Overeating and the festive season go hand-in-hand. It’s a time of winding down, enjoying friends, family, food and just having some fun after a long and stressful year.
While we cannot stress enough that eating until your heart's content is never something you should feel bad about, it is important to think about how it might impact your health.
We know that overeating in a single sitting can lead to an uncomfortable feeling of being overfull but regular overeating, for example during the festive season, can cause excessive calorie intake, can be taxing on your digestive system, cause you to lose sleep, develop heartburn from the influx of stomach acids and cause weight gain. You might also experience headaches, difficulty concentrating, brain fog, or fatigue.
So what happens to your body when you overeat? One of your stomach’s big jobs is to secrete hydrochloric acid to begin the digestive process and kill bacteria as food moves through your digestive system. Large meals slow your digestion and food ends up spending more time being processed. This causes that gassy, bloated feeling you often have after a big meal. As your body prioritises digesting the big food load you’ve just consumed, it sends more blood to your gastrointestinal tract, meaning that less blood is available to transport oxygen and nutrients to other parts of your body, leaving you feeling sluggish and lightheaded.
Over-indulging also causes your blood sugar to spike, especially if you’re consuming loads of carby snacks, breads, sugary desserts or alcoholic beverages. When blood sugar rises above normal levels, you release excess amounts of the hormone insulin and you get an energy spike which is followed by a lethargic crash. If you don’t use all of that excess energy during the spike, your body starts storing it as fat.
Overeating then interferes with your sleep. After a big meal, the body has to devote energy to the digestive process, which usually takes several hours. And because digestion slows when you sleep, you put your body's normal sleep process at odds with the stomach's process of digestion. When you wake up in the morning, you find that you’re starving because your pancreas has been working overtime to process everything you consumed the day and night before.
The worst part of all is the guilt that most people feel after the festivities. The self criticism for lack of self-control or hatred of what you see in the mirror is an absolute soul killer.
Here are some tips on how to find gut balance as well as be your happiest, healthiest self during the festive season.
Many of us believe if we hold back on calories during the day, we can overindulge on the next meal. This is actually counterproductive because it causes your metabolism to think you’re going into starvation mode, so when you eventually start eating, it holds on to as many calories as possible. A more realistic approach would be to have a light, protein-rich breakfast that keeps you satiated and less likely to over indulge on high fat, high carbohydrate foods.
Find your favorite ingredients and meals and make sure to stock up on them. Check your cabinets to make sure a healthy snack is only a reach away. You can also cook from scratch and pop an egg over the leftovers for brekkie the morning before a big eating occasion.
Be active with family and friends
Walk the dogs, take a stroll along the beach, or play tennis in the garden. Have fun and get your blood circulating!
Practice mindful eating
It’s easier said than done but definitely possible. Eat slowly and don't rush what's on your plate. Eliminate any distractions by turning off the TV or putting down your phone. Remember to listen to your body and stop eating when you're full.
Control your stress levels
Holidays and spending time with your family can be very triggering for some. Take breaks from group activities if you need to. Pay attention to your own needs and feelings. It’s important to spend a little time by yourself if you can. Keep a regular sleep routine and try to limit your alcohol intake. Also, remember you don’t need to buy extravagant gifts for your loved ones. Sentimental gifts are just as special! Your financial security is more important than a name brand gift.
Limit liquid calories
Alcohol can inhibit the production of digestive enzymes and juices, meaning it becomes more difficult for your body to digest, and absorb nutrients from your food. Partially digested food can cause excessive fermentation in your gut which leads to the dreaded bloating, gas and even loose stools.
Honour your body
Your body is an incredible machine. It is highly intelligent and knows what it needs. That’s why it sends you signals that are too often ignored. Pause in the middle of your meal to check in with your level of fullness and ask yourself how the food tastes. Then, when you can feel the signals your body is sending you that your stomach is full, give your body the gift of stopping before you become uncomfortable or start feeling guilty.
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