We have all been there: that moment after a big holiday meal when you lie back and loosen your waistband and curse that extra helping of (fill in the blank): your mom’s creamy mashed potatoes, Aunt Nancy’s macaroni and cheese, or Grandma’s pumpkin pie.
Bloating! Stomach pain! Heartburn! Drowsiness!
“While it’s not a great idea to stuff yourself, your body can handle the occasional big meal if you are generally healthy,” says Emily Hill, nurse practitioner at WellSpan Digestive Health. “There are things you can do to feel better afterward. Spoiler alert: Having more pie is not on that list.”
Here’s some facts to consider about the holiday meal:
- Average calorie intake for a holiday meal: 3,000, according to the Calorie Control Council.
- Average time a meal is in your stomach: two to five hours, according to the National Institutes of Health (NIH).
- Average time a meal takes to pass through your entire digestive system: anywhere between 10 and 73 hours, according to the NIH.
- Average share of people who hate cranberry sauce: 31% (the number-one most hated Thanksgiving food followed by – surprise! – turkey at 29%, and green bean casserole at 28%), according to a survey by The Vacationer, a travel site.
So, you ate too much of everything – except cranberry sauce. Now what?
Don’t take that bloat lying down. Standing up or moving around (more on that next) helps gravity shift the big meal through your digestive system. Lying down may result in all of that food bulging back into your esophagus, causing heartburn or acid reflux.
“It’s tempting but don’t take a nap,” Hill says. “That makes everything slow down, just prolonging the discomfort.”
Take a nice walk
If you’re feeling guilty after eating a big meal, there is no need to break out the running shoes and hit the road for a 10-mile turkey trot or suggest a game of family touch football (those are great before the big meal, however!).
Instead, consider a walk around the block or neighborhood with your family to speed up digestion, Hill suggests. The fresh air and exercise will be a boost to your mental health as well, giving you some extra pep to help family members tackle the big pile of dishes waiting in the kitchen.
As your body works on digesting that big meal – particularly when it reaches the large intestine – it needs plenty of fluid to make everything progress smoothly down the line. This doesn’t mean just gulping down a big glass of water right after you eat.
“Drink plenty of water before, during and after that big meal,” Hill says. “Studies have shown that drinking water before meals leads to consuming fewer calories, likely because it makes you feel full.”
For that upset belly after eating, try some fluid in the form of a nice cup of tea – ginger or peppermint can offer a little digestive relief.
Resolve to do better the next time
The day after Thanksgiving, when that feeling of being stuffed to the gills is still a recent memory, is a good time to think about how to navigate the next round of holiday meals.
Hill offers a few tips for the next time:
- Don’t skip breakfast. Eat a morning meal so you are not super hungry when you get to the table.
- Choose smaller portions and focus on the foods you really enjoy. Skip the green bean casserole if you don’t really like it.
- Take small bites.
- Chew slowly.
- Go light on alcohol. Sip water instead during the meal.
- Savor the food AND the company.
- Listen to your body and stop when you feel full.
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