One of the many things we look forward to at the holidays is all the great holiday foods, but for the most part these traditional food treats don’t fall into the healthy eating category. Between family dinners, holiday parties, community potlucks and grabbing fast food while traveling, there is lots of extra food around. Besides most of these holiday treats containing lots of sugar, fats and simple carbs, we also tend to overeat at holiday time. It’s no wonder many of us enter the new year a few pounds heavier. And overeating can leave us miserable at the time too with heartburn, stomach cramping, diarrhea or constipation, and feeling heavy and bloated. Overeating puts pressure on the esophageal sphincter which is the muscle that is supposed to keep your food in the digestive areas, but when stuffed, food and acid are able to come back up resulting in heartburn or reflux. Just eating too much also puts added stress on the whole digestive system slowing it down causing constipation or stomach pain. Then of course there are all the added calories that if not burned off lead to weight gain which in itself can lead to digestive problems and pains. According to University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign professor of nutrition and gastrointestinal physiology, Kelly A. Tappenden, PhD, RD, some foods in particular such as chocolate, coffee, alcohol, mints, and acidic foods are likely to cause acid reflux. Do any of these sound like holiday favorites that you overindulge in? I can think of a great many holiday treats containing these types of foods and with staying up late with family and late night travel, I know coffee is on my list of overindulgences at holiday time.
Part of the problem with holiday eating is that many of the foods are processed, canned and thoroughly cooked which means they don’t have any enzymes working for you. These types of foods can lead to weight gain more readily than healthy foods and raw foods. Tufts University School of Medicine reported research findings that overweight people show a deficiency in the enzyme that digests fat, lipase. It’s not only the foods themselves and how they are prepared that contribute to the weight gain we experience, but the stress of the holidays can also lead to overeating. When we are stressed, our bodies release cortisol which increases appetite and can lead to cravings for these less than healthy foods that are around in abundance at the holidays.
Natural Solutions to Holiday Overeating
Kelly A. Tappenden, PhD, RD, Russell Cohen, MD, and other experts advise planning ahead for the holidays and consciously planning to monitor the eating you do. You don’t have to completely deprive yourself of holiday treats, but you also don’t have to eat everything in sight. Just be aware of how much you indulge and be choosy about what and how much you will eat. Know in advance which parties or dinners you will be attending or what meals you will be eating out while traveling. For traveling it works well to pack some healthy snacks for the road or shop at an organic grocery type store to pick up pre-made meals instead of always eating out at restaurants. For parties and dinners, decide ahead of time how many treats you will allow yourself and stick to that plan. If you are really looking forward to your mom’s homemade pie, then maybe you will skip on the mashed potatoes. Also look for veggies and healthier foods being served amongst all the holiday treats and opt for those when you can. Just exercising some moderation with smaller servings or a bite of several things rather than large scoops of each can help you from putting on too much excess weight and not leave you feeling miserable with digestive complaints after the meal. Some other tips to consider for holiday eating include:
Slow It Down – According to John Clarke, MD, a gastroenterologist and assistant professor at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine in Baltimore, eating slowly can help you avoid the discomforts to your digestive system and it can help keep you from overeating. Your system works better when not stuffed, so spreading out what enters the stomach at one time keeps your digestive system working better and acts as an appetite suppressant. Slow your meal down by taking your time in choosing what dishes you will indulge in, taking the time to chew and savor the taste, and spend some time visiting with others in between bites.
Go Easy on the Alcohol – What you drink during the holidays can be as important as what you eat, so consider it in your planning. Alcohol, soda, and coffee can all cause digestive problems, irritate the stomach and lead to heartburn. Drinking too much alcohol can also affect you mentally and lead you to make poorer choices in selecting foods to eat. Limit your alcohol consumption and be sure to drink plenty of water during the holidays as water will help keep your intestines moving well. If you do end up splurging too much and find yourself with diarrhea, then water is especially important to be drinking to rehydrate yourself.
Avoid Being a Couch Potato – The holidays are typically a time that we not only get off our normal exercise routines, but then we overeat and stretch out on the couch, sit in front of the TV, or go take a nap. If you can’t keep up your regular exercise, then look for ways to get extra movement in. Walk in place while standing in line, take the stairs instead of the elevator, or just do a few jumping jacks when you get up in the morning. And get moving especially after eating a big meal. Get the family to go for a walk with you, walk around the house or neighborhood looking at decorations, or just take the family dog out walking. The main thing is to get your body moving to avoid stomach pain and heartburn from taking over.
Deal with Stress – That walk around the block can also help you deal with the extra stress the holidays tend to bring on and that can cause us to overeat. Stress also can contribute to digestive problems as cited in a study in 2010 that reported stress to be a factor in gastrointestinal disorder symptoms being worse. Russell Cohen, MD, professor of medicine at the Pritzker School of Medicine, advises knowing what conditions tend to stress you out and avoiding them. For example, if crowds are a stressor for you, then avoid going shopping on Black Friday or Christmas Eve, opting for online sales or Cyber Monday shopping instead. Make sure you plan time to get enough sleep too as lack of sleep can contribute to stress. Working in short periods of meditation or silent sitting and deep breathing can also help you in dealing with stress.
Eat Your Algae – Don’t forget if you are traveling to pack your algae and digestive enzymes and eat them during the holidays. AFA bluegreen algae has amino acids that activate enzymes as well as minerals, vitamins and lots of great nutrition to offset the holiday foods you will be indulging in. The cholorophyll it contains helps nourish cells and support intestinal functions which means digestive support and reduced food cravings, the extra fiber it contains helps with toxic waste elimination and helps keep fat from being absorbed, a variety of branched-chain amino acids including leucine help metabolize fat, and the amino acids phenylalanine, arginine, and tyrosine help control appetite and reduce food cravings. Instead of having to carry around several bottles of algae, probiotics and enzymes when traveling, go for these convenient daily packets that will make it easy to get all this nutritional and digestive support without the hassle.
Doing some pre-planning for your holidays can help you have a more stress-free and enjoyable time. So take some time to not only plan out what you need to do to get ready for the holidays, but to make a plan for your holiday eating. Take control of your holiday eating by deciding in advance how much and what type of indulging you are comfortable with and that won’t leave you regretting it later. Holidays should be something to look forward to; not dread thinking about weight gain. Just remember some of these holiday eating tips and commit to following the ones that are a fit for you.
Abrams, Karl J., Algae to the Rescue!