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Here's What Happens When You Eat Too Much on Thanksgiving

Scientists show us what's happening as we approach the brink of food coma. It's not pretty.
Image via Flickr

On Thursday, Americans will indulge in an annual ritual of gluttonous food and drink consumption (Thanksgiving), which for many is simply the preface to an overindulgence of another kind: lining up in the wee hours of Friday morning to overfill shopping carts with mountains of discounted retail goods (Black Friday).

The American Chemical Society (ACS), however, sees a possible teaching moment where others might find nothing but inevitable collapse into a food coma. The science organization has produced a short video explaining the complex physiological factors at play when you're overcome with the felling that you simply cannot lift another forkful of turkey to your mouth.


(Video by The American Chemical Society)

As the video explains, your stomach can stretch to a volume of about one liter. When you feel full, what's actually happened is that you've filled your stomach to such an extent that it begins to push against surrounding organs.

But feeling like you've reached your limits in the feeding frenzy is also the result of your intestines filling up with gases, especially if you're drinking soda or beer. The body has a pretty efficient way of getting rid of that gas, through belching.

Another not-so-pleasant downside of overeating is heartburn. Consume too much food, and the hydrochloric acid your body produces in order to break down all that turkey and stuffing can begin to irritate the lining of your stomach and creep upwards into your esophagus. The opposite of an acid is a base, and when you consume an antacid you're really just applying a base to counteract all that hydrochloric acid your body is producing.

There's also a mental component to feeling full. Your body's messenger molecules — hormones — tell the brain its time to put the breaks on the overindulgence.

If your brain isn't helping you slow down your caloric intake, maybe the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) can. The agency announced Tuesday that it now requires chain restaurants, movie theaters, and food facilities at amusement parks with 20 or more locations to publish calorie information on menus and menu boards. Vending machines will also need to display this information.


In addition to providing calorie numbers, menus must also display: "2,000 calories a day is used for general nutrition advice, but calorie needs vary," under the new rules.

The FDA's effort is aimed at reducing the nation's growing obesity levels. More than one-third of adult Americans and about 17 percent of youth are deemed obese, according to a study published in the Journal of American Medicine.

So, as the ACS video says; when you feel full, "maybe take a minute to listen to what your body is trying to tell you." Or, just heed the advice of the FDA, and maintain your calorie intake at around the 2,000 mark.

Follow Robert S. Eshelman on Twitter: @RobertSEshelman

Image via Flickr