Friday, May 22, 2009

Food Hangovers

Have you ever had a food hangover? I’m convinced they are much worse than an alcohol induced hangover. For one thing there’s all the guilt, never mind the physical pain. My birthday was yesterday and I celebrated it thoroughly, which is good – wine, cheese, shrimp, pesto, fruit, and homemade delectable chocolate peanut butter cupcakes eaten in the sunshine at a winery with girlfriends (thanks Lisa and Amy). I should have stopped with that because it only got worse from there. My husband arrived home early from work with a Key Lime Cheesecake from the Cheesecake Factory (my absolute favorite non-organic, not-good-for-you-possibly-artery-clogging dessert). We went out to dinner at a fabulous Italian restaurant and besides sharing a mussels and marinara appetizer, I managed to eat a big salad, way too much bread (had to try each kind!) and even a few bites of the seafood fettuccini I ordered. It must have been the wonderful Italian wine that convinced me I could eat that too. The fettuccini sits in my refrigerator today mocking me. This hangover I’m struggling with has me re-thinking all of it. And the thought of any of it, at least the things I ate, makes my stomach reel.

I try to eat “clean” as much as possible. To me eating clean is no processed food, lots of fruits and vegetables, whole grains, nuts, real dairy, grass-fed meats and all of it as organic as possible. So yesterday I really fell off my wagon. You might even say it was more of a swan dive off the wagon. At any rate, I’m paying for it today.

Just in case you’ve never experienced a food hangover for yourself, I’ll describe the symptoms. Any or all of the following: bloated belly, uncomfortable guts (I don’t know which are the anatomically correct organs to pinpoint, I just know everything inside me feels out of place), dry mouth, exhaustion, guilt, headache, sleepiness, upset stomach, loss of appetite, and way too many trips to the bathroom. Have I mentioned them all? I’m sure I missed something.

Here’s how I handle food hangovers:
1) Drink water constantly. I’ve never had a “cleanse”, but I’ve read about them. I can’t imagine going without food and drinking some of the awful things required, but by drinking glass after glass of water I do feel like I’m flushing things out of my system faster. Adding large amounts of real lemon juice to the water is supposed to be really good for flushing your system also. I just try to keep a water bottle at my side all day and drink whenever my body reminds me how much pain it’s in, which is often.
2) Exercise. And I’m not talking about a quiet little walk for your poor, bloated body. I’m talking about working up a real sweat. I go for a long, long run if possible. I think sweat is the best way to cleanse your body of a food hangover, oncoming cold, or even allergies. I know I feel better after my run. Today was no different.
3) Eat really, really, really healthy. Even though you feel guilty and miserable, now is not the time to stop eating. Eat lots of fruit. Eat the things your body knows. I got up and ate my regular breakfast even though I wasn’t the least bit hungry. I knew I wouldn’t want to eat lunch because I felt so bad so I picked a beautiful baby greens salad by thinning my lettuce and added my favorite dressing and cashews. I feel better.

I looked up food hangovers online and the advice for dealing with them was pretty similar to mine except they wanted you to be gentler with yourself. As nice as that sounds, I’ve found that doesn’t make me feel better. Laying around just makes me sleepy and the guilt grows as more things get left undone. Best to get back at it. It’s a bump in the road but it’s my own fault so there’s no sense dwelling on it.

I think anyone can get a food hangover whenever they force their body to eat too much of anything or too much of a food they are not accustomed to. If you are used to eating Big Macs and fries for lunch every day, you’re body has adapted to it. (You’re body is not happy about it though, I guarantee it).

The inverse of a food hangover is also possible. I know that when I decided to change some harmful habits I was struck by how much better I felt instantly. When I gave up caffeine, after the initial withdrawal went away, I felt calmer, less moody, I had more energy, and needed less sleep. The best effect was that I stopped yelling at my kids so much. When I gave up processed foods I could think clearer, was incredibly more productive, and I felt happier. I don’t get stomach aches or indigestion. I have more energy, can run further, and sleep better. I think these changes could be due to the fact that my body is not under the physical stress of trying to process food it was not meant to process.

It’s the afternoon and I’m still pretty uncomfortable thanks to what I put my body through yesterday, but I’ve learned my lesson. I won’t do it again. (Of course I said the same thing after my first kid and now I’ve got three, so maybe I don’t learn my lessons so well!)

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