5 Ways to Relieve Holiday Digestive Stress

If you're anything like me, you like to really indulge during the holidays with yummy homemade baked goods and drinks. Lots of wine, buttery potato dishes, pies, cheese, and let's not forget the breads. So. Much. Bread. Between Thanksgiving, holiday parties, Christmas, and New Years, there's a good chance we're eating lots of foods that don't exactly make us feel light as a feather the next day. And that's okay! The holidays are meant to be spent with friends and family while sharing your favorite foods and celebrating traditions. But have you noticed that through the month of December your gut seems to be a bit off? Reoccurring symptoms like excessive bloating, gas, stomach aches, sluggishness, slower digestion, cramps, etc. This is not uncommon! It's usually a sign that we ate more than our bodies could digest at once, or that a certain food just isn't sitting right with us. For many of us, these symptoms tend to pop up when we eat excessive dairy, gluten, or sugar.

Your first instinct might be to think, well I guess I shouldn't eat those foods anymore... but let's be real, we want to and we probably will. Luckily there are ways to help give your gut a quick reset the day after going ham on cheesy mashed potatoes and sugar laden treats. Here's 5 things you can try out that I've found to be really effective in helping my gut get back on track!

1. Try fasting

Fasting is a popular topic right now in the health and wellness field, specifically intermittent fasting. There're quite a few different approaches, with some being a 24 hour fast, 16:8 fasting (fast for 16 hours, eat for 8), and even a simple 12 hour fast. There doesn't need to be a strict protocol to follow to reap the benefits! If you've had quite a heavy meal for dinner and are feeling a bit out of whack, give yourself a good 12-14 hour window before your next meal (typically being a late breakfast or early lunch). This window allows your gut to really work on digesting the heavy foods you ate the night before and gives it a break before you try eating your next meal. If we eat dinner and breakfast too close together, it can at times overwhelm our digestive system, throwing everything off and leading to unwanted bloating and gas.

Fasting can help reduce inflammation in the gut, minimize bloating, regulate hunger hormones, and steady blood sugar levels. This gives us time for a bit of a repair and reset to help curb our cravings for junk food! Oftentimes our regular schedules already give us a 12-hour window between dinner and breakfast, so this is a super easy and feasible option for most people. Try bringing breakfast on the go or a light mid-morning snack if you're used to eating before leaving for work. In the meantime, you can sip on herbal tea, water, or black coffee.

2. Begin your day with water

While it might sound redundant and extremely simple, water truly is your best bet for reducing bloat and aiding in digestion. Since most holiday meals tend to be a bit higher in sodium, we need a little bit of extra hydration. And let's not forget how thirsty we are a night after a few glasses of wine. Starting off with water gives your body the fluid it needs to have a proper morning bowel movement. Consider your digestive tract like a river. Without water, not much is going to be moving the direction it needs to, especially if we're eating a decent amount of fiber or had a larger meal than normal the day before. A glass or two of water before your first meal will help you kickstart your day and get things moving! As always, remember to keep drinking water throughout the day. I notice a HUGE reduction in bloat on the days I drink water before and after my meals.

3. Incorporate probiotic rich foods

You've probably heard me mention these foods before, and for good reason! We want to feed our guts with healthy bacteria, especially after going overboard on sugar, dairy or gluten which can often lead to an inflammatory response in the gut (hence the excessive distention, bloating, and stomach pains). I'm not one to tell you never eat sugar, because let's be real there are lots of times I use dark chocolate in my breakfast. Still, I know that an overconsumption of sugar can feed the bad bacteria in our gut, therefore working to maintain a balance is extremely important. If we let our gut reach a state of dysbiosis, which is an imbalance of our gut flora, it can lead to severe and unpleasant symptoms or conditions that are more serious. Probiotic rich foods like kimchi, raw sauerkraut (my favorite brands are Farmhouse Culture, Cleveland Kraut, and Wildbrine), kefir (a fermented yogurt drink with both dairy and nondairy options - my fave is Lifeway brand), cultured yogurts like Stonyfield or Siggi's, raw apple cider vinegar, and GT's kombucha are all items I like to incorporate into my diet to get my daily dose of probiotics. If you have a probiotic capsule that you take every day, you're already one step ahead of the game.

4. Sip on gut healing drinks

If you're sick of kombucha and want something warmer to drink that will still benefit your gut, there's plenty of options for you. Try an organic bone broth, adding powdered collagen peptides to your coffee, peppermint tea, ginger lemon tea, or water mixed with apple cider vinegar and fresh lemon juice. Bone broth, when from a high quality and sustainable source, has tremendous benefits for your gut. Gelatin in bone broth (Bonafide brand is a great one) can protect and heal the mucosal lining of the digestive tract, which ultimately aids in healing leaky gut and encourages the proper digestion of nutrients. Amino acids found both in bone broth and collagen make up the building blocks to your digestive lining, which is pretty darn important for keeping healthy bacteria in and bad bacteria out.

Herbal teas like peppermint and lemon ginger are easy and cheap options that can help with bloat. Peppermint is known to have a relaxation effect on gastrointestinal tissue, and peppermint oil alone has been shown to be effective for IBS. Ginger contains a bioactive compound called gingerol, and is shown to effectively stimulate gastric emptying.

Green tea is also a great gut-friendly option! Catechins, the bioactive compound found in green tea, can help to soothe the gastrointestinal tract and also reduce the gas that causes bloating. Sip on a few of these warm and soothing drinks in the morning before your first meal to help aid in the digestion of your heavy holiday meal.

5. Get moving

Just like how we need water to help things flow through our digestive system, exercise also helps to stimulate movement in the GI tract as well. Notice how after huge big meal you tend to sit or lie down for a while? Your food doesn't seem to really digest too well as opposed to when you're up and moving around. After a huge meal it doesn't make much sense to dive into an intense cardio session, but a brisk 15-minute walk can do your body wonders. Even walking around while shopping counts! Yoga is another great option. It can be extremely effective at reducing stress and anxiety which directly affects our digestive function. Studies also show that exercise promotes the population of good bacteria in the gut as well as encourages microflora diversity. And now that we know that maintaining a balance of healthy bacteria in the gut is so important, this gives you one more reason to get up and after it after a bout of digestive stress!

Remember, almost 80% of our immune system resides within the inner workings of our gut, and 95% of serotonin is produced there as well. So if we don't have a proper balance of the bacteria that keeps us feeling happy and healthy, we lose the ability to be the best versions of ourselves! Work some of these easy steps into your daily routine, and you'll be on your way to feeling back on track in no time.