The holidays are an especially tricky time for tummies. We often eat and drink too much, spend too much time away from home, and endure too much stress. The result? Gastrointestinal woes. Here are expert remedies to tame that upset tummy.
When you’re rushing around, your digestive tract moves faster as well, notes Leslie Bonci, M.P.H., R.D., director of sports medicine nutrition at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center. Not only that, all the stuffing, cookies and chocolates you’re eating are loaded with fat, which prompts the gut to empty faster. And though a hot cup of cocoa or coffee may feel wonderful on a cold day, caffeinated drinks can trigger more frequent bowel movements.
Pro pointers: To prevent the problem, take time to eat. Instead of shoving down a big lunch before holiday shopping, have a light snack and save the real meal for later, says Bonci.
To lighten the load on the digestive tract, include healthy foods with the high-fat goodies. Already have a problem? Stay hydrated with plenty of fluids. Once things start settling down, think BRAT: bananas, rice, applesauce and toast. Add fiber-filled foods like oatmeal when things are largely back to normal. If diarrhea lasts more than a few days, your mouth is dry, you feel lightheaded or your urine is dark or infrequent, check with your doctor.
Sometimes the holiday rush makes you postpone trips to the bathroom, which can lead to a backup; you also tend to drink fewer fluids during cold weather, which can contribute to constipation. Remember, everyone has their own rate of bowel movements, ranging from three times a day to once every three days. It’s when you see a change in your usual pattern that something’s awry, says San Diego–based integrative gastroenterologist Cynthia A. Robertson, M.D.
Pro pointers: Fiber and fluid help keep your digestive tract humming. Breakfast on bran cereal with fruit, have bean soup for lunch, and drink plenty of water throughout the day. If you find yourself in a bind, try a product that contains psyllium, suggests Dr. Robertson. Call your doctor if you have abdominal pain, nausea, vomiting or blood in your stool.
Whether it’s from too much fruitcake, an excess of eggnog or all the planes, trains and automobiles you’ve been on to get to Granny’s house, bouts of nausea are common this time of year.
Pro pointers: If you’re traveling, get to the front of the car, train or boat. Ginger has been shown to be an effective nausea-fighter, particularly before the trip. Overimbibed? Try toast for breakfast the next day.
Many foods associated with the holidays (chocolate, alcohol, peppermint) relax the muscles at the bottom of the esophagus, which can lead to heartburn.
Pro pointers: Don’t go to sleep right after a meal. Elevate the head of your bed or sleep on a wedge pillow. If you know you’re going to splurge on something you’ll regret later, take one of the over-the-counter acid control formulas; these signal the stomach to produce less acid. If heartburn hits anyway, an antacid can help neutralize the stomach acid.
How to De-Stress Your Gut
The hurried pace of the holidays affects every part of you, including your stomach. Try this soothing visualization technique from gastroenterologist Cynthia Robertson, M.D. Find somewhere quiet, close your eyes and picture a relaxing place you’ve visited. Study the image in your mind. Then add movement: If you’re envisioning a beach, watch the waves roll onto the sand and the breeze rustle through the trees. Then bring sound in: Hear the crash of the waves. Finally, start to smell the scene. This kind of visualization will bring on some of the same physiological responses you experienced when you were actually on the scene, says Dr. Robertson.
Travel Tips to Avoid Upset Stomach
Do you want to make your seasonal trip problem-free? Try these simple steps.
- If you’re unsure about the food (for instance, if you’re traveling abroad), avoid salads, uncooked vegetables and unpasteurized milk products. Don’t eat undercooked or raw meat, fish, shellfish or eggs. And forego food and drink from street vendors.
- If you’ve just been through a bout of diarrhea or have taken antibiotics, try acidophilus. It will encourage the growth of digestion-friendly bacteria in your gut and help your intestines get back to normal.
- On a long car or plane ride? Be sure to flex and extend your ankles frequently, and get up and stretch every two hours.
- If you’re traveling to a different time zone for a long trip, before you go, gradually shift your sleeping and eating hours to those of your destination. Then use lots of bright lights (indoors and out) to sync your circadian rhythm to the new locale. Short trip? Stay in your own time zone.
- Pack lots of light snacks to keep blood sugar steady. Dried fruit, nuts and granola are perfect for the road.
From REMEDY’s Healthy Living, Winter 2007