The Party's Over. Now What? How to Get Control of Your Post-Holiday Eating

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scale.jpegStill feeling sluggish from a week or two of holiday eating?  Researchers say that getting back on track may take trickery to reset your digestive system as overeating causes biological changes that lead to more food cravings and mixed signals to the brain.  

 

Dr. Joe Bass, an endocrinologist form Northwestern University, has found that when mice are overfed, their systems change and gear them to sustained overeating.  "If mice eat a high-fat diet, they actually wake-up from sleep and eat: he said.  His studies conclude that people who eat less fat will sleep better and find it easier to avoid nighttime bingeing.  

 

Overeating "sets your body chemistry into red alert," says Dr. Sasha Stiles, a family physician who specializes in obesity at Tufts Medical Center. "Your metabolic processes will go into overdrive to make sure they get rid of the huge load," Stiles explains.

 

This means that much of what you eat will be stored as fat rather than converted into healthy byproducts.

This starts an unfortunate cycle: The pancreas produces extra insulin to process the sugar load and remove it from the bloodstream and doesn't stop until the brain senses that blood sugar levels are safe. But by then, often too much sugar is removed. Low blood sugar can make you feel tired, dizzy, nauseous, even depressed -- a condition often remedied by eating more sugar and more carbohydrates which can lead to a yo-yo effect.

 

If you consistently overeat, you'll trigger changes in your stomach. The neurological tissue at the top of it, which signals the brain that you're full, starts to malfunction.

 

"When you overeat time and time again, this electrical conduit pathway gets tired and it doesn't tell your brain that you're full anymore," says Stiles. "It may send abnormal signals and you may not even realize you're full."

 

ALSO - if you drink lots of icy beverages with your food, the mixed messages to your body worsen, she says. "Cold liquids start your stomach contracting and massaging food causing it to quickly leave stomach to the rest of the gastrointestinal track." This means your stomach will be empty sooner than normal and you will be hungrier sooner.

 

Great.

 

To retune your body to optimum metabolic function, Dr. Naomi Neufeld, an endocrinologist at UCLA suggests that fasting or not eating for short periods of time, say 24 hours once a week, doesn't hurt and might even help -- as long as you drink water.

 

"You re-tune the body, suppress insulin secretion, reduce the taste for sugar, so sugar becomes something you're less fond of taking," Neufeld says.

 

Your pancreas gets a rest.  The body burns up stored sugars, or glycogen, so less insulin is needed to help the body digest food. On juice diets recommended by some spas, you may lose weight, but your digestive system doesn't get that rest.

 

Mark Mattson, a scientist with the National Institute on Aging, says that when we convert food into energy, our bodies create a lot of byproducts we could do without, including free radicals. "These free radicals will attack proteins, DNA, the nucleus of cells, the membranes of cells," Mattson says. "They can damage all those different molecules in cells."

 

And even if you don't fast, Mattson says that simply limiting the calories you consume may be beneficial. He points to studies where rats and mice were fed every other day. Compared with those fed normal daily diets, there was a reduction in disease among the rats that were severely restricted in their food intake. Mattson says those findings hold promise that humans could also benefit from partial fasting.

 

Mattson thinks partial fasting has numerous benefits, from improving glucose regulation, which can protect against diabetes, to also lowering blood pressure. Some animal studies have also shown that partial fasting has very beneficial effects on the brain, protecting against Alzheimer's, Parkinson's and stroke.

 

Partial fasting may even extend lifespan because eating less sends a message to the cells of the body that they should conserve and use energy more efficiently.

 

"When they're exposed to a mild stress, [the body's cells] sort of expect that maybe this is going to happen again," Mattson says. "So maybe next time I may have to go longer without food, so I'd better be able to deal with that when it comes on."

 

Mattson says that process is similar to the way muscles get built up when they're stressed by exercise. He adds that because complete fasting is difficult to study and there is little actual research comparing people who fast with those who don't, it's not clear whether complete fasting (water only) is also beneficial.

 

Proponents say small, short-term studies find that complete fasting lowers blood pressure and reduces cancer risk. But Dr. Naomi Neufeld worries that extended complete fasting could be harmful. After the first few days of liquid only, the body uses up all its stored glucose to make energy. And then it turns to other sources, including fat and muscle.

 

"The main tissue that's the target in long-term fasting is muscle, because muscle has readily available amino acids which can be converted to glucose right away," Neufeld says. "In that way, your brain is never deprived of needed glucose."

 

The problem, Neufeld says, is that when muscle breaks down, potentially toxic proteins are released. These proteins are partly composed of nitrogen, and too much nitrogen in the body can be toxic to the kidneys and liver. That's when starvation is officially under way.

 

So, try to not feel guilty for the egg nog and cookies but take back your body.  One day fasts, with water, reduced calories and fat, and exercise.  

Tell us what works for you!

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