The holidays may be the most wonderful time of the year, but for those with digestive problems they can also be the most difficult time of year.
Overindulging with not-so-healthy foods and alcohol, higher levels of stress, less sleep, more travel along with being constantly on the go during the busy holiday season can all contribute to digestive issues.
This year, break the holiday tradition of digestive issues. Enjoy your holiday free from bloating, gas, stomach pain, constipation and diarrhea.
In this article, we dive deep into tips for what you can do to prevent digestive problems this holiday season.
Here’s to more holiday cheer and less digestive distress!
Top 8 tips to manage your digestive problems during the holiday season:
‘Tis the season for overeating during November and December. Yet, overeating is not good for digestion. Smaller, more balanced meals are better as they allow the body to handle food and fully digest and absorb its nutrients. Large meals can overload your digestive system doing more harm than good. There are many things you can do when selecting healthy portions of foods. Know your food triggers and eliminate them. Eat healthier food choices. Stay on your normal diet the best that you can. Eat the foods in small portions so that you don’t put unnecessary stress on your digestive system. Your gastrointestinal tract and your weight will thank you.
Fiber is always key for healthy digestion. This is because it helps to keep things moving through the digestive tract at the right speed. One of the main digestive problems during the holidays is a lack of fiber at the dinner table. Low fiber in the diet can lead to constipation, which is unhealthy and uncomfortable. Choose to include foods in your holiday feasts that are naturally rich in fiber such as broccoli, green beans, avocados, beets, berries, bananas, sweet potatoes, artichokes and even nuts and seeds. Another benefit of fiber is that it can help to lower blood sugar by slowing the absorption of sugar into the blood stream. Increase your fiber intake this holiday season to feel good and prevent digestive issues.
Both alcohol and sugar can act like toxins in the body and irritate the gut lining. Often, sugars are not fully digested in the gut and they can become fermented by the gut bacteria causing many of the digestive symptoms you know of such as constipation, gas, diarrhea or pain. Additionally, alcohol, as an ingested toxin, takes precedence over everything else in the digestive tract. This means if you drink while you eat, your body will give alcohol first priority to be digested and so your food is put on hold. This can impair normal digestion processes. Overtime, alcohol also damages the gut lining leading to leaky gut by compromising its impermeable layer.
Stress has a major impact on your digestive system and tends to slow your digestive processes. Have you ever been so anxious you’ve actually had butterflies in your stomach? This is a great example of the link between stress and digestion and how the brain and gut are connected. Stress that isn’t managed can impact how you swallow your food, the extent to which enzymes get released for food breakdown and how the body categorizes food to be used as nutrients or waste products. When your body is under stress, the sympathetic nervous system (similar to a gas pedal of a car) is in full drive and triggers a “fight-or-flight” response. Stress has direct physiological effects on the digestive system. It can cause irregular muscle spasms, it can increase or decrease the stomach acid in your stomach, it can give you pain, and it can also cause bloating and gas. Additionally, it can also lead to less blood flow to the stomach along with inflammation and an imbalance of gut bacteria. Learn to manage your stress this holiday season, whether that’s through meditation or going for a walk. Your digestion will improve as a result.
During this busy time of year, we can often forget to take care of ourselves. This can mean we forget to drink enough water, forget to exercise or forget to take our essential supplements. The key to healthy digestion is to take all of your supplements when directed. These are filled with important nutrients to keep you healthy and your digestive system working properly. Digestive enzymes are key for breaking food down. Probiotics are imperative for flourishing the gut with healthy bacteria. Immunoglobulins are essential to repairing the gut lining. All sorts of supplements can either a.) Prevent digestive distress or b.) Heal digestive issues.
Remaining strict gluten-free is key to good digestion throughout the holidays. This is one of the trickiest tips for people to follow, as they are tempted with numerous gluten-laden treats and side dishes. Gluten is the protein found in wheat. It is very hard to digest and can even impair the absorption of some nutrients. Many people are considered “gluten sensitive”. This means they can get cramping, bloating, gas, diarrhea or constipation upon eating just one bite of food containing gluten. Since the 1950’s scientists began cross breeding wheat, changing its structure for good. It is now loaded with GMO’s and the pesticide Roundup leading to gluten intolerances for all. It is one of the most heavily sprayed crops and as a result it also acts as an irritant and allergen to the gut lining by breaking it down and leading to leaky gut syndrome. Skip the gluten during the holiday party, your digestive tract (and health) will thank you.
“Slow down you’re eating too fast”. Have you ever heard this saying? There is truth in it. Eating too fast and not in a “mindful” state can impair digestion, pack on added calories and lead to weight gain and digestive dysfunction over time. Mindful eating includes focusing on slowly chewing food, paying attention to the details of your food, and eliminating distractions during mealtime. The process of digestion is a complex web of signals from the brain and nervous system to the gut. When you eat from a stressed or distracted place, this can deter digestion as it puts you in a “fight-or-flight” (sympathetic) mode. You can think of sympathetic mode as the gas pedal of a car- you don’t want to be rushing while you’re eating and digesting food. Instead, you want to be in parasympathetic mode, which is similar to the breaks of a car. You want to be stopped and relaxed in order to ensure you fully breakdown and absorb all the nutrients in your food. Additionally, when you’re stressed this can cause the body to block digestion and absorption of nutrients leading to further digestive problems.
Regular exercise is important for maintaining healthy digestion. You can walk for 30 minutes every day for good digestion. In fact, there is research to prove that a good walk post-meal can improve digestion1. One study even showed that the speed of how fast one walked post-meal increased the rate at which the stomach moved food through the digestive tract, which is an important part of good digestion1. Movement can also fight off the stress that impairs digestive performance because exercise is a natural stress reliever. Another benefit is that walking post-meal improves blood sugar regulation and lowers blood sugar.
1. Franke et al., 2008: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18392240
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