How food coma overcomes exercising

Let’s pretend that you’re an alien coming to Earth for the first time. You have no existing knowledge of humans and someone describes this to you:

The human ingests an item that inhibits their ability to think or move. Essentially their brain and body is in a weakened state. This state lasts for around an hour.

Would you think that I am describing poison?

It does seem that way, but what I am actually describing is the common American lunch (and dinner). Somehow we have developed a culture of acceptance for this and we call it, food coma.

This phenomenon is now a three times daily occurrence and spoken of with pride, like on Thanksgiving Day we all look forward to it.

A quick Google Timeline search shows that the phrase is barely mentioned in texts until 1995, after which it explodes in print. A modern phenomenon.

Which helps for me when studying our obesity epidemic. Most of us believe that a major part of the problem is our lazy new digital culture. Sometime in the last 50 years we lost our outdoor spirit and replaced it with a lazy indoor video game, laptop habit.

But, would you still believe that if you thought about food coma as poison?

Think about it. Food is supposed to give you energy and make you smarter, stronger, healthier. It provides us with essential fats, minerals, vitamins, carbs, proteins.

Instead, many of our meals give us food coma which makes us tired, stupid, and lazy.

So there you have it.

Eat one type of meal (or over eat) and you spend the next hour in a dumb, lazy stupor. Eat another type of meal and you are full of energy, most likely participating in some active endeavor.

I have tested this on my own family. For one Thanksgiving meal I cooked using only high quality ingredients in proper portions. This included an appetizer, full meal, and dessert.

I watched in amazement as not one person retired to the couch for the NFL game on TV, which was our usual routine.

My parents went for a bike ride. My brothers walked around the whole house talking. Even my 80+ year old Grandpa went out inspecting our backyard garden.

One experiment, but I would say it’s common sense.

Eat right and three times a day you will be given a boost of energy which compels you to be more active. It will also improve your daily health, reduce your calorie intake, and reduce your risk for serious chronic conditions.

Eat poorly and your come under a food coma.

In the journal, Scientific American, Paul Li, a professor of Cognitive Science at Berkeley, states:

“(food coma) can strike anyone who pigs out on foods loaded with carbohydrates, fats or sugars.”

To which I say that everything sold in supermarkets is loaded with all three. Usually in improper portions so it can be labelled “low-fat”, “low calorie”, or “high in protein”.

Further, Professor Li’s states that the body’s response to this is:

“As food breaks down into glucose—the simplest form of sugar, which the body uses for fuel—you will experience a surge in blood sugar. To ­counter this spike, your body releases the hormone insulin.”

Which reminds me of the increase in diabetes we are experiencing in this country. Now, this is just an assumption since I am not a researcher or doctor, but one can easily imagine that a three times daily surge in insulin could cause lasting problems.

Now what do you think?

In my last post, Why nobody knows how to prevent obesity, I argued that we are eating the wrong type of food. This is happening because everything sold in grocery stores is bad for us. Grocery stores are the problem.

To which many folks replied that exercise and lifestyle is just as important. That we need all three (good food, exercise, and healthy lifestyles) in order to curb the obesity epidemic.

To which I reply and still stand by, it’s all about the food. That is the foundation of our existence and without it we just cannot function.

Why nobody knows how to prevent obesity

The 2011 obesity report from the Trust for America’s Health just came out and the news is as bad as ever. Every state has a minimum obesity rate of 20% and not one saw a decrease, while 16 saw an increase.

“Twenty years ago, no state had an obesity rate above 15 percent.  Today, more than two out of three states, 38 total, have obesity rates over 25 percent, and just one has a rate lower than 20 percent (Colorado at 19.8%).”

“Since 1995, when data was available for every state, obesity rates have doubled in seven states and increased by at least 90 percent in 10 others.”

Now, those numbers are bad and so are the corresponding increases in diabetes (rate has doubled) and hypertension (20%+ in every state). But, the number that I consider telling is found on page 11 of the full report (pdf):

“More than two-thirds (68 percent) of Americans are either overweight or obese”

Or, spin it the other way and it tells you only 32% of America is fit.

Which makes this issue so tough. No one seems to understand the problem, solution, or even the struggles every individual faces.

The report itself provides little in the way of recommendations only asking for the government to fund research and education.

Here is the problem, as I see it.

Food is the foundation. If we are eating good food then all should be well, after all our species survived for 10,000 years as fit world dominators.

Which means that we are eating bad food, and so what is bad food?

Before we get to that it’s important to point out all the discussion around nutrition, physical activity, cooking and what have you. That is where all the focus is and I think it’s absolutely useless.

I compare it to flying a plane without gas. You can check the wings, throw a pilot in there, and even get clearance from the tower, but if you don’t put in gas (the right gas) none of that matters.

Bad Food = everything in the grocery store.

I know this sounds crazy, but the facts are there. Everyone in America relies on grocery stores for food and it’s causing 2/3 of them health problems.

How many more need to become overweight before we start to question the very fundamentals of our grocery store lifestyle?

I Too Was Raised On Processed Foods…

The following is a response to an email asking me about food, health, and nutrition.  The initial email is included at bottom and the person’s name has been excised.


Hey #### – thanks for reaching out to me.

I too was raised on processed foods and so a lot of this was new to me as well. The best piece of advice I can give you is to give it some time. I have helped a lot of people make the change and they are always shocked and surprised by where this path takes them.

For instance, the food sold in supermarkets is the worst kind you can buy. The only thing worse than them is something like hot dogs from 7-Eleven, but in terms of nutritional value they’re not much worse. This includes the produce as well.

There are a whole lot of reasons why this is true like they have a monopoly on the food supply and a need to make profits, so quality is forgotten in favor of quantity. Thankfully the folks behind our food system are rallying together. There is a resurgence in quality seeds, quality farming, and improving distribution systems to get us this food.

The difference between a quality food product and a supermarket one is dramatic. This study which delves deeply into the details found a 1:3 difference. Meaning that a high-quality seed can be 3x more nutritional than a low-quality seed.

Personally, I find it greater than that. The food that I buy is so high quality that I eat very little and have so much more energy. I would say it’s more like a 1:6 or something. I often joke that I buy so little food nowadays that I often splurge on things just because.

This quality food has yet to break into the supermarkets, not even Whole Foods is carrying it yet. We are still stuck in the race to offer the cheapest food we can, though some stores are focusing on improving quality. Which means the only “safe” place to find quality is at farmers markets or food co-operatives.

I can say that I shop twice a week at a farmers market and never shop at supermarkets (tho I do occasionally buy beans/rice from the open bulk bins at Whole Foods). It does take some time to learn a whole new set of routines but that is the ideal if you want to really improve your health, here is why.

The food industry spends a lot of money trying to include nutritional information about food. The trouble is that no two apples are alike. One picked when ripe will be much different than one picked weeks after that. To account for this they just make it up (i.e. educated guesses). More and more studies are coming out showing just how wrong these nutrition labels are. Here is one that shows how vitamins are more marketing than science.

The truth about nutrition is different than what most people think. Every food item has a ton of vitamins/minerals/carbs/fat/etc. For example, Broccoli contains varying amounts of the following:

Protein, Vitamin E, Thiamin, Riboflavin, Pantothenic Acid, Calcium, Iron, Magnesium, Phosphorus and Selenium, Dietary Fiber, Vitamin A, Vitamin C, Vitamin K, Vitamin B6, Folate, Potassium and Manganese.

The question is how much of each does it have. Well, for plant based foods (vegetables, fruits, nuts) that depends on the starting seed (high, low quality stock) how it is grown (to produce maximum nutrition or to be picked quickly) and when/how it is harvested (at peak times or a few days/weeks early).

With all this variability in farming a single item of broccoli could either contain all you need or nothing at all. This holds true for every single food item out there.

So back to the beginning. Supermarkets sell the lowest quality food they can find (to offer the lowest prices). Farmers markets offer the highest quality they can find (often at higher prices).

The question then for most people is what happens if they switch from low quality to high quality food? Will they spend more or eat less? Are supermarkets just too convenient or is my health worth the trip to a farmers markets?


Hi Steve,
You commented on a post here back in April

The 10 Cheapest, Healthiest Foods Money Can Buy

I’m new to healthy eating and haven’t really got a clue what I’m doing, I’ve been pretty much raised on processed foods but have recently decided to learn to cook and educate myself about nutrition. Though I’m in the early stages of transforming my diet and way of life I’ve noticed that a lot of foods that are purportedly healthy, turn out to be not so great. I want to gather as much info on nutrition as possible in order to make the right dietary choices so any info you could send my way would be greatly, greatly appreciated. You also mentioned studies into supermarket food quality which I would be very interested in reading. Thanks for your time Steve, hope you can help.

Kindest regards,

[photo: denn]