One pig-out could give you a heart attack

There’s a lot to celebrate today and over the next few weeks:  St Paddy’s day, March Madness, Easter, and for some Mainers – vacations to warm weather. For most people this means a big fat food fest, often in conjunction with alcohol. But did you know that even one act of gluttony could end the celebration pretty quickly?

Impact of one heavy meal on the heart

In a study presented at the American Heart Association 73rd session in New Orleans by leading researcher Dr Francisco Lopez-Jimenez, a cardiologist with the Boston VA hospital system, the risk of a heart attack quadruples within 26 hours after eating an unusually large meal (5000 calories). Nearly 2000 male and female patients who had been hospitalized for a heart attack were interviewed for possible triggers leading up to their heart attack, including if they had eaten an “unusually heavy meal”. They found that 158 people had eaten a very heavy meal within 26 hours and 25 others had eaten one within 2 hours of their heart attack.

How one huge binge can cause a heart attack

The researchers believe there are two physiological explanations for the cause of the heart attacks. The first is that the fatty meals affected the normal function of the endothelium – the inner layer of arteries, causing constriction and thereby raising blood pressure. The second is that a large fatty meal causes a release of extra hormones like insulin and norepinephrine, abruptly raising blood pressure and pulse, putting extra stress on the heart that triggers a heart attack.

Trigger vs. Risk Factors

Obesity, hypertension, smoking, high triglycerides and cholesterol, age, diabetes and lack of exercise are all risk factors for a heart attack, but there is a difference between a risk factor and a trigger, according to Dr Francisco Lopez-Jimenez. This is one of the first studies to indicate that an unusually large binge could cause a heart attack. Other triggers are extreme emotion, good or bad, extreme exertion and cold temperatures.


Why is there so much food at celebrations? A reason to get together has become a food orgy. Domino’s Pizza sold more than 2 million pizzas last year during March Madness. Fast food calories add up. One 12” cheese pizza has 2300 calories. One piece of stuffed cheesy bread has 140 calories. Four wings have 200 calories. Add the ranch dipping sauce, that’s 200 more. A two liter bottle of coke adds another 840 calories. So far our total is 3700 whopping calories. Add a couple of beers, some chips and Easter candy and we’ve approached the 5000 calorie point. You can almost hear the heart pounding louder and faster. And almost all celebrations come with lots of emotion, another heart attack trigger.

You can avoid the pig-out during a celebration

If veggies could taste like junk food health problems would disappear. Since they don’t, the next best thing is to have a strategy to avoid the pig-out. Know that fatty foods have the most calories. There are 4 calories per gram in carbs and proteins, and 9 calories/gm in fat. Foods high in fat mainly come from dairy or contain a lot of oil. Think cheese, dips with sour cream or mayonnaise, nuts, salad dressings, chips and fried foods.

Here are some really effective tips to prevent gluttony:

  • Don’t go to any event hungry.
  • Bring water or seltzer water to sip on.
  • Sit far from the food source.
  • Know where your calories are coming from.
  • Start with veggies. If you know there won’t be any there then bring some with a low fat yogurt dip.
  • Serve small plates.
  • Wait 15 minutes before getting a refill. It takes 15-20 minutes for your stomach to register a since of fullness.

Celebrations are joyful and fun. Make them less about the pig-out and more about the people. Besides, I’m sure the people you’ll be with will want you to stick around for many celebrations to come.

Barbara Groth

About Barbara Groth

I’m Barbara. I have always had a passion for helping people to feel good. As a nurse my early years were focused on getting sick people back to baseline. After becoming a diabetes educator and health coach my passion became raising that bar on the baseline – helping my clients to not only feel better but to look better and have a whole new outlook on life.