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A Registered Dietitian Explains Why Food Hangovers Happen (And What To Do About Them)

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At some point in your culinary adventures, you’ve probably had a decadent dinner, drifted off to sleep in a cloud of food-induced reverie, and woken up the next day feeling like someone dragged you around your bedroom while you slept. You were confident that alcohol wasn't to blame, but the classic hangover symptoms were there: nausea, sluggishness, heartburn, and stomach upset. This is what some people call “food hangovers,” and if you’ve experienced one, you might wonder if it’s actually a thing.

While there isn’t a ton of research on food hangovers, Elizabeth Klingbeil, PhD, an assistant professor in the Department of Nutrition & Dietetics at Johnson and Wales University, says they're fairly prevalent. “Food Hangovers are quite the topic, especially around Thanksgiving and winter holidays,” she says, adding that you might feel a bit full and groggy after eating more than you usually would. "What you eat impacts how you feel," she says.

Even if your meal isn’t larger than usual, there are times when we eat food we normally don’t or consume a dish that has an ingredient we often limit. For instance, an incredibly salty meal might induce a ‘salt hangover,’ which, could be the result of dehydration, Albert Ahn, MD, previously told Well+Good. A little more sugar than usual could result in a blood glucose spike, which might cause nausea, jitteriness, and even headaches. But the most common food hangover culprit? The meat hangover, which describes “the feeling of heaviness, slow digestion, even bloating after consuming a large portion of meat,” Taylor Fazio, MS, RD, CDN, wellness advisor at The Lanby, a members-only healthcare practice in New York City.

 Depending on what you eat, food stays in your stomach for six to eight hours, says Harland Adkins RDN, a registered dietitian nutritionist and founder of Fast Food Menu Prices. “But, high-fat foods stay in your stomach longer...and can still be with you in the morning, causing nausea, heartburn, and soreness in your stomach.” So, while it might be too late for this tried-and-true hangover advice, moderation is the key. “If you consume foods you don’t normally eat, your body will not be as efficient or good at digesting that food,” Dr. Klingbeil says. The best way to avoid this is by not consuming large quantities of foods that are not usually a part of your diet. You can have a little but try to limit intake to a manageable amount for your body.”

If you’re reading this while nursing a food hangover, the moderation tip isn't relevant this time. Luckily, there are some things you can do to soothe your symptoms. If you're having gastrointestinal issues like stomach cramps, try to resist the urge to stay under the covers. “To get your digestion moving again, fit in some aerobic exercise," Adkins says. "It helps your gastrointestinal tract move, and it boosts your metabolism.”

And if you're experiencing puffiness or tightness in your stomach high sodium might be to blame. "Excessive sodium intake often results in water retention, making you feel “puffy.” The best way to combat this is through drinking plenty of water and avoiding large amounts of sodium the following day,” says Dr. Klingbeil. Now, the recommended sodium intake is 250 mg, but it’s very easy to go over that. Common culprits of high sodium are fries, cheese, deli meats, and even cereal.

As for what you can munch while you're recovering? “Having a fruit smoothie, with a bit of ground flaxseed added for extra fiber, or a vegetable soup, such as butternut squash,” Adkins says. “The fiber in the fruits and veggies will also rev up the movement of your GI tract and add bulk to your stool.” And ultimately, you can take comfort in knowing that, according to the Cleveland Clinic, you should feel like yourself within less than 24 hours.

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