Christmas can be a wonderful time of year for relaxing and catching up with friends and family. Here in New Zealand I have never been more grateful that Christmas is relatively normal for us this year, despite being in the middle of a global pandemic. My family and friends in the UK and many other parts of the world are not so lucky. I think about them every day.
Even with the best intentions, it can be hard not to overindulge over the festive season which can put extra stress on your digestive system and can leave you feeling sluggish and bloated.
Here are a few survival strategies:
Have a good breakfast that is high in fibre and protein. This helps to stabilise blood sugars which helps to control appetite later in the day, preventing overeating. A protein rich smoothie or eggs are great choices. Eggs are excellent if you have a hangover because they are a rich source of choline which supports liver detoxification. Also, try to have some leafy greens such as spinach or kale with your eggs or in with your smoothie as they are a rich source of folate which also supports the liver and helps the body repair DNA. Adding coconut water to your smoothie is another great idea as it is a natural source of electrolyte minerals that help to rehydrate after the diuretic effects of alcohol.
Eat regular meals throughout the day, trying not to go for more than 3 hours without food. This way you are less likely to fill up on unhealthy snacks.
If you have a social function to go to have a healthy pre-party snack so you don’t turn up hungry and end up filling up on the party snacks. It’s easy to eat a fair amount of nibbles like chips and dips in a short amount of time. Also, try not to sit or stand right next to the nibbles as it is so easy to grab a handful without thinking.
Hot weather and increased alcohol consumption mean you are at risk of dehydration. To keep hydrated aim to drink 30 ml of water for each kg of body weight per day. If going to a social function have a few glasses of water before you arrive. Dehydration can lead to constipation which will make you feel bloated and sluggish.
Be aware of how much you are actually drinking. If I am having wine I like to dilute it with sparkling water to make a white wine spritzer which is lower in alcohol. If it’s a long day of socialising this helps me to not drink so much. Another idea is to alternate alcoholic drinks with water, coconut water, or fruit juice.
Practice mindful eating. Focus on chewing food well, enjoying the smell and taste. Try not to eat when distracted or eat just because the food is there. If we don’t pay attention to what we are eating we can easily overeat. Listen to your body, if you feel full stop eating. There is no need to continue eating if you are not hungry.
When you have had enough to eat chew or a stevia or xylitol chewing gum. The minty freshness in your mouth can act as an appetite suppressant.
Look after your gut
Over the Christmas period, your digestive system (and liver) has to work extra hard breaking down and processing the food we consume and some of the Christmas foods can be very rich and stressful for our digestive system to break down. Typical Christmas foods are high in fat, refined carbohydrates, and sugar which slows down gut motility and many people have difficulty breaking down such heavy foods. In addition, our gut bacteria can ferment this partially digested food as it passes through the gut, producing excess amounts of gas which can lead to bloating.
We can look after our guts by:
Taking a probiotic capsule or consume probiotic rich foods every day to help boost immunity and keep your gut healthy. Some great probiotic rich foods and beverages are fermented vegetables, milk kefir, coconut water kefir, and kombucha. Fermented vegetables such as sauerkraut are easy to make but also can be purchased from most supermarkets now. Bottled Kombucha is now available in most health stores and supermarkets. Probiotics are especially important as foods high in sugar allow the unfavorable bacteria and yeast to thrive in the gut which can make bloating worse. If you have not tried fermented foods such as sauerkraut before start very gradually with 1/4 of a teaspoon and build up allowing your gut to adjust to it. Taking too much at once if you are not used to it can cause bloating and gas.
If you do suffer from bloating, gas, or other digestive issues it is worth taking a Digestive Enzyme supplement with main meals to help you break down and absorb your food better. It is estimated as many as 1 in 3 people have a poor digestive function (although they may not realise it). Digestive Enzymes are naturally produced in our saliva, stomach, and pancreas to help us break down and absorb carbohydrates, fats, proteins, and lactose. As we get older our production of digestive enzymes declines but they can also be very deficient if you have any sort of chronic inflammatory or allergic conditions. So supplementing with digestive enzymes with meals can provide your body with the tools to break down and absorb your foods properly which can help to reduce symptoms such as gas, bloating, constipation, and diarrhoea. One of the main causes of gas is partially digested proteins and carbohydrates from foods putrefying and fermenting in our digestive system which is like a Christmas party for the bad bacteria in our guts who will feed on it and grow!
Try and fast for 12 hours on most days of the week. This isn’t really that hard to do as you have your last food at 7 pm in the evening and don’t eat breakfast until at least 7 am. Giving your digestive system a rest for 12 hours on most days can give your digestive system a chance to heal and repair which can reduce inflammation, improve blood sugar regulation and help your body access more fat to burn as fuel which can aid in weight loss.
Drink a glass of warm water and with the juice from half a lemon first thing in the morning, or before a big meal. This will help boost natural digestion by stimulating stomach acid production and is also great to support liver detoxification.
If you need a quick fix after overindulging the night before the homeopathic remedy Nux Vomica can work wonders. Also if you feel you might have food poisoning activated charcoal can be taken to detoxify bad bacteria and toxins. Activated charcoal binds the toxins and chemicals which helps them to flush out of the body without being reabsorbed. It can be an effective treatment for excess gas and bloating as well. If you do take activated charcoal it is important to drink plenty of water (about 2 litres a day) as the charcoal can cause dehydration.
So these are just a few simple suggestions to help you survive the holiday season so if you combine these suggestions with some regular exercise you can still be able to enjoy yourself without feeling yuck or piling on too much excess weight. You can choose to always select the healthiest foods on offer at events, bring along your own healthy foods if you have to, and choose to fill your plate with as many vegetables as you can with some protein so there is no room for too much else.
If you continue to feel bloated after the Christmas period it is worth contacting a practitioner like myself to work with you to investigate your gut health. Prolonged bloating could be a symptom of an underlying issue such as a leaky gut, bacterial overgrowth, food intolerance, or inflammatory bowel issue.
Have a safe and enjoyable holiday season :)