Thanksgiving is upon us in a few days and it begins that time of year when our days and nights seem to revolve around friends, family, parties—and of course, food!
For many of us, Thanksgiving is the Superbowl of overeating. We stuff our stomachs with savory meals, snacks, rich desserts and calorie-dense drinks as though we were Tom the Turkey.
Thanksgiving may not seem so joyful when it aggravates preexisting digestive conditions such as gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) and irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). Here are some tips to help you enjoy a healthy holiday without having hell to pay on Black Friday.
- Reduce stress. A whirlwind schedule of preparing for guests and traveling to multiple events—can make the Thanksgiving very stressful. There’s a solid connection between stress and illness: The holiday season from Thanksgiving to New Year’s is the time of the year when people are most vulnerable to heart attacks and depression, for example. Stress promotes higher cortisol levels, which have been linked to weight gain. And stress can also play a huge role in many digestive problems, particularly GERD and IBS. Stress also creates imbalances in your gut microbiome and fosters the growth of communities of bacteria that favor weight gain and promotes digestive discord.
Research shows that anxiety, depression and stress provoke symptoms in up to 60% of people with IBS, and that stress management tools such as deep breathing, relaxation and hypnosis are helpful. Likewise, GERD has been linked to underlying anxiety and stress is clearly associated with worsened symptomatology. These are reasons to be more cautious of managing holiday stress if you have GERD and or IBS.
First, be realistic about what you can accomplish, rather than being overambitious with stress-provoking activities. I also recommend supplementing with herbs such as ashwagandha, which works as an “adaptogen” by promoting the body’s ability to maintain homeostasis and resist stress. Ashwagandha confers important immune system protection, reduces anxiety and depression without causing drowsiness, and offers anti-inflammatory benefits. Take 500 to 1000 milligrams twice daily, but avoid it if you’re pregnant.
Consider scheduling time for a hot bath with lavender oil and soothing music, or perhaps just a long walk while stargazing or some quiet time watching a movie or reading a book over the weekend. And try to fit in 7 to 8 hours of sleep every night. Sleep is necessary to help combat the stress of the Thanksgiving holiday and helps to fight weight gain.
- Eat in moderation. Perhaps the most challenging aspect of the Thanksgiving holiday weekend is finding healthy food while avoiding holiday favorites that pack on the pounds and cause digestive symptoms to flare. Eaters beware: The average person consumes an estimated 4,500 calories at the Thanksgiving dinner meal.
Rather than let the holiday season get out of control, keep balance, variety, and moderation in your eating habits.
Take your time and try not to eat too fast: Slowing down and eating more mindfully helps prevent overeating. You will feel full much sooner than if you will if you race through your meals.
Remember, it takes your brain 20 minutes to realize that your stomach is full. Don’t arrive to the holiday meal hungry!
Think about eating a good breakfast loaded with gut microbiome-balancing and satiating fiber Thanksgiving morning to help prevent being too hungry at dinner. Add a dash of cinnamon to your high-fiber breakfast cereal to improve satiation and balance your blood sugar.
Enjoy but be sensible-you can make healthy food choices while still enjoying a festive holiday. Favor lean protein sources such as turkey, which is high in immune-boosting zinc and tryptophan, an amino acid that helps combat anxiety and depression.
Cranberries are high in vitamin C, antioxidants as one cup of whole cranberries has 8,983 total antioxidant capacity. When it comes to choosing a cranberry sauce consider whole cranberries which have less of a glycemic impact than jellied cranberry sauce.
Thanksgiving dinners have health boosting fiber-rich superfood traditional options such as Brussels sprouts, broccoli, squash, sweet potatoes. Wild whole grain rice or quinoa is a nice option for a stuffing recipe. Salad dressings and dips made with fermented milks such as kefir and yogurt introduces fat-fighting friendly bacteria.
When it comes to snacking I am nuts about nuts!
If you’re worried about the high fat content of nuts, don’t be. Yes, they are rich in calories, but they increase your sense of fullness rather easily. In fact, women who consume two or more handfuls of nuts per week have a slightly lower risk of obesity than those who eat nuts less frequently or not at all, according to recent findings from the long-running Nurses’ Health Study at the Harvard School of Public Health.
When it comes to dessert, aside from the pumpkin and pecan pie choose dark chocolate for its cardioprotective and mood-enhancing benefits.
Try to limit gut-wrenching alcoholic drinks, which are calorie rich and keep hydrated with water or club soda with a twist of lemon or lime instead. When choosing teas to serve your guest, think about using spices that help calm the gut and aid digestion such as ginger, fennel, and mint after dinner over caffeinated beverages, which can exacerbate IBS and GERD symptoms. Balancing your food intake will help you stay more in control of your digestion.
Remember, balance, moderation, and variety are keys to an enjoyable Thanksgiving holiday season.
Many who choose to overindulge at the Thanksgiving dinner table compensate by engaging in Turkey-burning workouts. This may be best suited for those who are exercise regularly and are physically fit. If not, choose some activities that you enjoy and get moving to help boost your metabolism, mood, and energy. Ovoid injury by keeping a realistic pace in your routine. Consistence is the key to success.
I hope that these health tips help you enjoy this Thanksgiving holiday.
To your good health,
Dr. Gerry Mullin