoon cup of joe can even sabotage your sleep, so overall sweet coffee drinks are going to hurt your long-term energy goals. Stay away!

EAT

EAT: Pasture-Raised Eggs

EAT: Pasture-Raised Eggs

Eggs are a great way to support energy levels because they are nutrient-dense and low in sugar and carbs. One egg is only 75 calories but 7 grams of high-quality protein, 5 grams of fat, and nutrients like iron, vitamins, minerals, and carotenoids to support energy levels. Make sure they are pasture-raised to ensure you are eating the healthiest eggs from the healthiest, stress-free hens.

AVOID: Processed Foods

AVOID: Processed Foods

Processed foods are high in refined calories but low in nutrients, which means you might be overdosing on calories but underdosing on important micronutrients that are necessary for energy levels, such as B vitamins and magnesium.

EAT

EAT: Nuts and Seeds

EAT: Nuts and Seeds

Like eggs, nuts and seeds pack a powerful punch of nutrients (protein, fats) that will keep your blood sugar and energy levels stable throughout the day. I recommend eating sprouted nuts and seeds to make it easier on the GI tract. But if you can’t find sprouted ones, then roasted is next best, but never raw. Some of my favorites are sprouted cashews, almonds, pumpkin seeds, and hemp seeds.

AVOID: Cereal

AVOID: Cereal

Many of us spend our childhood enjoying cereal almost every morning! But when it comes to energy levels, cereal is often high in sugar and carbohydrates and low in protein and fat, which sets you up for a day of blood sugar spikes and dips. And that means fatigue! Instead, start your day out with protein, healthy fat, and some complex carbohydrates, like spinach or sweet potato.

If you find yourself tired after you eat, battling that food coma, know that you’re not alone!

Digestion requires a fair amount of our body’s energy, and underlying gut issues, blood sugar imbalances, and dietary factors can leave you lethargic and drowsy. The good news is that by focusing on healing the gut and making #gutsmart dietary choices, you can wave goodbye to persistent food comas and hello to optimal energy before and after every meal.

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