This coming weekend many Canadians will enjoy a traditional Thanksgiving meal. Think roasted turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes with gravy, sweet potato casserole and pumpkin pie.
But if you overdo it by eating too much or eating too fast your festive meal may come with less than enjoyable side effects. It can leave you feeling bloated, gassy and, perhaps, even a little queasy.
The good news: paying attention to what and how you eat can keep those uncomfortable digestive symptoms at bay. Here’s your guide.
The bloating-holiday meal connection
Bloating is a sense of fullness, pressure or tightness in the upper abdomen (e.g., the stomach area). The feeling can range from mildly uncomfortable to intensely painful.
Abdominal distention, a measurable increase in abdominal girth, sometimes accompanies bloating. Gas, burping and heartburn can also be present.
Eating too much food in one sitting is a common cause of bloating.
If you keep eating after your stomach is full, its muscular walls will expand to make room for extra food. That can lead to increased pressure in your stomach and the symptoms that go with it – fullness, bloating, abdominal discomfort and heartburn (large meals can trigger stomach acid to back up into the esophagus.)
The larger the meal the longer it sits in your stomach before its smaller food particles empty from the stomach. A normal-sized meal typically takes four to five hours to completely leave the stomach; a hefty Thanksgiving meal could take as many as eight hours.
Practise the following strategies to help prevent feeling stuffed and bloated after your Thanksgiving meal.
Tame your appetite
Don’t skimp on meals during the day to bank calories for a big meal. This plan usually backfires: You arrive at the meal hungry and eat more than intended.
You’ll be more likely to indulge moderately if you eat breakfast and lunch as you normally would.
Leading up to the holiday meal, eat light meals that are easier to digest and empty from your stomach sooner. Examples include a fruit smoothie, yogurt bowl, salad with lean protein, lentil soup or a vegetable and hummus sandwich.
Count your chews
Chewing, the first stage of digestion, signals the release of stomach acid and digestive enzymes to break down food into small particles.
If food isn’t properly chewed, your stomach takes longer to break down large food particles and empty them into the small intestine.
Research suggests that food should be chewed about 32 times before swallowing. Harder to chew foods (e.g., steak) might need more chews per bite while softer foods (e.g., mashed potato, banana) need fewer chews to break down.
Slow your eating pace
Eating slowly can help you eat less by giving enough time for appetite-related hormones to tell your brain you’ve had enough (roughly 20 minutes from the time you start eating).
Eating too fast also increases the amount of air you swallow which can contribute to bloating.
To take breaks between bites, put down your knife and fork and chew thoroughly.
Check your hunger level
Determine how hungry – or satisfied – you feel before you eat, halfway through the meal and after you finish eating.
You’ve had enough to eat when you no longer feel hungry; you feel satisfied but not full.
The goal is to prevent feeling overly full and uncomfortable (your waistband is noticeably tighter) or worse, “Thanksgiving Day” full (e.g., feeling stuffed, bloated, nauseous).
Take small portions of fatty foods
Foods high in fat – stuffing, buttery mashed potatoes, pecan pie – take longer to empty from your stomach. Eating large portions of them can contribute to bloating.
Focus on vegetables. Fill half your plate with green salad and other vegetables so you don’t overdo the rich side dishes.
Consider what you drink
Alcohol can worsen post-meal bloating by delaying gastric emptying even after just one or two drinks. Carbonated beverages, be it champagne or water, contain gas that can increase pressure in the stomach.
How to feel better
Don’t beat yourself up if you end up overindulging. Instead, go for a short walk to help stimulate the movement of food through the digestive tract.
Enteric-coated peppermint capsules have been shown to reduce abdominal pain and distention in people with irritable bowel syndrome. There’s also evidence that peppermint may reduce indigestion symptoms (e.g., fullness, belching, nausea).
Peppermint tea hasn’t been studied but it may help you feel better. Don’t use peppermint if you have reflux as it can trigger symptoms.
Hydrate with flat water which can also help the body flush out excess sodium.
Final note: If you experience bloating regularly consult your doctor or dietitian to determine what might be causing it and how to prevent it.
Leslie Beck, a Toronto-based private practice dietitian, is director of food and nutrition at Medcan. Follow her on Twitter @LeslieBeckRD