Binge eating: It starts badly; it ends badly. Whether it’s because you’re drunk or you just ordered way too much of something that’s destined to never experience becoming leftovers, sometimes we just like to stuff ourselves. You can blame those devious food scientists who deliberately design junk food with “dynamic contrast” to make us eat more of it. But the fact is that every now and again, we all act like hogs in garbage.
You’ll pay the price for devouring this mountain of crud, though. As well as the bloating and gas that immediately follow, a marathon pig-out can lead to headaches, nausea, anxiety and breath that could wipe out whatever bees remain — sensations that combine to form something known as a food hangover, and which can last well into the next day. Just ask Tom Arnold, who told Maxim back in 2013:
“I woke up Sunday with a horrible food hangover, like the one I had after my birthday, when I ate the whole cake. Those hangovers are very comparable to my drug and alcohol hangovers from the ’80s. And you’re f*cked, because since I can’t use drugs and alcohol, there’s really no cure and so it’s much worse.”
But are food hangovers really a thing? According to science: Yes! If you squint. “It’s not really a ‘hangover’ because you’re not processing toxins, but it could have a similar feeling,” says Ian Marber, a nutritionist and author of Eat Your Way to Lower Cholesterol. “Overeating makes you bloated and sluggish, especially when you’ve had lots of carbohydrates. Your body processes it quickly, so you have a sharp rise and then a big fall of glucose in your bloodstream. That slump in sugar levels can leave you tired, sluggish and give you a headache.”
This also explains the binge-eating spiral you can fall into — eating more crap to comfort yourself because you feel terrible from eating too much crap. “In the bottom of your slump, you crave more carbs and potassium to top yourself up [that is, feel that food high again],” says Marber. In other words, you crave more garbage to alleviate the effects of the garbage you just ate.
But what about the anxiety that comes with a food hangover? “It’s a bit of a long shot, but as your glucose levels rise and fall, the magnesium used in processing carbs may lead to a depletion which affects mood,” says Marber. “But it’s a bit tenuous.”
The big question, of course, is whether it’s possible to prevent a food hangover without, y’know, not eating the food. It turns out, for perhaps the only time ever in an article about nutrition, the best answer is pizza. “Eating pizza isn’t a bad option for this, actually, because of the cheese,” says Marber. “Cheese is protein, so it slows down the way things are digested. That means you won’t have that peak and crash of glucose. Fiber is also good to slow down the digestion.”
So there you have it: To stop what is technically sort of really a food hangover, you just need to eat more food, or rather, mix up the foods you’re eating. Throw in some potato salad (with the skins on — fiber, remember?), some extra cheese, maybe a whole grain baguette or two, and you’ll be just fine(ish). The better option, obviously, is to channel that self-loathing into a more constructive activity like working out at the gym until you vomit. But who the hell wants to do that?