You may have run a tight ship the rest of the year, but come yuletide cheer the whole shebang falls apart. Bring on the eggnog, the sugar cookies, the cocktails with friends. Bring on the deep fried macaroni balls. But note to self: All the extra noshing adds up. Studies show that the average American gains 1 to 2 pounds during the holiday season—and those pounds rarely come off. The holidays don’t only play havoc with your waistline. The rich food, late nights and lack of exercise make it a taxing time for your digestion.
Vitacost spoke with Michelle Cardel, Ph. D, R.D., a nutrition and obesity researcher and registered dietitian at the University of Colorado Anschutz Health and Wellness Center at the Anschutz Medical Campus in Aurora, Colorado for some tips on how to make things right with your stomach when you’ve played it too loose and fast.
1. Take a walk
Taking even a short walk aids digestion, says Cardel. Walking speeds the rate at which food moves through the stomach.
2. Use smaller plates
Instead of filling up a dinner plate, try filling up a salad plate instead. It tricks the brain into thinking it’s full. Cardel says studies show people tend to eat 30 percent less using a smaller plate.
3. Bring your own veggies
If you are invited to a potluck, bring a festive plate of veggies to make sure that there is healthy fare an option. That way you have no excuse for not getting your daily portion of vegetables in.
4. Have a snack beforehand
A snack before a party, especially one that has a bit of protein (think yogurt) ensures you don’t come to a party too hungry for your own good. People who skip meals on the day of a party to “bank” calories for later on, says Cardel, tend to arrive at the party ravenous, ready to eat everything in sight.
5. Load up on salad first
Filling up on fiber- and water-rich foods first helps prevent you from overdosing on high-calorie fare later. A study out of Penn State suggests eating a first-course salad can reduce overall calorie intake at a meal by up to 12 percent.
6. Tune into satiety cues
Despite what you have been taught about finishing everything on your plate, give yourself a free pass to stop eating when you feel full.
7. A spoonful of ginger
A spoonful of fresh grated ginger can do wonders for indigestion and nausea. You can also dilute the ginger with some hot water and make it into a tea for the same effect.
8. Stay hydrated
Water keeps the food you eat moving along through your intestines and keeps your intestines lubricated and smooth. Dehydration is the No. 1 culprit behind chronic constipation.
9. Go heavy on the probiotics
Having plenty of good bacteria in your gut flora strengthens digestion and helps with tummy troubles of all kinds says Cardel. Plain yogurt, kombucha, fermented and pickled foods, or a good probiotic supplement can boost your digestion and even your immune system.
10. Don’t eat late at night
Eaten late at night, greasy foods and red meat put your digestion into overdrive and tend to sit in your stomach all night, disrupting sleep and making you feel sluggish in the morning. People who suffer from gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) especially should stop eating two-three hours before bedtime.
11. Get enough sleep
Surprisingly, not getting enough sleep can make you put on weight. It messes with your satiety hormones, ghrelin and leptin, says Cardel. When those hormones get out of whack, you are more susceptible to chowing down with abandonment.
12. Go easy on the spirits
Even though alcohol may make you fall asleep easier, the sleep quality is significantly poorer, says Cardel. As mentioned above, lack of sleep has a direct connection with your hormones in charge of hunger and satiety. Imbibing too much to drink can also decrease your food inhibitions, leading to gastrointestinal remorse.