Thanksgiving dinner. Roasted turkey on holiday table with pumpkins, flowers and wine

7 Tips For Thanksgiving Digestive Health

Thanksgiving dinner. Roasted turkey on holiday table with pumpkins, flowers and wine

 

I love autumn.

 

Of course, spring and summer are welcomed breaks from winter’s bitter cold but I really love the coolness of autumn. And with autumn comes Thanksgiving, which is just around the corner.

 

Thanksgiving weekend is always a mixed bag when it comes to finding the balance between celebrating and keeping your gut happy.

 

It’s not uncommon for people to do two, and sometimes three Thanksgiving dinners or lunches. With large, extended families, Thanksgiving celebrations are often spread out over the long weekend.

 

On one hand, that means socializing with friends and family and the eating and drinking that goes along with that. On the other hand, all that eating and drinking can take its toll on your digestive tract and not just those with digestive health issues.

 

The good news is, with a few simple tricks up your sleeve, you can still enjoy Thanksgiving without abandoning your health goals or at the expense of your digestive health.

 

How you and your gut can survive Thanksgiving

Mindfulness

To be clear, this isn’t about restriction in the sense that anyone would expect you to go without. Eating is a pleasurable part of life. But everyone knows, that if you over do it, you can ‘pay’ for it later with indigestion, gas, reflux and more.

 

With mindfulness, it’s about bringing your attention to what you’re eating. Taste it. Feel it in your mouth; notice the textures. Savour the flavour and ENJOY.

 

By doing so, you can share in the moment with the goal of having just enough to enjoy your meal without eating to the point of being stuffed.

 

We often eat on autopilot and before you know it, it’s gone. The impulse? To have more. Do that several times over the weekend with drinks, appetizers, and the main meal and your digestive tract can get grumpy.

 

By eating just enough to enjoy your meal, you’ll have taken the most important first step to avoiding any potential bloating, discomfort, reflux and belching.

 

Mindfulness

Fiber

As everyone knows, fiber is one of the best ways to keep things running smoothly.

 

Fiber is a great support for keeping you regular. Often, holiday weekends and meals can throw you off your routine and that can lead to changes in your bowel habits.

 

Let’s face it, even if you’re ‘off’ for a day or two, it can feel crappy.

 

When you’re not going, you can get bloated, gassy, and just have a nagging feeling of being sluggish or heavy.

 

Keeping your fiber intake on track is a great way to preemptively avoid all of this.

 

So stick to the higher fiber foods that are part of your routine and include them as you normally would.

 

Don’t bank your calories

Don’t skip meals.

 

This will only make things worse for most people. It might seem to make sense right? “Hey, I’m going to be eating a lot tonight so I’ll skip breakfast and/or lunch.

 

Here’s the rub.

 

When people skip meals as a strategy to manage their calories before a big party/meal, they set themselves up to overeat, mostly because they get super hungry.

 

The word hungry spelled with dough on a cutting board

 

How does your body respond? Adrenaline is released. With higher adrenaline levels, you can get ‘hangry’ – sorry, I hate that word but this is what people understand.

 

To make things worse, adrenaline is the stress hormone and it can make you feel shaky; something that people mistake for low blood sugar. When that happens, you’ll respond by compensating or worse, over-compensating for the calories you’ve missed and likely end up eating more overall.

 

Over eating = an unhappy gut.

Don’t go to your main Thanksgiving meal hungry

This is along the same lines. Even if you’ve eaten breakfast or lunch, plan a snack to help manage your appetite beforehand if you’re feeling hungry.

 

It doesn’t have to be a large amount:

  • Enjoy ¾ cup of soup [with protein, veggies, lentils etc]
  • 4 or 5 baby carrots or a celery stick with 2 tsp of dip or peanut butter
  • A small piece of fruit (1/2 an apple)
  • 1 oz / 28 g of cheese

Anything to help take “edge off” if you find yourself starting to get hungry; you’ll be in control rather than being a slave to the influence of the hanger monster.

Limit alcohol (by extension ASA, ibuprofen & acetaminophen)

Choose your Thanksgiving beverages wisely.

 

It is not just the energy in alcohol which adds up quickly but what alcohol does to your frontal lobe 🙂

 

Drinking lowers your inhibitions and with that, some resolve. Drinking can increase your chance of eating more than you bargained for.

 

Hey, I’m no prude. Enjoy anything that you want (see above) but if digestive health is your goal,  just do so in a conscious way.

 

Pouring red wine from bottle into glass with wooden wine casks on background - by Doug Cook RD

 

Also, alcohol is a well known stomach and gut irritant and if you end up “enjoying” a little more than you planned to, you might end up with some digestive discomfort. Indigestion and regurgitation are very common with alcohol. One thing alcohol does is loose the ‘flap’ between your esophagus and stomach. When that happens, lots of sloshing happens: stomach back wash anyone? 🙂

 

Like many, you’ll likely reach for pain-killers. Ibuprofen is extremely hard on the the digestive tract and acetaminophen is super hard on the liver. Hey, without some info, you can’t make some informed choices…enjoy responsibly!

Digestive aids

Peppermint oil

This has been a folk medicine remedy for unhappy guts for a very long time and now science has caught up.

 

Peppermint tea or fresh peppermint can help ease digestion. But, teas and fresh peppermint are limited. While many swear by a good quality peppermint tea, it might not be enough for those with IBS, bloating etc.

 

That’s because teas don’t offer a consistent or therapeutic amount of the essential phytonutrient in peppermint responsible for easing digestive issues.

 

For that, you need a standardized peppermint oil product. Try a peppermint oil supplement that’s been enteric coated to prevent stomach irritation.  This product, IBgard is designed and clinically proven to help with IBS. Another great product is Fowler’s Digestive Tonic, a concentrated source of peppermint oil.

 

Natural Mint Essential Oil in a Glass Bottle with Fresh Mint Leaves

 

Anecdotally though, clients have found it to be beneficial as a digestive aid from time to time and on a more limited basis, e.g. a couple of times a day over the course of a few days. Sounds just like Thanksgiving weekend, right?

 

If you’re prone to some indigestion, considering giving it a go when you find yourself ‘indulging’ a little more than usual. While not dangerous, it could increase some upset of you’ve had a few drinks of alcohol.

Iberogast

Iberogast is a lesser known digestive aid.

 

It can help with dyspepsia [a.k.a. indigestion], bloating, and hearburn.

 

Iberogast uses nine medicinal plant extracts that are naturally sourced. The unique combination of herbal extracts work together to relieve symptoms of gastrointestinal disturbances associated with functional dyspepsia and irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).

 

The nine herbs include

  • Licorice
  • Celandine
  • Peppermint
  • Lemon balm
  • Bitter candytuff
  • Milk thistle
  • Caraway
  • Chamomile
  • Angelica

 

It’s super easy to use, just add 20 drops in a glass of water and take three times a day if you’re experiencing some digestive discomfort.

 

As an Amazon associate, I earn from qualifying purchases. You can find IBgard and Iberogast for purchase here and here.

 

A group of senior men jogging - By Doug Cook RD

 

Be active

It’s tempting to eat, drink and sit. Repeat.

 

There’s something to be said about moving after a larger meal. It doesn’t ‘good’ stuff like help your muscle handle the flood of nutrients in your blood stream. Hey, this is just a matter of fact.

 

Walking, the easiest thing to do, DOES help your body manage the extra calories/energy from your Thanksgiving dining. And it does help with peristalsis; so enjoy your day, AND enjoy a little activity after your meal. It’s a great way to enjoy some fresh air and it offers a chance for some extra socializing.

 

MOVE!

Bottom line

Thanksgiving is one of my favourite holidays. Mostly because they usually take place in Ontario’s cottage country.

 

Getting together with family and friends is both an enjoyable and important part of life.

 

Like all holidays, Thanksgiving includes lots of great tasting eating and drinking which sometime can take their toll on our digestive tracts.

 

With a little mindfulness and planning, you can enjoy what the holiday has to offer without necessarily upsetting your gut, whether or not you have any digestive health issues.

 

Doug Cook RDN is a Toronto based integrative and functional nutritionist and dietitian with a focus on digestive, gut, mental health. Follow me on FacebookInstagram and Twitter.

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