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Holiday Eating

Thanksgiving is a time to give thanks for a bountiful harvest. It is also a time for eating a huge feast in celebration, which means the table will be filled with lots of delicious food and tempting treats. And we all know what follows after a great Thanksgiving feast – overly full bellies and sleepiness! Most people accept that this is how you should feel after a holiday feast (stuffed to the brim and in need of a nap). After all, isn’t it tradition to feel this way? There is a way to enjoy your holiday meal without the need for a buffet belt and a nap. Let me share some holiday dinner survival tips with you.

Before I get in to the tips, it is important for you to understand a little bit about the digestive process first. Our stomach needs to create hydrochloric acid (aka, stomach acid or HCl) so that we can break down and digest our food when we eat. If we are eating in a hurry, not chewing our food thoroughly, or are eating during a moment of heightened stress, our stomach is not able to make enough HCl to digest the food. This means our digestion is going to take longer and require more energy from the body. This is one of the reasons we feel tired after a heavy meal. If the food cannot be properly digested, it is passed through to the small intestine for further processing in its undigested format. This food now becomes an irritant causing inflammation and allows bacteria or yeast to ferment the undigested food, resulting in the uncomfortable symptoms we experience such as bloating and gas. Additionally, the bacteria and yeast start to overgrow leading to ongoing digestive problems. So how can you improve digestion?

  1. Chew your food very thoroughly. Mom had it right when she told us not to eat so fast, or talk with food in our mouths. We often forget that our teeth are an important part of our digestive process, so by chewing our food up very well there is less work for our stomach to do, which means the body can put more energy towards other activities, and less towards digesting a big meal. This is especially important if you have low stomach acid. Protein (such as meat and poultry) needs an acidic environment for digestion, so the smaller the pieces of protein, the easier it is for your HCl to digest it. Another important reason to chew your food thoroughly is that digestive enzymes are released in our mouth that help breakdown carbohydrates. Ideally, carbohydrate foods should mostly be digested (and broken down by chewing) before you swallow them down to your stomach. I recommend aiming for 20-30 chews before you swallow. While counting your chews may seem mechanical, it is one way to be mindful about your eating and to help train yourself to slow down and chew your food more thoroughly.
  1. Focus on your food. As much as possible it is best for you to focus only on eating without any distractions such a reading a book or newspaper, watching tv, surfing the net, or having a conversation. Any activity we do while eating distracts us from paying attention to the messages our body sends. This is one of the reasons that people tend to eat more food than what their body needs. It is only later when we get that full, bloated feeling that we realized we have eaten too much. As soon as you feel full it is important to stop eating. Even if you have some food leftover, just put it aside until you feel hungry again. This full feeling is a sign from the body that you’ve met your food requirements. Eating past this full feeling is when our body feels it needs to over compensate with HCl production, giving us that sensation of heartburn or acid reflux later on. At a holiday dinner it may be hard not to have a conversation while eating, so make sure you talk in between chewing your food.
  1. Avoid drinking with meals. Although it may be common to have a glass of wine or water with your meal, the truth is that when you drink liquids while eating the liquid dilutes the acid in your stomach making it less effective for digestion. You will notice the biggest difference in your digestion if you drink 20 minutes before your meal, or wait 1 hour after the meal. If you need a drink during dinner, you can take small sips of your drink. However, the longer you wait to have a drink after you have eaten, the more efficient your digestion will be. This is the tip that my patients find the most helpful. Many have noticed that they don’t feel quite as tired, bloated and, lethargic if they don’t drink liquids with their meals.
  1. Keep apple cider vinegar on hand. Lastly, if you’ve followed all of these tips and you still feel uncomfortably stuffed, there is one thing you can do for quick relief. Take 1 tablespoon of apple cider vinegar in a very small glass of water – like a shot of water. This will help add acidity to your stomach so that you can digest your meal quicker.   You should notice a difference in about 10 minutes. But a quick warning, if you have an ulcer or have ever experienced a burning sensation in your stomach, do not use this method.

Wishing you and yours a very happy and healthy holiday.

Submitted by Michelle C. Heighington B.A., RNCP ROHP
Registered Holistic Nutritionist at Greystones Health