On Thanksgiving Day, overindulgence is often part of the holiday ritual, and usually accompanied by a side of indigestion or heartburn. There are several measures you can take to help your body properly digest your holiday feast.
Dr. Ira Mayer, Director of Gastroenterology at Maimonides, shares advice for what you can do before, during and after your holiday meal to help aid digestion.
Before Thanksgiving Dinner
Don’t skip earlier meals to “save room” for hors d’oeuvres and dinner – eat a sensible breakfast and lunch so that you are not starving at dinner time. “A hungry body overloaded with too much food at once won't properly metabolize the meal,” explains Dr. Mayer.
It’s important to maintain your regular physical activity level on Thanksgiving. Whether you break a sweat at the gym before company arrives or take a walk after your meal, keeping your metabolic rate up by exercising will aid digestion. This allows the body to retrieve nutrients from the food you consume, rather than converting all those calories into fat.
During the Meal
Turkey is among the healthiest forms of lean protein. Reach for the lighter meat – it has fewer calories and less fat than darker meat. Since most Thanksgiving dinners include starchy foods, like potatoes, biscuits and stuffing, Dr. Mayer recommends eating those holiday staples in moderation – gravies, sauces and side dishes can make the meal far less healthy.
“Rather than indulging in one large portion of food that leads to bloating and discomfort, stick to eating small portions slowly or use a smaller plate to avoid overeating,” advises Dr. Mayer. As you build your dinner plate, fill it first with lean meat and vegetables. Vegetables high in fiber –like broccoli, green beans and carrots – can aid the digestive process. Lastly, you can add a small taste of your less healthy holiday favorites.
“Pace yourself and chew food well,” says Dr. Mayer. “If you eat slowly, you will be less likely to overindulge and cause yourself discomfort.”
Use the break between dinner and dessert to stretch your legs. A brief stroll can keep you from experiencing a “food coma,” or a sluggish, drowsy feeling. Walking after dinner will also increase your metabolic rate and aid in digestion.
“When dessert is served, it’s best to take the same approach used when building your dinner plate – moderation,” explains Dr. Mayer. “It’s difficult to resist your favorite sweets, but you can limit yourself to sampling just one or two.”
If you have a history of hypertension or heart problems, you should avoid excessive salt consumption.
Alcohol consumption can also contribute to digestive issues. Keep your drink selection simple and light, or avoid alcohol all together. This will ensure that you enjoy the taste of your food and have fewer issues with digestion.
Stay awake for at least two or three hours after you finish eating – do NOT sleep or take a nap immediately following a big meal. Enjoy conversation with loved ones, play games, walk or simply read a book so your body can continue to digest. Lying horizontally before your body has digested food can cause acid reflux because gravity is unable to guide food down the digestive tract.
“If you find yourself experiencing indigestion, despite your best efforts to avoid it, there are numerous over-the-counter medications available to assist you,” explains Dr. Mayer. “Antacids come in liquid and tablet form, and most will give you some relief.”
The guidelines above apply to people in general good health. If you have a history of gastrointestinal difficulties, you may need to consult your physician before participating in holiday festivities.
To learn more about the Division of Gastroenterology at Maimonides, visit www.maimonidesmed.org/clinical-services/gastroenterology/gastroenterology2. To make an appointment with Dr. Ira Mayer, please call 718-891-0100.