The Food Hangover

How to Cure a Food Hangover

Man with headache and upset stomach
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Other people get hangovers from alcohol and too much partying, but I get them when I don’t eat well. I get food hangovers. 

Eating the Wrong Foods 

One of the challenges of cleaning up your diet is the increased sensitivity you experience when you eat the “wrong” thing after eating the "right" things for a while. The more whole foods we eat, the more we notice a reaction after we consume commercial, chemically-altered food.

Some of my friends — mostly those with military or survivalist backgrounds — swear that eating bad food keeps their bodies “in training." I have to admit they have a point. You never know where you might end up or what you might have to eat while you’re there.

"Real" Foods Vs. Insta-Foods 

I’m no saint when it comes to food, but I eat well the majority of the time. I grew up with a vegetable garden, fruit trees and berries within arm's reach, so my orientation has always been toward the real thing. We kept chickens for their eggs and for an occasional stew, and several of our friends were fishermen. My mom made a mercifully brief foray into the land of insta-food at one time, but I suspect that her Italian roots and her palate won out in the end because Jell-O and Hamburger Helper were short-lived visitors at our table.

Now that I’m an adult, we keep to a “flexitarian” diet at our house. We eat a dominantly plant-based menu with occasional animal food when we crave the nourishment that dense protein can provide.

We buy as much organic produce as possible from local farmers, with an occasional item from the “Fresh 15.” We eat a lot of vegetables and fruits. We do some juicing and make lots of green smoothies. We balance cooked and raw foods according to the season and the weather. Our junk food tends to be along the lines of organic unsalted corn tortilla chips or organic dark chocolate, with an occasional baked pudding or fruit pie.

Goat or sheep cheese is a special indulgence. When we eat packaged food, the ingredient list is generally short and always easy to pronounce — in other words, it’s all food.

Adapting to the Holidays 

The holidays present a special challenge for people like us. Food is an expression of hospitality and friendship, not something to be refused lightly, so we find ourselves walking a bit of an etiquette tightrope. 

I always offer to bring a salad or a vegetable when I go to someone’s home for dinner, and that dish has saved me more than once. But it’s a grave insult to the cook to eat only your own food, so I dutifully serve myself from whatever seems to be the safest dish offered. It doesn’t always work. The chef in me sometimes forgets that folks will make vegetables out of a box, sauce from a packet and they might cook meat in a plastic bag. I’m generally caught off guard when industrial-complex, 21st-century, space-age food lands in my mouth because it just isn’t part of my world. 

Dealing With That Hangover 

I’ve become so sensitive to chemically-treated and “fake” foods that I actually feel like I’ve been out partying all night when I consume it. I’m achy and tired the next day, and I just want to lie around like a lazy cat.

I’m cranky and I want the day to end so I can go back to sleep. It’s a cross between feeling hungover and being sick.

I've discovered that a few things really help. Hydration is the big one. Water is great, but so is organic carrot juice for the liver, miso soup or a zesty green smoothie. Broth soups ranging from a simple dashi to a ginger-spiked chicken soup are helpful, too.

I developed a "Cold and Flu Soup" when I was in the restaurant business that's also great for hangovers of all kinds. You can make it with chicken stock instead of vegetable stock if you prefer a richer taste, but it's the trinity of garlic, ginger and cayenne that provides surefire active ingredients. Ume — Japanese pickled plum — and kuzu root are also effective.

We can suffer through it all and wait until the discomfort passes, as it inevitably does.

We can moan and sigh and tell ourselves that we will never knowingly abuse our bodies again. And we don’t — until we do. Part of our human beauty is our vulnerability and our willingness to suffer for any number of reasons. Wouldn’t it be great if we possessed a fail-safe mechanism to protect us from ourselves?