Q: Erika, what the hell is “the itis?”
A: If you don’t know what “the ‘itis” refers to… I’ll put it this way. It’s the down time that comes after a meal, usually a massive one. Like, strong enough to knock you out for a good hour or so.
The Boondocks also has a great episode (see part 1 above), where “The ‘Itis” is the name of a restaurant that serves a giant burger consisting of an entire pound of beef patty, grilled onions, and five strips of bacon stuck between two donuts. Instead of tables, the meals were actually served on beds that patrons rented out, so that they could nap easily after finishing the giant burger. To make a long story short, all of the inhabitants of the neighborhood near the restaurant gain weight, with one patron actually suffering a heart attack in the restaurant. Sounds familiar.
The official name for the ‘itis, though lovingly named “ethnic fatigue,” is post-prandial somnolence. It’s the general term for the drowsiness that occurs after eating a meal comprised of a mass of simple carbohydrates (which can, in a nutshell, be boiled down to carbohydrates without fiber) and certain kinds of fats.
It’s like this: eating triggers a reaction from something called the “parasympathetic nervous system,” which tells your body to slow down and focus as much energy as possible toward digesting. The more you eat, the more your body has to slow down.
But the “sleepy” part, that’s different. As your body ingests carbs that result in a large amount of glucose in the system without an adequate amount of fiber to stave off the increase in blood sugars, the body has to release insulin into the blood stream to “mop up” all that glucose. When the body releases insulin, two neurochemicals responsible for lethargy and drowsiness – serotonin and melatonin – are triggered, thereby making the food coma inevitable.
Ethnic fatigue was named as such because it is notorious for coming after a “soul food” meal. Y’all already know how I feel about that – corn bread that doesn’t use legit corn meal; pound cakes with inordinate amounts of sugar (or ANY sugar – the original pound cakes were sweetened with molasses, a sweetener that is far less harmful than any sugar); macaroni and cheese made with cheap, hyper processed pasta and “pasteurized processed cheese product (which basically means more carbs, less protein)”; people bringing pre-made cakes and cobblers from the grocery store (and yes, those grocery store bakeries use high fructose corn syrup, too)? The soul food we “know” today is nothing like what it used to be. It’s not vegetables, meats and creative uses of grain anymore. It’s all hyper-processed garbage because nobody knows how to truly cook it anymore, and everybody’s cheating and buying shortcut ingredients. Meals that have carbs implanted where they were not before? You’re darn right the ‘itis will be present. What we’re also not noticing, however, is that we’re experiencing the ‘itis after every large, carb-heavy meal. Some may even be experiencing it after a large intake of pop. I’ll bet the clean eaters in the crowd, however, aren’t experiencing it much, if at all, nowadays, though.
The thing about food comas, really, is that if you’re experiencing them enough, it means that you are often taking in more food than your body can normally handle without shutting you down completely. If you are experiencing that kind of rush? You’re tempting fate and laying out a welcome mat for type 2 diabetes. There’s no reason to think that experiencing that kind of shut down is “cute” or “funny,” especially if it’s happening often.
Food comas don’t last long, but if you’re overworking your pancreas (responsible for insulin in the body) to that extent on a regular basis, the resulting effect of the food that got you into that coma can be a nasty one. Be careful.