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It’s the most wonderful time of the year! After a challenging 2020, we are ready to celebrate with our friends and family (where possible), enjoy delicious food, exchange gifts and delight in the excitement that Santa brings to the children in our lives. We want to feel our best whilst indulging in the holiday festivities, so dealing with a bloated belly is the last thing on our Christmas lists. Heavy Christmas foods, alcohol, stress, and more time spent sedentary indoors can each impact our gut health and contribute to sluggish, bloated bellies.
Our gut health is very important for our overall health and wellbeing. Learn more about this topic by reading Gut health – all you need to know. In this article, I explain more about the causes of bloating and offer some easy top tips on how to keep our gut healthy over the holidays. Soon your bloated belly will be the Ghost of Christmas Past!
We can avoid Christmas belly bloat and sluggish bowels by promoting regular bowel movements and minimising excessive gas production by our gut bacteria. This can be achieved by keeping hydrated, nourishing our gut microbiome, managing stress, keeping active and prioritising good quality rest. However, this approach requires daily consideration and won’t work instantaneously.
A common question we are asked is what to do when you overeat and feel bloated in the immediate aftermath, to get your tummy back to normal. Although it usually takes a few hours for your digestive system to break down a heavy meal, there are a few solutions to enable this process to work as smoothly as possible.
This time of year, when the weather is cold and wet and the days are short and dark, we are drawn toward a more restful, comforting lifestyle. Spending more time being sedentary at home and restricting our movements can make our digestion more sluggish than normal. The typical hearty, heavy foods we indulge in around Christmas also contribute to bloated bellies. The pressure we feel at this time of year trying to accommodate family and friends and make Christmas extra special can take a toll on our gut health, never mind the additional unique stress that COVID-19 now brings to our holiday plans. Altogether, these factors can lead to feeling bloated over Christmas. You can read more about stress & bloating in our article: Stress & Bloating.
Our diet plays a particularly important role. The best loved Christmas foods like mince pies, Christmas cake, chocolates and turkey dinners are high in fat, refined carbohydrates and sugar. Many people have difficulty breaking down such heavy foods. Our gut bacteria can ferment this semi-digested food as it passes through our gut, producing excessive amounts of gas which can lead to bloating. High-fat foods can also slow down our gut motility, giving the bacteria more opportunity to ferment and produce gas. Foods high in sugar allow unfavourable bacteria and yeasts to thrive in the gut which can exacerbate bloating. Seasonal vegetables such as Brussels sprouts have developed a reputation for being gassy foods due to their high sulphur content. Bear in mind that alcohol, another Christmas favourite, can be dehydrating and can negatively affect our digestion and gut bacteria, contributing to acid reflux, upset stomachs and altered bowel patterns.
Here are my seven top tips for keeping bloating to a minimum over the Christmas period:
It can be easy to forget about having a simple glass of water during the holidays when there are so many other tasty drinks on offer. Aim to have at least 8 glasses of water per day. You need plenty of water for proper digestion, regular bowel movements and healthy skin, each of which play an important role in feeling well day-to-day over Christmas.
A high-quality probiotic supplement with specific strains researched for their effects on bloating can help keep our digestion happy over Christmas. Digestive enzymes in probiotics can help us to break down our food more effectively. Probiotic strains such as Bifidobacterium bifidum Rosell-71 contain an enzyme that breaks down starch, and Lactococcus lactis Rosell-1058, Lactobacillus acidophilus Rosell-52 and Lactobacillus casei Rosell-215 contain enzymes which break down lactose, the sugar in milk and dairy products.
Prebiotics, the natural fibres that feed our friendly gut bacteria, can support the growth of our own natural gut bacteria and the probiotic bacteria from our live culture supplement. The combination of both prebiotics and probiotics in one supplement is a great option to get the best of both worlds. Learn more on this topic by reading What are prebiotics?
Christmas is a time to relax and put our feet up. However, your body will thank you for some gentle daily movement such as a twenty-minute walk or following a yoga video from your living room. Exercise can help our digestion and keep our bowels regular, which will help keep excessive gas production and bloating to a minimum.
Lots of people enjoy a few tipples over Christmas. To enjoy your alcohol beverages whilst limiting the undesirable side effects, keep in mind the following:
Heavy, carbohydrate-dense foods, alcohol, stress and lack of exercise during the Christmas can make it harder to get a good night's sleep. Getting good quality rest can keep our gut healthy and less likely to have a bloated Christmas belly. If we are well rested, we are more likely to go for that walk and less likely to choose ‘empty-calorie’ foods to fuel us. Sleep also directly influences the health of our gut bacteria2, keeping our gut microbiome in balance. Keep these tips in mind when settling down for the night:
Having a glass of warm water first thing in the morning with a squeeze of lemon juice is a traditional Ayurvedic practice. It can really help you get your day started on the right foot. The acidity of the lemon and the warm water gets our gut moving and encourages a bowel movement first thing in the morning, keeping us regular and reducing the likelihood of bloating.
We all love a hearty Christmas dinner, but sometimes we may eat too much and feel uncomfortably full after our meal. Consider taking your time with your food and paying attention when you notice that you are starting to feel full. Give yourself a little while to digest and come back to the rest of your meal when you are ready to eat and enjoy it again. This can help to keep our digestive system from being overwhelmed and allow us to digest our food as thoroughly and efficiently as possible.
Some people can become concerned if they continue to feel bloated after Christmas. If your bloating continues longer than normal or is accompanied with other issues like change in bowel pattern or abdominal pain, consider contacting your doctor. Prolonged bloating could be a symptom of an underlying issue, like Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) or a food intolerance. To learn more about IBS, you may like to read Which probiotics are for IBS?
Finally, and most importantly, have fun and enjoy the festivities! You can still have a great time even when keeping these simple tips in mind. Enjoying the holidays with those we love, sharing the preparation of food and eating together, is an important aspect of your overall health and wellbeing during Christmas.
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