Christmas is almost here! You have decorated the tree, you have done all your shopping already (well done you! I will be doing mine at the very last minute as usual!) and you might have already been tempted by the various festive foods and sweets out there. The supermarket aisles have been packed with loads of decadent foods for weeks now, and yes, I hear you say that it’s all tasty and it’s Christmas and all the rest, but the truth is that these foods can truly irritate your digestive system as well as sabotaging your healthy eating habits.
As a result of overindulging, many people end up struggling with bloating, trapped wind, acid reflux, abdominal pain, constipation and diarrhoea. If you suffer from IBS you might be noticing that your symptoms flare up during the holidays which can make you feel more stressed and anxious. This is a time when stress is already a big factor as families get together, kids are off school and you might be juggling many things to make sure it all runs smoothly on Christmas day.
So, what can you do to make sure that at least your tummy won’t play up? No worries, I won’t ask you to stay at home and avoid all the parties and the fun. However, I don’t think Christmas should be an excuse to eat loads of unhealthy food and then feel unwell because of it.
Here you are my 5 top tips to beat the Christmas bloat:
Watch those sprouts.
I am officially giving you a great excuse to avoid eating Brussels sprouts this Christmas. For those of you who like them, did you know that you can eat them even before and after the holidays? And for those of you who don’t (I am with you) why bother? Do you end up eating them just because it’s a tradition? Sorry but it makes me laugh when I see people loading their trolleys with them just at Christmas.
Back to the bloating, those little devils together with other cruciferous vegetables (like cabbage, cauliflower and broccoli, which I love by the way!), beans, lentils and anything too rich in onions and garlic can give you bloating. They contain FODMAPs (fermentable oligo-di-mono-saccharides and polyols) which are carbohydrates that escape digestion and get fermented by gut bacteria in the colon, causing gas. If you are used to eating them already, then you won’t not be affected, but if you aren’t, then please go easy with them or you will end up with a belly like Santa.
Say hello to probiotics.
Overeating can lead to an imbalance of gut flora and encourage tummy upsets. Support your gut with foods which contain live bacteria like plain unsweetened yogurt or kefir. To boost the levels of beneficial bacteria in the gut, you can also take a multi-strain probiotic supplement daily during this time of year. In this way, you will be doing your immune system a favour too as well as keeping any IBS symptoms in check.
Eating too quickly can cause you to swallow a lot of air, worsening the bloated feeling you might get after meals. When you eat rapidly, you also don’t savour your food properly and you end up eating more than you should which is never advisable. So, always eat sitting down and take time to chew your food properly. Remember, your stomach doesn’t have teeth!
Hydrate, hydrate and hydrate.
Unfortunately I am not talking about drinking wine, spirits or any fizzy drinks which you are inevitably going to be offered at parties. I am also not going to play the bad cop and recommend you stay away from alcohol completely. Be mindful with your drinks and alternate every alcoholic drink with a glass of water.
When you are not partying, drink plenty of filtered water and herbal teas to keep warm and hydrated. The best options to calm and support the digestion are: fennel, ginger, peppermint, liquorice and cardamom. You can also chew on some fennel seeds after a meal. This is a delicious traditional Indian method which works well at promoting digestion.
Sweat it out
If you end up overindulging with food and drink, then try to stick to your exercise routine as much as possible. If you are not able to get yourself down the gym, go for a brisk walk or a jog instead. Light exercise will still carry oxygen to your digestive tract and move everything through you faster. Exercise is also a great stress buster which is a bonus.
And finally, do enjoy the festive spirit. Focus on slowing down instead of worrying too much about what you should or should not eat. Provided you go back to your healthy eating and exercise routine when the holidays are over, you really have nothing to fear.
May I wish you all a Merry Christmas and a New Year full of health and well-being!