Why Do I Feel Tired After Eating? (And How to Avoid It)

Feeling tired after eating is very common, and it happens more often after lunchtime. Is it normal? Yes. However, feeling constantly tired after a meal could be a sign of an underlying health issue. The good news is that there are simple ways in which we can avoid that constant drowsy feeling after a meal.

So, if you’ve been asking yourself why you often feel tired after eating, you’ll discover the main reasons why this happens and effective ways to avoid it in the future.

Why Do I Feel Tired After Eating?

There are several reasons why you may feel tired after eating. But it may be concerning if it always happens and starts to affect your everyday life. Below are the main reasons why you may feel tired just after taking a meal.

1. You Eat Big Meals

If you’ve ever felt like you’re about to fall asleep after lunchtime, it’s probably because of how much you ate. The answer to this phenomenon is simple: it takes a lot of energy to digest the foods you eat. Therefore, the larger the meals, the more likely it is that you feel drowsy after eating.

2. It’s a Natural Part of the Digestion Process

Our gut takes about 2 hours to digest an entire meal.[1] Because of this, you’ll often feel drowsy after eating. This is especially true after eating lunch since we usually get back to work or continue with our duties shortly after. Besides that, the quality of food you eat also influences the amount of energy you’ll have after a meal.

3. You Eat Too Much Over-Processed Food

Foods that are high in saturated fat, simple carbs, and artificial flavors (like junk food), give you poor nutrition and instead load up your body with lots of calories. Besides the digestion process it takes, the high amounts of carbs and fats make your blood sugar unsteady, creating constant spikes. This is what causes the constant energy crashes in the afternoon time.

4. You Eat Foods That Are Rich in Protein and Carbs

Spoiler alert! You should be eating enough protein and carbs each day. Don’t think that you should eat less protein or eliminate carbs. In fact, these will help to prevent constant cravings throughout the day and keep you healthy overall. However, it is worth the mention that certain foods can cause you to feel sleepy after a meal.

Protein-rich foods, like salmon, poultry, dairy products, soy, eggs, and seeds, have higher levels of tryptophan. You can also find it in foods rich in carbs, such as pasta, rice, white bread and crackers, and processed pastries. Tryptophan is an amino acid that helps the body produce serotonin, which is the hormone that brings relaxation. Some scientists found that people feel tired after eating because their body is producing more serotonin.[2]

5. You May Be Having Blood Sugar Spikes

While it’s completely normal to have your blood sugar levels rise and fall, unhealthy sugar spikes can cause the infamous energy crash. This happens because there is a sudden high amount of sugar in your blood that forces your body to store it, leaving you with a very low sugar level that will cause you to crave more sugary foods. It’s a vicious cycle you certainly don’t want to be into.

6. You Skip Meals

Not eating enough throughout the day or even skipping meals is also a very common reason why you may feel tired after eating. Sometimes, we don’t realize how our energy levels are so low until we miss a meal.

Studies show that not eating during regular hours (AKA starving) is why you feel tired, have less energy, and have the urge to overeat during your next meal. As a result of that hungriness and your huge meal, you feel drowsy.[3]

7. You Consume Stimulants Like Caffeine

There is nothing wrong with starting your day with your favorite cup of coffee. Coffee is one of those foods that can help us stay alert during the day. But overdoing the coffee mugs can cause the opposite effect and make you feel sleepy.

Why do you feel tired after eating or taking caffeine? Simple: Too much caffeine will eventually make the energy-boosting effect wear off. This happens especially during your next coffee break in the afternoon or after lunchtime.[4]

8. You Lack Exercise

This may sound like it’s not directly related to being sleepy, but it is. When you’re not physically active, your body lacks the energy it needs to perform well and help you stay alert. That’s another reason why you should always include workouts in your weekly schedule. Not exercising will cause you to feel more tired and moody.

9. You Have Poor Sleeping Patterns

Another reason why you may feel tired after eating is you may not be sleeping well at all. If you think of it, our body needs enough rest to perform well and keep us with enough energy. Because of this, not sleeping enough the night before will make you crave more food the next day and cause you to be sleepy around the afternoon hours.

10. You Drank Alcohol

Even though alcohol per se is not one of the main reasons why you may be tired after eating, you may want to look into your drinking patterns. What this means is that having alcohol with your meals or drinking the night before can make you feel sleepy. According to Harvard experts, alcohol is a sedative and can lower your energy.[5]

Other Health Problems

There may be other underlying health issues related to feeling tired after eating. Excess tiredness after eating could be a symptom of the following health problems:

Diabetes

Diabetic patients could struggle with feeling tired after eating due to unusual blood sugar levels. When it’s too low or too high, there could be dizziness, less energy, and increased fatigue.

Anemia

When you lack certain nutrients in your body, such as iron, folate, and vitamin B-12, you could experience symptoms of anemia. This happens when the number of red blood cells in your body is too low. One of the main signs is feeling extremely tired and dizzy.

Food Intolerance or Allergies

If you didn’t know, that extra drowsiness could be a sign of a food allergy or intolerance. Having digestive issues, such as diarrhea and vomiting, is not always a sign of allergies. Food intolerances could manifest in different ways. That’s why it’s always best to check with your local doctor and confirm any diagnosis.

Thyroid Problems

People who also have hormonal imbalance related to their thyroid show excess sleepiness or sleep disturbances. This is on top of weight loss, irregular bowel movements, and even muscle weakness. [6]

Sleep Apnea

Sleep apnea is a rare condition in which you have problems breathing while you’re sleeping. This constant sleep interruption can make you feel extra tired the next day. There are many factors why sleep apnea happens, but in most cases, it has to do with obesity and high blood pressure.[7]

Celiac Disease

Being gluten intolerant is another reason why you could be more tired than usual, especially after eating. This happens because your body has problems digesting gluten foods. Therefore, you absorb fewer nutrients and your gut is constantly irritated. One of the main symptoms of this disease is fatigue.

How to Avoid Feeling Tired After Eating

Feeling tired after every time you eat can be annoying and may sometimes even have a significant impact on your lifestyle. Below are some tips on how to avoid feeling tired after eating.

1. Stay Hydrated

Drinking enough water is key to keep your body working well. When you hydrate your body, your metabolism is boosted and you have less fatigue and hence, you also have more energy.[8]

2. Eat More Whole Foods and Cut Back on Refined Sugars

One of your objectives is to balance your blood sugar levels. To do this, you have to make sure that you’re eating enough whole foods and less over-processed foods. Eating whole foods can lower the risk of those sugar spikes, heavy cravings, and that energy crash.[9]

3. Eat Enough Food During Each Meal to Keep You Satisfied

Practicing intuitive eating is very effective. It not only helps you stay in shape, but it also aids your digestion and boosts your energy.[10] You must eat until you’re satisfied, not until you’re full. Eating too much food than what your body asks for in one sitting will only cause you to overeat and give you that sleepy sensation.

4. Avoid Starving or Skipping Meals

This is another big problem you want to avoid. When you eat at regular hours, your body will have more energy throughout the entire day. Don’t try to stand hunger because then you’ll overeat in the next meal and feel more tired than you should be.

5. Exercise Regularly

Stay active as much as you can. You don’t have to run a marathon to stay healthy, but engaging at least in some regular basic exercises can already help raise your energy levels.

6. Get Enough Quality Sleep

Sleeping enough is key for your body at all times. Good quality sleep is at least about seven to nine hours. Try not to eat too late at night before you go to bed, turn off distractions (including your cell phone), and block off excessive light to help you develop a good sleeping habit.

7. Drink Caffeine in Moderation

If you enjoy starting your day with your favorite cup of coffee, go for it! But bear in mind that drinking about two to three cups a day should be enough to get that energy in. More than this can cause problems if you are not careful.

8. Have a Balanced Diet

Eating enough nutrient-rich foods will make your body work more efficiently and boost your energy. Aim at getting protein, healthy fiber, and healthy fats in all of your meals. Make your plate balanced and colorful.

9. Moderate Your Alcohol Intake

When you limit alcohol, you’ll notice a significant improvement in your energy levels overall. This especially applies to when you eat your meals during the day. Focus on no more than one to two glasses of wine a day. Drinking alcohol with meals can make people feel more tired.

Final Thoughts

Even though feeling tired after eating is normal, there are still some lifestyle habits you can improve to reduce this situation. If you’re feeling more tired than usual after your meals, make sure you work on quality nutrition, daily movement, proper rest, and do regular healthcare check-ups.

More Tips for Staying Energetic

Reference

healthline: How Long Does Food Stay in Your Stomach?
NCBI: Physiology, Serotonin
NCBI: The impact of meal timing on performance, sleepiness, gastric upset, and hunger during a simulated night shift
Medical News Today: Why does coffee make me tired?
Harvard Health Publishing: Alcohol and fatigue
WebMD: Depression, the Thyroid, and Hormones
Mayo Clinic: Sleep apnea
healthline: 10 Easy Ways to Boost Your Metabolism (Backed by Science)
healthline: Food as Fuel: 10 Things to Eat on Tired Mornings
Fab Healthy Lifestyle: Intuitive eating to get in shape! The ultimate approach that works…

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Interestingly enough, this topic about our bodies feeling heavy and tired has been assigned right around the time when I have been personally experiencing feelings of such “sluggishness.” In my case, it comes down to not exercising as much as I was a year ago, as well as being busier with work. I’m just starting to get back into a training routine after having moved and needing to set up my home gym again at my new house.

Generally speaking, when feeling heavy and tired, it comes down to bioenergetics. Bioenergetics is a field in biochemistry and cell biology that concerns energy flow through living systems.[1] The goal of bioenergetics is to describe how living organisms acquire and transform energy to perform biological work. Essentially, how we acquire, store, and utilize the energy within the body relates directly to whether we feel heavy or tired.

While bioenergetics relates primarily to the energy of the body, one’s total bandwidth of energy highly depends on one’s mental state. Here are seven reasons why your body feels heavy and tired.

1. Lack of Sleep

This is quite possibly one of the main reasons why people feel heavy and/or tired. I often feel like a broken record explaining to people the importance of quality sleep and REM specifically.

The principle of energy conservation states that energy is neither created nor destroyed. It may transform from one type to another. Based on the energy conservation theory, we need sleep to conserve energy. When getting quality sleep, we reduce our caloric needs by spending part of our time functioning at a lower metabolism. This concept is backed by the way our metabolic rate drops during sleep.

Research suggests that eight hours of sleep for human beings can produce a daily energy savings of 35 percent over complete wakefulness. The energy conservation theory of sleep suggests that the main purpose of sleep is to reduce a person’s energy use during times of the day and night.[2]

2. Lack of Exercise

Exercise is an interesting one because when you don’t feel energized, it can be difficult to find the motivation to work out. However, if you do find it in you to exercise, you’ll be pleasantly surprised by its impact on your energy levels. Technically, any form of exercise/physical activity will get the heart rate up and blood flowing. It will also result in the release of endorphins, which, in turn, are going to raise energy levels. Generally speaking, effort-backed cardiovascular exercises will strengthen your heart and give you more stamina.

I’m in the process of having my home gym renovated after moving to a new house. Over the past year, I have been totally slacking with exercise and training. I can personally say that over the last year, I have had less physical energy than I did previously while training regularly. Funny enough I have been a Lifehack author for a few years now, and almost all previous articles were written while I was training regularly. I’m writing this now as someone that has not exercised enough and can provide first-hand anecdotal evidence that exercise begets more energy, period.

3. Poor Nutrition and Hydration

The human body is primarily comprised of water (up to 60%), so naturally, a lack of hydration will deplete energy. According to studies, the brain and heart are composed of 73% water and the lungs are about 83% water. The skin contains 64% water, muscles and kidneys are 79%, and even the bones are watery: 31%.[3] If you don’t consume sufficient amounts of water (and I suggest natural spring water or alkaline water), you will likely have more issues than just a lack of energy.

In regards to nutrition, a fairly common-sense practice is to avoid excess sugar. Consuming too much sugar can harm the body and brain, often causing short bursts of energy (highs) followed by mental fogginess, and physical fatigue or crashes. Generally, sugar-based drinks, candy, and pastries put too much fuel (sugar) into your blood too quickly.

I have utilized these types of foods immediately before training for a quick source of energy. However, outside of that application, there is practically no benefit. When consuming sugar in such a way, the ensuing crash leaves you tired and hungry again. “Complex carbs,” healthy fats, and protein take longer to digest, satisfy your hunger, and thus, provide a slow, steady stream of energy.

4. Stress

Stress is surprisingly overlooked in our fast-paced society, yet it’s the number one cause of several conditions. Feeling heavy and tired is just one aspect of the symptoms of stress. Stress has been shown to affect all systems of the body including the musculoskeletal, respiratory, cardiovascular, endocrine, gastrointestinal, nervous, and reproductive systems.[4] Stress causes the body to release the hormone cortisol, which is produced by the adrenal glands. This can lead to adrenal fatigue, the symptoms of which are fatigue, brain fog, intermittent “crashes” throughout the day, and much more.[5]

It’s important to look at stress thoroughly in life and take action to mitigate it as much as possible. Personally, I spend Monday to Friday in front of dozens of devices and screens and managing large teams (15 to 30) of people. On weekends, I go for long walks in nature (known as shinrin-yoku in Japan), I use sensory deprivation tanks, and I experiment with supplementation (being a biohacker).

5. Depression or Anxiety

These two often go hand in hand with stress. It’s also overlooked much in our society, yet millions upon millions around the work experience symptoms of depression and anxiety. Many that are depressed report symptoms of lack of energy, enthusiasm, and generally not even wanting to get up from bed in the morning.

These are also conditions that should be examined closely within oneself and take actions to make improvements. I’m a big proponent of the use of therapeutic psychedelics, such as Psilocybin or MDMA. I’m an experienced user of mushrooms, from the psychedelic variety to the non-psychedelic. In fact, the majority of my sensory deprivation tank sessions are with the use of various strains of Psilocybin mushrooms. Much research has been coming to light around the benefits of such substances to eliminate symptoms of depression, anxiety, PTSD, and more.[6]

6. Hypothyroidism

Also known as underactive thyroid disease, hypothyroidism is a health condition where the thyroid gland doesn’t produce sufficient levels. This condition causes the metabolism to slow down.[7] While it can also be called underactive thyroid, hypothyroidism can make you feel tired and even gain weight. A common treatment for hypothyroidism is hormone replacement therapy.

7. Caffeine Overload

I’m writing this as someone that went from five cups of coffee a day to now three cups a week! I’ve almost fully switched to decaf. The reason I stopped consuming so much coffee is that it was affecting my mood and energy levels. Generally, excessive consumption of caffeine can also impact the adrenal gland, which, as I covered above, can almost certainly lead to low energy and random energy crashes.

Final Thoughts

The most important thing is to identify that you feel heavy or tired and take action to improve the situation. Never fall into complacency with feeling lethargic or low energy, as human beings tend to accept such conditions as the norm fairly quickly. If you’ve made it this far, you’re on the right path!

Examine various aspects of your life and where you can make room for improvement to put your mental, emotional, and physical self first. I certainly hope these seven reasons why your body feels heavy, tired, or low on energy can help you along the path to a healthy and more vibrant you.

More Tips on Restoring Energy

  • Why You Shouldn’t Ignore Your Fatigue Symptom (& How to Boost Energy)
  • Do Vitamins and Supplements Help With Energy?
  • How Physical Inactivity Affects Your Energy Levels

Reference

Nature: Bioenergetics
Healthline: What Is the Purpose of Sleep?
USGS: The Water in You: Water and the Human Body
American Psychological Association: Stress effects on the body
endocrineweb: What Exactly Is Adrenal Fatigue?
Healthline: Can a Psilocybin Mushroom Trip Really Help Ease Anxiety?
endocrineweb: Hypothyroidism: Overview, Causes, and Symptoms

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