Holiday food, parties, and stress can wreak havoc on your GI tract. To the rescue: these constipation cures, which will keep you regular through the new year
‘Tis the season for rich foods, festive parties, and plentiful drinks. But all the merriment can be trouble for your GI tract, which means you may find yourself, well, backed up this time of year. And there’s nothing that can put a damper on your day quite like bloating and stomach pain (don't miss The No. 1 Reason to Check Your No. 2). Here, the top reasons for toilet troubles this time of year, and the simple, M.D.-backed remedies.
This time of year your schedule is jam-packed with parties, travel, and extra to-dos. But while you may be mentally on board with eating, sleeping, and exercising at different times than usual, your bowels probably haven’t quite caught up, causing constipation, says integrative gastroenterologist Robynne Chutkan, M.D. author of Gutbliss. She suggests sticking to your normal schedule as best you can, but always making time for exercise. Even just five to 10 minutes of walking, yoga, or jumping rope can have a stimulant, regulating effect on your GI system.
Another point: You may be eating later than typical. “From a digestive point of view, you should start putting food into your digestive tract when the sun rises and stop when the sun sets, which now is around 5 p.m.,” says Chutkan. Pushing back dinner time a bit won’t matter, but if you’re not even sitting down to eat until 9 p.m., that food will sit in your GI tract all night, which can clog you up.
“Your bowels are all muscle, so in order to have a bowel movement, you need to be relaxed. Otherwise the bowels will stay clenched,” explains Chutkan. As above, a few minutes of exercise can help you get things going. Yoga may be especially helpful because the stretching, breathing-centric poses are relaxing. Or learn more about How to Deal with Stress Around the Holidays.
Besides sugary and high-carb holiday treats, this time of year people are typically eating heartier fare as well, like stews, notes Chutkan. Plus, you’re not eating as much fresh produce, which “acts like Drano for the GI tract, since they’re full of fiber and fluid,” she says. Consider lightening up your favorite winter dishes (these 20 Winter Salad Recipes are a great start), and make sure to fill half of your plate with fruits and veggies at every meal.
“Many over-the-counter remedies like cold and flu medicine can be constipating,” warns Chutkan. That’s because they’re dehydrating—it makes them a godsend when you need to dry out a drippy, runny nose, but it can also suck all the water from your bowels, leading to constipation. Be extra-diligent about hydrating while you’re taking them.
Alcohol is a diruetic, which means it flushes fluid out of your body, says Chutkan. So if you’re drinking more often, you may feel dried out—and backed up—all over. To avoid this, alternate each drink with a glass of water, and sip steadily throughout the day too. (Drinks can pack a lot of calories too. Try one of these Low-Cal Holiday Cocktails instead.)