6 Food Coma Causes — How to Get Out of a Food Coma
We’re all familiar with the scenario: You just indulged in a meal that was probably a little bigger or more carb-heavy than your usual fare. Now you’re sitting there with a bloated belly, feeling like you just ran a marathon. We often refer to this lethargic, stuffed sensation as a food coma.
Feeling this way every once in a while is normal, depending on your diet, but if you’re experiencing it frequently, you might want to check with your doctor to identify and treat the root cause of your discomfort. Here, doctors explain six common reasons we fall into a food coma.
First, what exactly is a food coma?
While the formal name is post prandial somnolence, we think of a food coma as that fatigued and drowsy feeling after eating a substantial meal. “When my patients come in describing these symptoms, I really go through a history and try to understand all the different factors that may be contributing to it,” says Richard Firshein, D.O., a physician who specializes in integrative and precision-based medicine and founder of the Firshein Center.
What causes a food coma?
This is where it gets a little tricky because a number of things can trigger a food coma. Here are some common ones:
- What you ate: “Refined foods, foods that have a lot of sugar, and refined carbohydrates can cause glucose levels to go up and then quickly go down,” says Raphael Kellman, M.D., a physician of integrative and functional medicine, author of The Microbiome Breakthrough and founder of the Kellman Wellness Center. “That’s when you go in the ‘food coma’ state and feel very out of it, lethargic, lightheaded, foggy, and like you can’t think straight.”
- The size of your meal: This comes down to the hormones your body releases: ghrelin makes you feel hungry and leptin tells you that you’re full. “If you eat too quickly, your body might not have a chance to catch up with you,” says Dr. Firshein. “So by the time leptin kicks in, you’ve already consumed too much and your gut is too full. That’s when you experience that bloating.”
- Thyroid issues: “When the thyroid is low, you’re very vulnerable to the ups and downs of glucose because you’re already not producing enough energy,” says Dr. Kellman. “If you have a healthy adrenal gland and thyroid, your body can adjust and adapt to bring glucose back up to maintain your energy levels, allowing you to withstand those occasional glucose swings.”
- A weakened microbiome: If your microbiome, a.k.a the environment where our microorganisms live, isn’t healthy, it can interfere with the absorption of foods, says Dr. Kellman, while a stronger microbiome can mitigate a surge of sugar or a hormonal swing.
- Allergies: “Many people have reactions to foods that they aren’t aware of which may increase fatigue,” says Dr. Firshein. “Not every allergic reaction has to be specifically related to a rash.”
- Nutrient deficiencies: “You may be lacking nutrients, vitamins (like B12), iron or fiber— all of which may make you crave more food,” says Dr. Firshein.
How can I prevent a food coma?
If you find yourself frequently fatigued post-meals, schedule a visit with your doctor to check for thyroid and adrenal issues, allergies, and nutrient deficiencies. To avoid occasional food comas, try one of these strategies from Dr. Firshein:
- Round out your meal: Balance high-carb meals with fat and protein or fat to help stabilize your blood sugar.
- Eat mindfully: Eating slowly will give your body a chance to transition from the hormone ghrelin over to leptin, which lets us know we are satiated.
- Get moving: We breathe less while eating, which increases the levels of CO2 in our system and can result in an energy drop, so consider going for a long walk after a big meal to boost the amount of oxygen in your system.