Ever heard the expression “food coma”? When, despite your best effort to switch on, a brain-fog descends and you have a strong impulse to close your eyelids?
This phenomenon is technically called “postprandial somnolence”, or in more common terms “food coma” or “post-lunch slump.” This isn’t a new phenomenon. In his work On Sleep and Sleeplessness (De Somno et vigilia), Greek philosopher Aristotle (384-322 BCE) noted that “fits of drowsiness are especially apt to come on after Meals.”
Studies show that food comas are positively correlated with the amount of food consumed. Volume, though, is definitely not the only contributing factor. Many of us will be surprised to know that results suggested that only salt and protein caused post-meal sleepiness, whereas sugar did not.
That moment right after lunch is one of the most challenging moments for learning event organizers.
If you want your attendees to feel awake and have the energy right after lunch to engage in afternoon activities, in this article I’m going to cover some ways that help reduce the impact of food coma.
Four ways to reduce food coma
Course-correct how you do lunches
Collaborating with a team of food experts such as a food designer, a nutritionist, and a chef is a great way to get a specially designed menu that keeps conference delegates bright and alerted long after lunch. Your lunch menu should limit refined starchy foods such as white bread and white sugar and red meat. Instead, offer smaller portion sizes (like Turkish meze or Venetian cicchetti) with plenty of local fresh vegetables, salads, herbs, and plant sources of protein. It’s also important to provide mineral water and herbal teas to keep people hydrated all day long.
Since our response to food is highly individual, offer more than one option to allow everyone to choose what’s best for them. At Design for Europe Summit and MELT Forum, two conferences in which I designed the whole food experience (menu, setup, and atmosphere) I applied the approach described above.
A study by the University of California, Davis published in the Journal of Psychopharmacology found that serving coffee can focus group discussion, boost involvement and leave members feeling better about their own and others’ participation.
Nowadays, there is a growing number of specialty coffee brands and companies that collaborate with local conferences and events. It’s a great idea to create a coffee bar in the most central area of the venue with drinks à la carte. I did it at both the conferences I’ve mentioned above and worked well. Another way is to bring in a barista to teach delegates how to make their favorite coffee drink. That is an excellent way to boost collaboration but also to promote coffee education.
Plan a workshop or an interactive section
Interactive sessions help keep energy high, discussion flowing, and participants out of their carb-induced stupor. Besides being powerful teaching tools, interactive exercises can be enormous learning experiences for people of different cultural backgrounds as well as a networking opportunity.
In general, if you can’t plan a fully interactive session at all, try at least to fit in one or two energizers before the first afternoon sessions when you feel that the energy level in the room going down.
Energizers are short, fun activities that get attendees moving and interacting. You may ask the participants to simply stretch and walk around to re-energize themselves. You can always call for 5-minute energizers by playing some dance music and asking everyone to stand up and dance. At one conference I attended last year, a yoga teacher asked us to move our bodies and stretch to improve our posture.
All the seasoned event planners know that the first section in the afternoon is one of the most challenging ones. Why? Because it’s when everyone (the main presenter included) is digesting. We know that mild exercise and sunlight stimulate wakefulness since they help to pump the brain with blood and nutrients.
At Walking Whisky Wellness, a conference in Scotland, where I recently gave a keynote talk, founder Penny Lee scheduled an outdoor interactive activity called “TalkShop.” Facilitated by Tash Willcocks, we mentally and physically explored some self-made barriers and the power of team dynamics. Getting some fresh air worked incredibly well not only to keep us alerted but also to nicely transition into the rest of the afternoon.
There are many ways to beat the lunch coma. Type and volume of food is one way to rethink lunches. Another one is coffee. However, fresh air and engaging activities can make a difference. Have you tried something else? Let’s continue the conversation on social media.