Healthy Living

Keep your digestive system happy this holiday season

The holidays give you a free pass for carefree eating. It’s time for merriment, right?

Plus, you deserve all that tasty food after hours spent preparing it, not to mention buying gifts and coordinating friends and family.

But embracing the season with gustatory abandon can leave you feeling weighed down and uncomfortable. Instead, follow some simple tips to keep your insides humming – without missing out on the delicious stuff.

“We aren’t what we eat,” says Elisa Haggarty, a functional nutritionist in New York City and the founder of Culinary Farmacy. “We are what our bodies can do with what we eat.”

Breathe like you mean it

Yes, you’re already breathing – but do it more slowly. Take several full breaths before you eat, and keep that relaxed pace going through your final morsel.

Deep breathing activates your parasympathetic nervous system, also known as the “rest and digest” system. It increases your digestive juices and relaxes your gastrointestinal tract, along with your muscles and heart.

If you’re tense and taking shallow breaths, your sympathetic nervous system – the “fight or flight” system – has the upper hand. Your body can’t easily digest anything when it’s gearing up to run away or do battle.

If you’re bouncing a knee while seated or your shoulders are cradling your ears, “fight or flight” is winning. Breathe deeply for longer than a few breaths in order to relax (several minutes is good).

Take it slow

Spend as long as you can eating your meal. That can be tough this time of year.

“People bring a ton of anxiety and stress, from financial to having to meet up with family members they maybe haven’t seen all year,” Haggarty says. “They forget to chew their food. They don’t even smell their food.”

Here’s a tool to help you slow down: Inhale the aroma wafting up from your plate.

Smelling your food helps your body release saliva, which has enzymes that break down starches. Saliva also moistens food so it can get to your stomach more efficiently.

Then chew slowly and thoroughly. It’s easier for your body to digest food when it’s in small pieces.

Balance it out

Good rule of thumb: Fat takes a long time to digest. Unless you want to feel like a lump, be reasonable about how much of it you eat.

Meanwhile, fiber helps move fatty grub (and grub in general) from your stomach through your intestines. Leafy greens and non-starchy vegetables are standouts for this task. Fruit and whole grains work too.

Keep in mind: Nuts and seeds have both fiber and fat – the kind that’s good for you – so they’re a smarter bet than, say, butter or gravy, but don’t go overboard.

Drink some water

Water helps with digestion, in particular if you drink it about 30 minutes before and 30 minutes after you eat.

Walk it off

Take a gentle walk or do light physical activity about 15 minutes after you eat. Nutrition and fitness experts both say it helps with digestion.

Get extra help if you need it

If you feel bloated, eat something fermented like sauerkraut, pickles or yogurt. They have probiotics (good bacteria) and have been associated with improved digestion.

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