Thanksgiving: What You Ate and How You Did It!


Thanksgiving is fantastic! For many, it’s a nice time to get together and think about all the stuff that we are grateful for. We get to eat a lot, drink a lot, and hang out with people we like, a lot. So it’s no surprise that the traditional Thanksgiving feast is a splendor of high-class culinary achievement; the stuffing alone is often prize-worthy. But we have to wonder, how we are able to handle all that food?

Although feasting is a staple of the human experience, at its core — feasting is feeding — and feeding is one of our primary drives and motivators. Food must supply the body with nutrients, vitamins and energy that are imperative to the body’s growth, maintenance, and effective function.

This is where the nervous system comes in. Its main job is to coordinate our actions and to transmit signals between the different parts of our bodies via the central nervous system (CNS), and the peripheral nervous system (PNS). While the CNS contains the brain and the spinal cord, the PNS consists of nerves that connect the CNS to our limbs and organs.

While PNS has many more subsystems that influence everything from our voluntary movement to the fight-or-flight response, in combination with CNS, it plays a crucial part in our gastrointestinal system, digestion, and the anticipation of future food requirements. Let’s take a closer look.

When we consume tasty edibles, our bodies collect complex carbohydrates found within and quickly break them down into simple sugars that our cells depend on. Note that glucose is the main sugar our bodies convert into energy, but glucose can’t enter the cells without insulin, which is essentially a glucose transporter.

While both glucose and insulin play a role in the mobilization and distribution of food energy and contribute to the feeling of hunger or satiety, the brain integrates many different signals, instead of any one signal, to trigger it.

For instance, the hypothalamus is critical in regulating our metabolic rate, food intake, and body weight, but the arcuate nucleus of the hypothalamus also has a highly specialized appetite controller that is influenced by the circulating levels of a variety of hormones in the bloodstream, one of them being insulin. Both the CNS and PNS have to work together in integrating various information coming in from the larger “hunger” network.

Broadly speaking, appetite is a tricky thing because no single brain region exclusively controls it. Feeding information originates elsewhere in the body: hormones, signals from the gut, and information from other brain regions. Hunger really is more than the sum of its parts simply because we structure rituals around satisfying it on a daily basis. So whether you over or under ate this past Thanksgiving, be thankful that you are made up of so much awesome stuff.

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