After the Feast

Thanksgiving is behind us. It’s the first feast of the season, with more to come. So how do you feel? Specifically, how did you feel the day after?

My husband and I did an experiment this year. It wasn’t done in the name of science as much as by the necessities of health, but it yielded interesting results nonetheless.

For one, we had not a smidge of added sugar—white, brown, honey, or agave. Sugars, starches, and fruits do more harm to our bodies than any other group of foodstuffs. They are the key source of inflammation; throw off our insulin/glucagon balance and make weight gain a certainty; and mess with our mood and make our neurotransmitters go off kilter. Moreover, sugars feed all the harmful entities within our bodies such as viruses, bacteria, yeasts, molds, and cancer cells. Is the immediate gratification of cupcakes and pies really worth the ongoing price? We think not.

Our turkey was raised on clean feed and cooked without the skin; the fat in poultry skin is inevitably rancid, and when roasted it is loaded with harmful trans-fats that cause inflammation, worsening conditions such as arthritis, fibromyalgia, migraine, and digestive issues. Crispy skin followed by pain is a holiday tradition we can do without.

We’re religiously gluten free too: the stuffing was a lovely blend of vegetables spruced up with fresh herbs and a hint of dried fruits, with just a smidge of brown rice added. We follow a blend of Paleolithic and partially raw diet and hardly ever eat grains; the two that remain on our acceptable list, brown rice and quinoa, are saved for special occasions.

There was steamed, mashed yam with butter in place of potatoes; red cabbage cooked Norwegian-style; and our own spiced cranberry sauce sweetened with stevia. Dessert was a pudding of steamed sweet squash, cream, and magic flavors.

We wanted for nothing, and despite eating our fill we felt not the least bit heavy or sluggish after the meal. Although turkey is a good source of tryptophan, a precursor to the feel-good neurotransmitter serotonin, it doesn’t supply nearly enough to account for the universal symptoms of America on Thanksgiving. Most are on a sliding scale from a dip in energy to outright sedation, and are due to chemicals in the food and post-sugar-high hypoglycemia.

The next day we woke up refreshed and ready to go, and headed out before lunch for visits with two sets of friends. Along the way we drove through nearby towns and repeatedly encountered the same unreal scenes.

They reminded us of the old TV show, The Twilight Zone, or perhaps an episode from some comparable British production. I’m sure you can picture the story: a couple on a road trip drives into a small town and soon realizes that something is very wrong. The people on the street don’t appear to notice them, and even cross the street right in their path. The villagers don’t look at their surroundings, nor do they talk to each other. Everyone is on the move as if by remote control, with no clear destination. The threat to the visitors is more implied than apparent, yet still they can’t leave the ghost town behind fast enough.

In similar fashion, the world around us on Black Friday seemed to move at half speed, sleep-walkers stumbling into traffic without as much as a glance in our direction, and drivers turning or crossing intersections like automatons with glitchy programming.

On an average Friday it’s all we can do to avoid running into shoppers as twitchy as squirrels collecting nuts in fall. What was troubling now was not their espresso speed, but that it appeared no amount of caffeine could re-engage their brains. Suddenly finding ourselves in the land of food-induced dullness only the dedicated health food eater can circumvent, we seemed to be the only awake individuals in a movie populated with zombies.

Back to the question of how you felt after Thanksgiving. Did you have food cravings, especially for carbs and sweets? Did you find yourself reaching for snacks more often, and perhaps eating more at mealtime, even adding dessert when you wouldn’t have before? And what about now? Have you resigned yourself to a “holiday diet” that will last through Christmas and leave you battling the bulge in January?

If you have fallen into what I call the honey trap, blame the sugar load. Here’s how it works: sweet foods first spiked your blood sugar, then, thanks to a comparably massive release of insulin to pull the toxic sugar out of the blood, crashed it. To fix the crash you ate something else sweet, which got the yoyo bouncing once more. And then again, and again. If you’re like the typical person, that yoyo keeps bouncing all the way to the New Year’s resolution, effortlessly packing on the sugar-induced pounds of estrogen-raising, LDL cholesterol-raising, inflammation-raising fat. In six weeks, that can amount to a whole size in clothes.

In the process, the other hormones (that’s what insulin is, a powerful hormone) drain away: testosterone and progesterone, adrenals, thyroid, pituitary, and neurotransmitters. Hormones control our energy levels, emotions, libido, brain functions, organs, and cellular health. In other words, our diet either supplies adequate building blocks for ample hormone production in the correct balance, or it does not. And hormones, in turn, determine our health and quality of life.

If you fell into the honey trap after Thanksgiving, remember this: it’s your body, and you’re the one who is going to have to live in it, so make it a healthy body for a happy life. Before the next feast, read the labels on the turkey or prepared meat (or just go straight to the whole foods grocer), make more of the dishes from scratch using clean ingredients, and think twice before reaching for the next sweet snack, jam, or dessert. Make wise choices, or you’ll be carrying your poor decisions around for a long time.

© 2012 Ilona Goin. All rights reserved.