‘Tis the Season to be Jolly – Digest the facts. #ChewOnThis

Large meals are hard to avoid, especially around this time of year when Christmas functions and get togethers seem to be taking over our calendars.

Surrounded by our families and friends, it may feel nearly impossible to say no to seconds or thirds. The food may be delicious, but the digestive discomfort that follows certainly isn’t.

So why is it that we experience distress after we overeat?

The answer may be found, not only in the content of our meal, but also in the size of the meal we consumed. When we overeat, maybe after going back for second or third helpings, the sheer size of the meal may overfill our stomach and cause it to stretch. Similar to a balloon that’s been filled with too much air; our stomach (when overfilled) may grow larger and stretch thinner than normal. Now, our stomach acid cannot cover and break down the food in the stomach as fast as it normally could. Another problem may be that the demand for digestive enzymes cannot be met.

Digestive enzymes are the most effective tools made by the body to aid digestion. When there is an insufficient quantity of digestive enzymes present in the body to handle the size of the meal we just consumed, some undigested food may pass into the large intestine. Here, in the large intestine, it will be fermented and acted upon by our own inherent bacteria and intestinal flora, producing the gas and bloating we associate with occasional digestive discomfort.

What can you do to help?

Sitting down relaxes the digestive tract so you are less likely to suffer if you eat slowly,  allowing the digestive system to realise when it is full.

  • Leave a gap before you reach for a second helping, as it gives your body a chance to tell you whether it has had enough.
  • A gentle walk after lunch will help to beat bloating and avoid indigestion.
  • Try to avoid indulging late into the evening and then going to bed on a full stomach.
  • Soothing teas such as chamomile, ginger and peppermint aid digestion helping to relax the stomach muscles after a meal.
  • Reduce carbonated drinks as they can worsen the problem as can beans, legumes, cabbage, asparagus, brussel sprouts, onions and artichokes – they may encourage the production of intestinal gas and cause bloating.
  • Fatty rich foods take the longest to digest and so aggravate indigestion and heartburn. Try to choose more of the starchy carbohydrates and lean proteins as they can help to stimulate more bile and improve digestion.
  • Over-indulgence, even in the short term, changes the bacterial composition of the gut, increasing the detrimental bacteria associated with ill-health. A probiotic supplement could help to combat this if taken regularly and in advance.
  • Herbs such as milk thistle and globe artichoke may be beneficial as they rapidly increase liver production of bile to improve digestion.
  • The addition of supplemental digestive enzymes can be our support during those times we give in to large meals. When taken with the first bite of our meal, these supplemental digestive enzymes can be our body’s digestive reinforcements and aid the enzymes already present and produced in our body in breaking down and assimilating our food. This added support may aid in the reduction of digestive discomfort brought on by occasional gas and bloating.

Of course in saying all that, this certainly doesn’t give you free reign to have a third helping of dessert.

Chew your food thoroughly, savour the taste, and indulge in laughter and conversations with your loved ones rather than that extra helping of pav!