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How To Avoid Digestive Issues This Holiday

by Hutton Marshall| November 18, 2015

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Many of our bodies might still be recovering from overdosing on Halloween candy, but the season of holiday overeating is upon us.

Thanksgiving is just a few weeks away, and while it may bring good times with loved ones, it also requires a great deal of holiday meals and celebration, which, done in excess, can create an unfortunate amount of digestive problems.

According to WebMD, traditional holiday meals can wreak havoc on our digestive systems primarily in four different ways: rich foods, oversized portions, low fiber and good ol’ holiday stress. With maybe the exception of portion size, it’s difficult to completely remove any of these factors from the holidays. However, we’ve got a few tips for you to keep these factors in check, as well as deal with their effects.

Stress

For many of us, the holidays offer a lot of fun and excitement, but (as nearly all of us have experienced) they can also be a huge hassle. For one, being around relatives and in-laws can be a less-than-tranquil experiences for some of us. More significantly, though, getting through November and December can be quite expensive.

Investopedia estimated that the average American spent $646 on gifts for family and friends in 2012, and that doesn’t even take into account the cost of traveling, taking time off work or hosting family from out of town.

While these stress inducers are pains in themselves, they also cause digestive problems in ways we don’t always realize. Studies show that under stress, reacting to your body’s “fight or flight” response, many important digestive tract functions can grind to a halt, resulting in nausea and indigestion. Stress also causes the stomach to release stomach acid responsible for indigestion and heartburn.

Our solution

Alcohol is a common go-to for many of us when under stress, but it can exacerbate the toll stress takes on our body. Letting Uncle Troy enjoy his Wild Turkey on his own will minimize the damage to your stomach. WebMD also has a great list of ways to reduce holiday stress, like avoiding the annual political arguments (easier said than done), and keeping your kids on normal eating and sleep schedules as much as possible.

Overeating

No one has to be told that eating too much can lead to near-instant digestive regret. Most of the time, we can keep our binge eating in check without too much trouble, but the excitement of being around family and an overabundance of home-cooked food can be a hard temptation to resist.

Our Solution

Indulge, but indulge selectively. Choose a few of your favorite dishes that you’re going to eat to eat to your fill, but don’t go back for seconds on every single thing. You should also eat slowly and take small bites, which will both help smooth digestion and satiate your appetite with less food. Going for a short walk after eating will ease digestion too.

Rich, low-fiber foods

As mentioned above, the combination of rich foods and the absence of dietary fiber creates something of a perfect storm where poor digestion and bowel movement is concerned. Rich foods are typically high in both sugars and fats, the latter can upset stomachs if consumed too quickly. The absence of fiber, on the other hand, can hinder digestion and, when coupled with unhealthy eating, often causes constipation.

Our solution

As with overeating in general, the solution to rich foods is simply moderation. Choose whether to have seconds of sweet potatoes or apple pie, but don’t go all out on both. As for fiber, here are a few fiber-rich holiday meal ideas that you can add to your arsenal.

Final thoughts

Unfortunately, much of what makes the winter holidays so enjoyable aren’t always the most healthy, from a dietary standpoint. We shouldn’t be expected to live like monks during the holidays in the name of indigestion, but at the same time, we shouldn’t be eating and drinking in such excess that our stomachs ruin the opportunity to have a good time with loved ones. As is often the case, moderation is the key. Where that fails, just try taking smaller bites.

Hutton Marshall

Hutton Marshall is a freelance writer and photographer currently based in San Jose, Costa Rica. Contact him at jhuttonmarshall@gmail.com.

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