And so it begins…
As it marks the beginning of the holiday madness, it also marks the season’s assault on your health.
Without a doubt, you will find yourself bargain shopping, making trips to the post office, losing sleep over travel plans, or prepping your house for guests and holiday parties — but mostly binging on holiday meals, leftovers, sweets, and booze.
The five weeks or so between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day provide us with some of the worst healthy eating scenarios for the whole year.
In fact, the Calorie Control Council reports the average American may consume more than 4,500 calories during holiday gatherings or parties. Roughly 3,000 of these calories are from the meal and 1,500 from snacking on appetizers and drinks before the main course. 1
I am not big on calorie counting. But considering most folk’s daily average intake hovers around 2,000 calories per day, these figures are pretty… well… gastronomical!
If this was for just one, or even two days during the holiday stretch, it wouldn’t be as troublesome to your health. (I think Thanksgiving should be your “dietary mulligan” for the year.)
But let’s be honest here — most of us do this at least five-ten times during the season.
What makes it riskier — our food supply is so riddled with GMOs, chemicals, artificial flavors, and refined sweeteners. It’s hard to know what you are actually putting in your body when you’re grazing in so many holiday pastures.
When there isn’t an actual holiday, there are leftovers, office parties, neighborhood gatherings, “Friendsgiving”, and, of course, the shuffling between in-laws and other family members.
Obviously, you don’t want the extra pounds that come along with holiday gorging. But, there is another issue here — indigestion.
Treating indigestion with over-the-counter tablets and chews aren’t always the healthiest choice either. In addition to artificial flavors and colors, they contain some dangerous ingredients.
Most chews contain calcium carbonate. Excessive use over a long period of time can result in too much calcium in the blood. Elevated calcium levels may cause kidney damage.2
Fruit flavored case of kidney damage for dessert? Anyone?
Aluminum is another common ingredient used for OTC antacids. Aluminum salts can cause constipation. That’s a rather uncomfortable regardless of your gastric status, but particularly painful when you are already experiencing bloating and fullness.2
The good news is there are simple and natural home remedies and one easy trick to combat indigestion. Some of these might already be in your pantry.
First, you should know what indigestion is doing to your body.
Pass the Heartburn, Acid Reflux, and Cancer, Please
Have you ever put on your jeans after a night of stuffing your face with fried foods, sweets, and alcohol and felt like a sausage?
“Sausage jeans” is always a reality for me this time of year and it’s the worst feeling.
Beyond how uncomfortable buttoning them up can be, finding that your normally well-fitting jeans are now snug is alarming.
Bloating is to blame here. It’s just one of the symptoms of indigestion. We will get to the others in a bit.
Bloating happens when you overeat fatty foods (think deep fried turkey). Fat, unlike carbs and proteins, takes a long time to digest. As do foods like beans, dairy and sweeteners. All of these can cause feelings of fullness discomfort.
Gas also contributes to bloating. Things like drinking through a straw, eating fast, and drinking carbonated beverages can increase bloating in the stomach.3
But indigestion has more to offer…
Other symptoms include pain in the upper stomach and chest, as well as heartburn and acid reflux.
Heartburn and acid reflux occur when acid is regurgitated into the mouth and causes you to feel burning in your chest. (Neither has anything to do with your heart.)
Like bloating, over-indulging in fatty foods and alcohol triggers acid reflux and heartburn. Spicy foods and tobacco products can increase your chances as well.4
Chronic heartburn and acid reflux can lead to bigger health issues when it’s frequent (more than twice a week). They maybe a symptoms of gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD).
GERD is chronic form of acid reflux that may cause swelling in the esophagus and a lot of pain. When left untreated, GERD can cause ulcers and bleeding.
GERD can even change the cells of the esophagus. This condition is Barrett’s esophagus and increases your chances of esophageal cancer.5
You may have already experienced some of these symptoms, as the most common denominator here is overeating. And if your fridge is full of leftovers from yesterday’s bounty, it will likely happen again.
While it’s important to avoid trigger foods and to keep alcohol consumption and your portions in check, there are a few remedies that are helpful if overeating and indigestion happen to you– some of them may already be in your cabinets.
Extinguish the Holiday Burn
Baking soda: Baking soda is an alkaline substance and pH balancer that can help to neutralize acidity in the stomach and lower the chances of stomach contents moving back into the esophagus, reducing the burning feeling caused by acid reflux and heartburn. It’s best taken as a solution. This was my go-to remedy in college, and I can attest that it really does work, especially for acid reflux.
Here’s what to do:
- Mix half a teaspoon with half a glass of water. Let the baking soda totally dissolve.
- Drink the solution. You can do this twice a day. 6
Due to the sodium content, this is not an option for folks with high blood pressure and on certain medications. Check with your doctor if you aren’t sure.
Mustard: Mustard is another alkaline food that can neutralize stomach acid and restore pH balance. At times, giving almost instant relief. Take mustard as soon as you feel the first burning sensation in your throat to ward off a full blown case of heartburn.
Here’s what to do:
- Scoop out a teaspoon of yellow mustard.
- Be brave and take it down straight!
- Chase it with some water if the taste is too pungent for your liking.
Ginger: Ginger can help to reduce nausea, heartburn, acid reflux and bloating. It makes a pleasant after-meal tea to increase healthy digestion. I frequently make a fresh ginger tea after a large meal to help alleviate feelings of fullness.
Here’s what to do:
- Grate one teaspoon of fresh ginger.
- Add the ginger to a cup of boiling water.
- Let cool to a comfortable temperature and drink.
And lastly, an easy trick for better digestion:
Sleep on your left side.
Yep, it’s that easy.
A study in the Journal of Clinical Gastroenterology found sleeping on your right side can aggravate heartburn. While the reason is still not clear, sleeping on your left side decreases it.7
If you aren’t already a side sleeper, this one maybe a challenge. You can try to barricade yourself into a left-side sleeping position using pillows and cushions.
I hope these suggestions help you have a more comfortable holiday season!
If you have any holiday indigestion solutions you would like to share, feel free to write me! firstname.lastname@example.org
Managing editor, Living Well Daily