You feel bloated, your stomach is rolling and it could be that you are the source of embarrassing noises - our digestive systems endure a lot during the holidays! This month, it’s an endless buffet of huge dinners, even bigger desserts and lots of drinks. The holidays tempt even the most health-conscious to overindulge in food and drink that are not part of a regular diet causing digestive issues and potentially awkward moments at social gatherings.
Dr. Gaston is here to explain why digestive issues seem to be more frequent and more severe during the holidays.
Large Portions & Rich Foods
The holidays seem to invite overeating, especially when the table is spread with special foods you only enjoy once a year, full of sugar, salt and fats. The more sugar- and fat-laden food you consume the more pressure you put on your esophageal sphincter, the muscle that keeps food in your stomach where it belongs. Food - and stomach acid - will force this sphincter to open when there is too much pressure, causing heartburn. Too much rich food also slows down your whole digestive system, leading to acid reflux, stomachaches, gas and constipation.
Lack of Fiber
Unfortunately, our favorite holiday foods are not fresh broccoli, cauliflower and crisp green salads. Healthy fiber tends to missing from the holiday buffets – or it goes uneaten in favor of highly processed carbs like mashed potatoes, breads and pastas. Eating an abundance of low-fiber holiday foods will literally stop you up and make you constipated.
Shopping, cooking, cleaning, traveling, family - stress, stress and more stress! In a vicious cycle, stress itself can cause an upset stomach and heartburn – and you may cope with stress by eating and drinking too much.
How can you – and your stomach – truly enjoy the holidays?
Don’t “Save Up” For A Big Meal
Do you starve yourself throughout the day in anticipation for the big meal you will eat later? Not eating throughout the day will leave you feeling very uncomfortable and cause you to overeat at the meal – stressing your digestive system from the effects of not enough food and then trying to process way too much. Start with a healthy breakfast and eat smaller amounts more frequently throughout the day. High-fiber vegetables and grains will help keep your digestive system working normally.
Beware of Gassy Foods
Avoid carbonated beverages to reduce bloating and gas. Eat very small portions of veggies like Brussel sprouts or cabbage and opt for a crunchy, leafy salad. If you suffer from gas frequently, start a food diary to identify likely foods. Contribute naturally lower-fat alternatives to holiday buffets, such as a harvest salad, roasted green beans, whole grain rolls, or maple-roasted sweet potatoes instead of a higher-fat alternative, gas-causing item like sweet potato casserole.
Eating slowly will make a huge difference in your digestive comfort. It takes 20 minutes for our brains to realize our stomachs are full. Put down your fork completely between bites, chew as much as possible, and give yourself at least 20 minutes before taking second helpings or dessert. Digestion is a great deal of work for your body and the more you eat, the harder your gut has to work to process that food.
Alcohol can irritate the GI tract and trigger heartburn. In addition, it muddles your decision-making, increasing the chances you'll make bad food choices.
Heartburn and acid reflux are inevitable if you stretch out on the couch after a big holiday meal. Instead, go out for a short walk. When you’re at a holiday party, crank up the music and dance.
You know your own body, so don’t be shy about asking your host what will be served at an upcoming party. When you know the menu, you can have a game plan about what you’ll need to avoid, what you can enjoy, and what you should bring along. Be mindful, make a few adjustments, and enjoy the holidays comfortably!
Questions about your digestive system? Eating a healthy diet and still winding up with pain or other issues? Dr. Gaston is here to help. Just click here or call 773-238-1126 to make an appointment.