Your Guide to Healing Your Gut Post-Holiday Season
Between creamy eggnog, carb-heavy stuffing, decadent desserts, and lots and lots of booze, you might expect to have a stomachache well into January.
"Most people deal with gut issues during the holiday season because they're eating foods that are altering their digestion for extended periods of time," says Erin Judge, a registered dietitian nutritionist and digestive specialist in Nashville, Tennessee. "They're also likely not sticking to their typical routines because of social events, busier work schedules, and travel."
Here's the thing: The gut loves routine and digestion is heavily influenced by how well we establish and stick to patterns. Since you're not exercising as often, sleeping less, eating at different times than usual, traveling more, and not staying as hydrated, your microbiome suffers.
What's more, you're eating less fiber (which our good gut bacteria feeds on; here's exactly how much fiber you need) and more high-lactose dairy, cruciferous vegetables, wheat, alcohol, and sugar—all serious enemies of your microbiome.
"The biggest complaints I get during the holiday season is bloating and constipation, so much so that many people feel uncomfortable in their clothes and think they've gained weight," says Judge. Depending on what you're indulging in, a lot of women also report acid reflux, indigestion, heartburn, and diarrhea this time of year, adds Inna Lukyanovsky, PharmD, functional medicine practitioner and author of Digestive Reset.
The good news is that all of these are the direct result of diet and stress—which means they're controllable.
Now, let's be real...you're going to have five too many sweets at the office cookie swap and we'd never ask you to forgo your annual glass of eggnog. After all, a lot of why we overindulge this time of year is because, well, it only happens once a year. (Related: How to Bounce Back From a Food Hangover)
But there are ways you can minimize the digestive destruction without giving up all your holiday happiness. Here, the best ways to help your microbiome balance out this season.
7 Steps to Help Your Gut Recover After the Holidays
1. Manage your stress.
Stress is one of the biggest factors in your gut health, says Kelsey Kinney, R.D., a New York-based nutritionist who focuses on digestive health. It can wreck the balance of your microbiome and may exacerbate gastrointestinal symptoms. (Learn more about how your mental health can make a mess of your GI tract.) This is a huge factor during the holidays when you're dealing with work deadlines, hectic travel, and bickering families. Incorporating stress management techniques like meditation or deep breathing daily during the holidays can help mitigate some of the damage, says Kinney.
2. Mark your calendar with on/off days.
"It's very important not to beat yourself up after overindulging and overeating—that extra stress won't help anything, including your digestion," says Lukyanovsky. Look ahead at your schedule and mark the days filled with holiday parties and gift swaps as passes in terms of overindulging (after all, it's inevitable). Then, stick to your regular, healthy meal plans on the days in between—changes in your eating can shift your microbiome very quickly, so getting your diet back on track ASAP is well worth the effort and you might feel better after just a few days of eating well, says Kinney.
3. If you're drinking, stick to wine.
Ideally, you want to reach for good ole' water as often as possible since any alcohol will increase the inflammation in your body. Realistically, though, if you're going to imbibe, your strategy is simply to choose the lesser evil. Limit the eggnog. "Many people are intolerant to dairy and don't know it," says Lukyanovsky. And all the carbonation in cocktails and sparkling waters can exacerbate bloating, adds Judge. Wine is your best bet, but enjoy your vino plain—the mulled variety is often loaded with sugary additives. (ICYMI, here's the definitive truth about red wine benefits.)
4. Practice intermittent fasting.
"Our gut microbiome loves the time to rest and recover so it can concentrate on growing anti-inflammatory species," says Lukyanovsky. After a day of indulgence, try fasting for 16 hours, feeding for eight. This intermittent fasting reset will help your system recover and reduce inflammation, she says.
5. Eat more fiber.
Make the most out of small gaps between holiday parties and festive meals by eating more fiber, says Judge. "Your beneficial gut bacteria feed on fiber, so when you decrease it, they don't flourish, which can then add to the digestive issues you may be experiencing from other food choices," she explains. A simple salad with romaine hearts, chopped carrots and cucumber, rotisserie chicken, vinaigrette dressing, and pumpkin seeds, or a buddha bowl with brown rice, chickpeas, sauteed bell peppers and mushrooms, steamed kale, and a tahini drizzle—adding whole grains, vegetables, fruits, nuts, and seeds to whatever meals you can will help fuel that good bacteria in your gut. (Whoa, could your gut bacteria be making you tired?)
6. Stock up on supplements.
Digestive enzymes taken before a big meal can help reduce gas and bloating, milk thistle taken after eating supports the liver's filtering processes, and chewable DGL (Deglycyrrhizinated licorice, often recommended to combat acid reflux symptoms) can ease indigestion and heartburn, says Lukyanovsky. Judge also recommends a soluble fiber supplement to feed beneficial bacteria and support digestion as well as peppermint oil capsules post-meal to relieve symptoms. (Related: 10 Genius Ways to Use Essential Oils During the Holidays)
7. Walk it off.
"You don't have to exercise for 60 minutes a day, but if you can incorporate intentional movement during your day, you'll support healthy digestion," says Judge. After large meals (or any that make you feel bloated and gassy), try one of these top three exercises after eating just a bit too much to help relieve the symptoms.