A "food hangover" caused by overeating

28.08.2023 Annely Püttsepp

The reasons for overeating today can be very different: starting with the fast pace of life, which is accompanied by wrong eating habits, and skipping meals, as well as the overemphasis on appearance and figure in the current era of social media. In order to look slim, various extremes are taken, starting with miracle diets and ending with starvation. However, such behaviors can very easily lead to bouts of overeating. As a rule, food cravings become more frequent and intensify and bring with them an increasingly bad hangover.1

The purpose of this report is to examine what overeating and the associated hangover are, how these two affect our bodies and how to avoid them.
Overeating is the consumption of excess energy, taking into account the energy expended by a person, which usually results in weight gain and obesity. Overeating can also lead to a severe mental disorder in the form of various eating disorders such as anorexia, bulimia, etc., but this is not always the case. In simple terms, overeating means inadequate consumption of food, resulting in unpleasant and difficult state and feeling.2

Overeaters usually use food to comfort themselves and relieve stress. Generally, such people suffer from depression and feel helpless.2

Everyone has heard the expression “food hangover”, but does it really exist? It has been studied by scientists that a food hangover, otherwise known as post-meal sleepiness, does exist.3
A hangover, or postprandial sleepiness, is a condition that occurs after a large meal and is usually described as extreme tiredness and feeling unwell that can last for several hours.4

As a rule, a hangover caused by overeating is also accompanied by laziness, a feeling of heaviness in the stomach, bloating and sometimes nausea.4

There are different theories about what causes hangover. Scientists have been studying this condition for years, but opinions differ and there is no consensus. Below are the two most popular theories of how a hangover occurs.4

Many people have experienced hangover-like feelings like tiredness, sluggishness, malaise, and maybe even nausea after a big feast. Many nutrition experts attribute the post-meal slump to the high tryptophan content of the food.5

Tryptophan is an essential amino acid found in certain meat and dairy products. Tryptophan is a precursor for serotonin, niacin and indole-3-acetic acid.6

When tryptophan-rich foods are consumed with carbohydrate-rich foods (such as mashed potatoes), it easily enters the brain and serotonin levels increase. Serotonin is a neurotransmitter that reduces arousal, which is why a person feels sluggish and tired after eating because serotonin levels are elevated.5

Some health experts say that postprandial sleepiness is caused by a change in blood flow. Specifically, some of the blood flow meant for the brain is diverted to the digestive system. Some researchers explain this by saying that eating activates your parasympathetic nervous system.7

The parasympathetic nervous system regulates certain functions in the body, such as slowing the heart rate and regulating blood pressure and digestion. The parasympathetic nervous system is triggered when the stomach expands from eating a large meal. As a result, blood flow is directed more to the working digestive organs and less to the brain. This slight abnormality in blood flow can cause drowsiness and fatigue.<sup7
There are many ways to avoid overeating and the accompanying hangover.

Below are five key recommendations.8

  • Free from distractions – a summary of 24 different studies found that distraction during a meal led people to eat more during that meal and therefore consume more calories. Studies claim that this also led them to consume more food the day after, compared to people who focused on food while eating.9
  • Awareness of foods that trigger an overeating attack – attention must be paid to foods that can more easily trigger an overeating attack. Avoiding these foods will help reduce the chances of overeating. Research has found that people who prepared healthy snacks for themselves, such as sliced apples with nut butter or vegetables with hummus, were less likely to overeat.8
  • Avoiding eating directly from the jar or package – researchers have found that people who served their own food on a plate consumed fewer calories than people who ate nuts directly from the jar or potato chips directly from the package. Doing so helps control the amount of calories you consume.8
  • A menu rich in fiber – by choosing foods rich in fiber in your menu, such as beans, vegetables, oatmeal, fruits, etc., your stomach stays full longer, the feeling of well-being lasts longer and you don’t have the urge to overeat.8
  • Regular meals – studies have shown that eating more frequently during the day can reduce feelings of hunger and overall food intake.10

In conclusion, it can be said that a hangover caused by overeating is exhausting for the body and should definitely be avoided. Overeating and being in a constant hangover can lead to serious health problems. Over time, consuming too much food can cause weight gain and increase the risk of developing chronic diseases such as diabetes or heart disease.8

Overeating is particularly problematic in terms of excess body fat and obesity.11
The regulation of hunger is influenced by two main hormones – ghrelin, which stimulates appetite; and leptin, which suppresses appetite. When a person has not eaten for a while, the level of ghrelin increases. When a person has eaten, leptin signals the body that it is full. However, overeating can disturb this balance.11

Also, overeating can cause excessive gas and bloating.11

Overeating and the resulting unpleasant hangover are in people’s own hands, and there are several ways to prevent and prevent it. If a person cannot handle his problem by himself, it is possible to turn to a specialist. Since the problem tends to get worse over time, you should seek help quickly.

1 Moore, CF, Sabino, V., Koob, GF, Cottone, P. (2016). Pathological Overeating: Emerging Evidence for a Compulsivity Construct. Accessed 07/21/2021,
2 Kessler, DA (2009). The End of Overeating: Taking Control of the Insatiable American Appetite. Accessed 21/07/2021,
3 Lehrskov, LL, Dorph, E., Widmer, AM, Hepprich, M., Siegenthaler, J., Timper, K., Donath, MY (2018). The role of IL-1 in postprandial fatigue. Accessed 07/21/2021,
4 Frey, M., (2020). Food Coma: Causes and Prevention. Accessed 21/07/2021,
5 Jenkins, TA, Nguyen, JCD, Polglaze, KE, Bertrand, PP (2016). Influence of Tryptophan and Serotonin on Mood and Cognition with a Possible Role of the Gut-Brain Axis. Accessed 07/21/2021,
6 Soots, A. (2013). Melatonin synthesis is affected by nutrients and enzymes. Nutrition therapy, 8.
7 Harthoorn, LF, Dransfield, E. (2008). Periprandial changes of the sympathetic–parasympathetic balance related to perceived satiety in humans. Accessed 21/07/2021,
8 Kubala, J. (2019). 23 Simple Things You Can Do to Stop Overeating. Accessed 21/07/2021,
9 Robinson, E., Aveyard, P., Daley, A., Jolly, K., Lewis, A., Lycett, D., Higgs, S. (2013). Eating attentively: a systematic review and meta-analysis of the effect of food intake memory and awareness on eating. Accessed 07/21/2021,
10 Bounty, PM, Campbell, B., Wilson, J., Galvan, E., Berardi, J., Kleiner, SM, Kreider, RB, Stout, JR, Ziegenfuss, T., Spano, M., Smith, A., Antonio, J. (2011). International Society of Sports Nutrition position stand: meal frequency. Accessed 21/07/2021,
11 Leaf, A., Antonio, J. (2017). The Effects of Overfeeding on Body Composition: The Role of Macronutrient Composition – A Narrative Review. Accessed 07/21/2021,
12 Singh, M. (2014). Fashion, food, and obesity. Accessed 21/07/2021,
13 Cremonini, F., Camilleri, M., Clark, MM, Beebe, TJ, Locke, GR, Zinsmeister, AR, Herrick, LM, Talley, NJ (2009). Associations among binge eating behavior patterns and gastrointestinal symptoms: a population-based study. Accessed 21/07/2021,

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