Thanksgiving – the gluttony season where the masses unashamedly unbutton their pants due to dinner-table overindulgence – has arrived. Medical News Today take a look at the chain reaction inside our bodies when we overeat and how to avoid a food-poisoning disaster that will sour your celebrations.

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With all these gastronomical delights on offer at Thanksgiving, it is difficult not to overindulge.

It is that time of year again: when celebratory food is ever-present, and temptations are equally abundant. A time when even the most health-conscious diner succumbs to the lures of the holiday buffet.

Holiday eating can result in an extra pound or two of weight every year – but is pigging out a harmless indulgence or a real health concern?

The most common side effects triggered by the Thanksgiving Day binge involve indigestion, flatulence and a large dose of drowsiness. However, vast helpings of turkey, stuffing and mashed potatoes travel on an epic journey around the body, activating a simultaneous release of hormones, chemicals and digestive fluids.

Research from the Calorie Control Council indicates that the average American may consume an enormous 4,500 calories and a whopping 229 g of fat during a typical holiday gathering. This gastronomical excess can quickly amount to 45% of calories derived from fat and a holiday meal equal to three sticks of butter.

The human stomach can comfortably hold a volume of around 1 liter of food, about the size of a burrito, and can stretch to a capacity of 3-4 liters after a blowout meal. While the stomach will not burst, overeating will make your body work harder.

The American Chemical Society have released a video exploring the voyage of food during a Thanksgiving dinner rampage and what happens to our body when we overeat:

When we finally flop on the couch, feeling sluggish, either submitting to or fighting off the urge to nap, our body is busy dealing with the Thanksgiving-splurge aftermath.

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Heartburn occurs when the acid contents of the stomach pass backward up into the food pipe (called the gullet or esophagus).

The stomach is jam-packed full of culinary delights resulting in it squeezing against other organs and giving you the sensation of feeling “stuffed.” The stomach and intestines fill with gasses, adding to the swollen feeling along with air jetting along for the ride with every bite – especially if soda or beer is also consumed.

The gasses that make drinks fizzy fill much more space in the stomach than the liquid it arrived in, leading to your body expelling the excess gas in one way, or another!

Heartburn is often an unwanted after-dinner guest. The stomach produces hydrochloric acid to break down food – more food means more acid – irritating the stomach lining and creeping up the esophagus to create an unpleasant burning sensation.

Antacids, such as calcium carbonate, use bases to neutralize the acid, which causes more carbon dioxide to increase the feeling of fullness, until your next burp.

Mental reactions are every bit as important when feeling full. Messenger molecules, or leptin hormones (the satiety hormone), signal to the brain when it is time to put the fork down and stop eating.

During a big meal, cells in your intestines secrete a hormone called peptide tyrosine-tyrosine (PYY). When PYY reaches the brain, it binds with receptors that give you a belly-busting feeling of fullness or perhaps even makes you feel a little queasy.

Fun Thanksgiving facts
  • Americans consume 736 million pounds of turkey on Thanksgiving Day alone
  • About 50 million pumpkin pies are consumed each Thanksgiving
  • The largest pumpkin pie ever baked weighed 2,020 pounds and measured just over 12 feet long
  • The food with the most calories is none other than our beloved pecan pie
  • 40 million green bean casseroles are made each year.

Some hormones react more strongly to meals that are high in fats, carbohydrates and proteins, but they all serve the same purpose – to get you to stop eating and avoid seconds.

Top 10 tips to feel less stuffed this Thanksgiving:

  1. Eat breakfast, do not fast
  2. Drink plenty of water
  3. Quality not quantity
  4. Load up on veggies and fruits
  5. Eat slowly and consciously
  6. Thanksgiving workout – although not immediately after dinner
  7. Do not go carb crazy
  8. Do not treat Thanksgiving as your last meal on Earth
  9. Eat seconds of dessert later in the day
  10. Eat “clean” the next day.

Turkeys have a hard time during Thanksgiving. Not only are 46 million of them purchased to bring joy to our plates, non-organic turkeys are blamed for contributing toward antibiotic-resistant infections (80% of the antibiotics sold in the US are used in industrially produced livestock), turkeys take the rap for post-dinner bloat, for food poisoning and even “food coma” – which, by the way, is a myth.

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The “turkey food coma” is a myth. Turkey does not induce your afternoon nap, but overeating does.

The bird itself does not cause the post-turkey nap. Turkey meat does indeed contain tryptophan – an amino acid that the body uses to produce serotonin – a neurotransmitter that helps to regulate sleep. However, so do many other foods, including yogurt, eggs, fish, other meats and cheese – and you do not usually see people conking out after cheese. The truth is that you could omit the bird altogether and still feel the effects of the feast.

The culprit is overeating, consuming too much fat, alcohol and a ton of carbs – so do not blame your basted bird, blame all the side dishes you ate with it.

Returning to food poisoning, each year, 1 in 6 Americans get sick by consuming contaminated foods or beverages. Skipping a few important steps in your food preparation could ruin an entire day of feasting and fun with friends and family.

There is a huge difference between feeling “ill” from overindulging and being one of the 128,000 people who are hospitalized for foodborne illnesses each year. So whether you are cooking this year’s holiday feast or just devouring it, there are several measures you can take to keep dinner safe for everyone.

As of September 30th, 297.2 million pounds of whole turkeys were in frozen storage.

A Kansas State University food safety expert has released tips on how to make the holidays tasty and avoid a serving of foodborne illness from frozen turkey. Top 10 tips:

  1. Check for excess ice crystals on the turkey package, a sign the turkey has already thawed
  2. Make sure the turkey packaging is in tact: no nicks or broken spots
  3. Thawing turkey takes time; plan ahead and thaw in the refrigerator or cold water
  4. Never thaw on the countertop; this thaws the outside of the turkey quicker than the inside, allowing bacteria to grow
  5. Thawing in cold water takes around 30 minutes for every pound; water needs changing every 30 minutes
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    Wash your hands and not the turkey between handling the raw meat; washing the turkey opens the door for potential contamination.
  7. Thawing in the refrigerator takes 24 hours for every 5 pounds and should be stored in a rimmed container to catch any juices and prevent cross-contamination. It takes around 3 days to thaw a 15-pound turkey in the fridge
  8. Giblets and neck: remove before cooking
  9. Wash your hands and not the turkey between handling the raw meat; washing the turkey opens the door for potential contamination
  10. Cook the turkey at no less than 325° F; temperatures lower than this invites bacteria to grow
  11. Use a meat thermometer to check the meatiest part of the turkey; it should read 165° F.

Leftovers should never sit out longer than 2 hours and should be stored off the bone in multiple containers. Unless frozen, leftovers should be eaten in 3-4 days or thrown out guiltily in the trash with the rest of the estimated $277 million worth of turkey wasted every Thanksgiving holiday.

Symptoms of foodborne illnesses include stomach pain, vomiting and diarrhea. They can start hours or days after eating contaminated or undercooked foods.

On a more positive note, after the 3,000 calorie dinner has been scoffed and another 1,500 has been nibbled through in appetizers and drinks before and after the big meal, give yourself a break and enjoy the holiday.

As long as leftover pecan pie is not consumed every day for breakfast after Thanksgiving along with stuffing sandwiches for lunch, you can get your health back on track the very next day – so long as you follow the tips to avoid food poisoning.

Perhaps get a little exercise in, even if it is just heading to the Black Friday sales at the mall or playing charades with the family – both will burn calories.

Have a happy and healthy Thanksgiving!