Here comes the rack of lamb, roast turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, sugar cookies, pie, fruitcake, eggnog, champagne... the list goes on and on. Is there room in your belly to fit all those goodies this season? Will stuffing your face forever expand your stomach's natural capacity and lead to even more weight gain down the road?
The average stomach can hold about 1 liter of fluid. It does expand after consuming a meal -- whether it's a smorgasbord or a healthy salad. Then it shrinks back to its original size once the food begins its journey to the intestines.
"Surprisingly, people who are over 300 pounds don't have a stomach that's bigger than the average 1 liter volume," Dr. Holly Lofton, director of weight management at NYU Langone Medical Center, told CBS News.
But if gorging on your favorite foods isn't actually stretching out your stomach, then why do some people wake up ravenous the morning after a huge Christmas dinner?
"What's happened is you've taken in quite a few calories, more being carbs and fats than protein," explained Lofton."Your body's glucose level shoots up really quickly and that causes an insulin surge. This insulin surge then makes your blood sugar drop rather quickly as well. It can lead to a relative hypoglycemia; you experience that low hypoglycemia as hunger."
During the holiday season, Lofton offers some advice to help limit weight gain. "One thing I mention to my patients is one bite does make a difference," she said. "It can actually trigger cravings the next day or the next month. Those are usually the sweet things. You have more of an appetite."
Sugary cookies and liquid calories like eggnog leave the stomach very quickly, and a binge ultimately makes you crave more. This has little to do with the size of your stomach.
However, the irony is that the things that do temporarily stretch your stomach and allow for a greater food capacity during a big meal have no calories themselves: water and carbon dioxide, that is, carbonated beverages like seltzer or soda.
Excess liquid does cause the stomach to temporarily expand, and provide a little more room for that meal. That's why competitive eaters like Joey Chestnut and Takeru Kobayashi drink copious water while stuffing their mouths with hot dogs faster than you can say "digestion." The water essentially liquefies the food so it passes through the stomach faster, leaving room to eat even more.
Eating at breakneck speed also causes a person to swallow excess air. This is why Lofton recommends skipping the carbonated beverages with the meal, even if it's a diet soda. For the same reason, don't drink your beverage with a straw.
Additionally, it's important to chew your food well and eat slowly. The holidays may feel like they go by fast but the food on your plate at dinnertime isn't going anywhere.