Christmas – the true story

Everybody knows that the true story of Christmas now days is over indulgence.

This could be in the form of presents and spending money you don’t have but it is also in the form of food.

There is a horrendous advert on the bus stop up from my house for one of the major supermarkets.  It shows a spread of food with the tag line ‘Christmas is a time for sharing…unfortunately.’  What a terrible message!

What does your body do when you overindulge?  We probably all know that we get drowsy and feel stuffed, but why?

Food enters our digestive system via the mouth where you chew it all up, mix it up with saliva and it is then pushed to the back of your mouth as a bolus; a nice round ball of food without any sharp edges that can be passed down your oesophagus and into your stomach.

The stomach is usually a small deflated hand sized organ that sits just under your rib cage.  It has a folded layer that allows it to expand as food enters it and it has three payers of muscles that lay in different directions to allow it to churn the food inside with the acid and continue digestion.

After the food has been broken up it passes from the stomach into the small intestine where it has bile added to it to aid with fat digestion.  The nutrients are removed from it as it passes along the 20ft of the small intestine.  Passing the appendix, it enters into the 6 foot of the large intestine where water is absorbed and the remaining waste passes out of the anus when you go to the toilet.

That’s the normal passage of events so what is the difference at Christmas?

It’s the volume of food that you eat and the speed at which you eat it.

The message that goes from the stomach to the brain to say that it is full is based on hormones.  These circulate in the blood to get the message to the brain and so the communication is not as quick as a nervous signal.

We have two hormones that control our appetite, ghrelin and leptin.  Basically ghrelin increases appetite and leptin suppresses it.  As the stomach expands it sends the message to the brain that it is full and leptin is released which should reduce our appetite.  This can take 20 minutes.

On the 25th keep an eye on the clock and see how much food you eat in 20 minutes!

Add to that the fact that there seems to be an increasing problem with leptin resistance.  People who are obese seem to require more leptin to be released before it has any effect.

Why do you feel sleepy?

The blood supply is diverted to the stomach to cope with the digestion of food.  Other systems slow down to accommodate the reduced blood supply.

Can I eat so much I burst?

It’s unlikely but not impossible.  There are some rare clinical cases of people managing to rupture their stomachs through over indulgence.  It’s not going to look like the scene from Monty Python but it’s not going to be pleasant.

Why do I get heart burn? What is heart burn?

The stomach produces a very strong acid.  The lining of the stomach is immune to this acid and protects the organ from its effects.  The oesophagus connects the mouth to the stomach – it is not immune to the effects of this acid.  It is possible for the acid to pass up into the oesophagus through the sphincter (valve) that would normally separate the two.  This is acid reflux and you feel it as a burning sensation as the acid attacks the oesophagus (treat it and if it keeps happening see someone about it)

What should I do?

Cut yourself some slack.  It’s Christmas (or any other holiday).  Be aware that your dinner probably contains around 3 times the amount of calories you need in a day.  You might have had a drink, your will power might be lower and you might feel obliged to eat every dish that Aunt Bessie puts in front of you. Take your time, eat slowly, see if that leptin message is on its way.


    Happy Christmas and see you in 2020.

Author: Anatomy Fundamentals

Janet Philp has spent a lifetime exploring fitness and wellbeing. Starting in group exercise, travelling through rugby to representing the UK at martial arts before including Yoga, meditation, Budokon and personal instruction. Her passion is anatomical function and educating people to use their bodies to their full potential.

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