So it’s Thanksgiving day, post the big meal, and unlike most of the rest of the day where there was a lot of activity (the hustle bustle of prep and visiting, touch football in the yard, moving chairs to the big table), we’ve reached the part where most people would really prefer to simply lie down and take a nap. There are lots of reasons people get sleepy after big holiday meals, and some of those reasons surely have to do with travel, the sometimes stressful nature of preparing for or attending a family gathering, being generally overtired and seizing an opportunity to actually relax. The rest of the explanation for the sleepies, however, is simple biochemistry.
When we overeat (particularly high-fat, high-sugar, high-carb foods), our parasympathetic nervous system sends signals to SLOW down. This is leftover biological programming from hunter gatherer time. The body is telling you to sleep so that you won’t go get and consume more food. Energy is required to deal with what’s already on board. “We’re kind of loaded up down here; stop sending new material. Sleep.” All that food also jacks up our insulin levels, which then increases our serotonin and melatonin levels. These two can make us sleepy AND happy. Sound about right?
Here’s the thing. I’m not really interested in the Thanksgiving nap phenomena itself. What I am interested in is how our bodies respond to overeating. When we overeat, our energy becomes very focused on digestion, at the expense of other functions, like being present with how we feel. When we overeat, we get an extra dose of the hormones and neurotransmitters that make us a little foggy, and a little happy (a reward that reinforces all of this, by the way).
This biochemical reality also allows us to escape the present, creates a warm, fuzzy food blanket that we can hide behind when we don’t like the way that we feel. Emotional eating is not just going on a food binge because you get angry. It can be far more subtle and the body rewards you every time you do it; and every time you do it, you reinforce the connection between negative feelings and eating as a solution. Who wouldn’t want the warm, fuzzy food blanket rather than a touch of loneliness, frustration, sadness, anger, disappointment?
When my kids were younger, I used to dread school bus time. Not the getting the ready for it, but the picking them up from it. I dreaded it. I wasn’t ready for more Mom-ing (especially since I thought Moms needed to be perfect, but that’s a different story). And I felt so awful about dreading it I could barely stand myself. I dreaded the bus, so I would have a snack real quick before it was time to get them. “Just one” of whatever I found was never just one, and I usually picked it back up after they got home to draw that warm, fuzzy food buzz blanket up around my ears while they ran around screaming or bickering. Food let me stop worrying about whether I was a bad Mom for needing more than I had in my life. Food let me stop worrying about whether I loved my kids enough. Food let me stop feeling the discomfort I had about how my life was set up. If I snacked my way to a full stomach, I didn’t have to feel any of that.
But here’s the secret that your parasympathetic nervous system, your hormones, and your neurotransmitters won’t tell you. Feeling your feelings is not that big of a deal. We naturally avoid pain, so many of us sidestep our feelings in order to do that. But the things that we do to sidestep that pain often cause us more, but different, pain. We eat too much. We drink too much. We watch garbage on TV. We get lost on the internet for hours. We often feel bad about doing these things; on some level, we know we’re not helping ourselves, but our warm, fuzzy, numbing blanket makes it hard to connect all of the dots. But we CAN do it differently. We can decide to face how we feel about things. ACKKKKK! NO!!!!! I hear all of the feet running away.
So now I’ll tell you some more secrets about feelings; maybe these secrets will speak to the reasons you don’t want to feel your own feelings. 1) You do not have to act on your feelings in any way in order to feel them. 2) Really feeling them, even the most painful ones, is purely temporary, often as short as 2 minutes or less. 3) Really feeling your feelings lets your feeling generator (your less than conscious brain) know that you got the freaking message already, calm down. 4) Explaining how you think you must feel or explaining away your feelings with logic is not the same as feeling them. 5) Feelings come from thoughts; you can choose a new one. And if you practice THAT skill, maybe you won’t need quite so many warm, fuzzy, numbing blankets.
If you have been relying on food to get you past whatever you’ve got going on in your head and in your heart, I sure would love to help you with that. Check out my BARE program, or just drop me a line.