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Digestive-Health

Updated 22 November 2018

The 5 biggest causes of digestive issues over the festive season

For many people the festive season goes hand in hand with unpleasant digestive ailments. Here are a few potential pitfalls and how to avoid them.

For most of us the upcoming holiday season is something to look forward to. For others, though, it presents the prospect of uncomfortable digestive issues.

Do you belong to the second group? Don’t worry! We identified the biggest culprits – and what you can do to avoid those nasty digestive pitfalls.

1. Alcohol

Festive champagne, cold beers after work, countless bottles of wine – while this sounds idyllic, excess consumption of alcohol can trigger several digestive issues. Not only can alcohol upset a stomach that’s already susceptible to discomfort (especially in those with IBS), but it can also weaken the body’s immune response, making it easier for you to contract a stomach bug. Doesn't sound all that cheery now, does it?

Alcohol can also trigger heartburn – often associated with gastroesophageal reflux disease (GOERD), which relaxes the muscle that keeps food in the stomach. Alcohol also irritates the stomach lining, which can lead to nausea.

Are you travelling to an area where you need to take an anti-malaria prophylaxis? These medications affect how the liver metabolises alcohol, which can result in nausea the next day.

What to do: You don’t have to be a complete teetotaller to beat the bloat, heartburn and whatever goes with it. Choose your tipple wisely – avoid fizzy drinks and those with a high sugar content. Don’t mix your alcoholic beverages and drink water in between to limit your intake and avoid dehydration.

Friends drinking shots

2. Large portions

Festivities, end-of-year parties and family visits often mean bigger portions of indulgent foods and desserts. There are many after effects of eating too much, including nausea, indigestion, heartburn, bloating and abdominal pain – as our bodies struggle to digest more food than usual.

What to do: Eat mindfully – stick to your absolute favourite foods and eat smaller portions of foods high in sugar and fat. Focus on the people and conversations around you. Allow some time before going for a second portion – you might even not be hungry anymore. 

large meat bone on plate

3. Foods high in fat and sugar

Desserts, rich meats, fried canapes – all of these contain more sugar and/or fat that is good for you and your body might have a hard time digesting these foods. Studies have shown that meals high in fat are often linked to gastroparesis, a disorder that slows or stops the digestion of food. 

What to do: Stick to small portions of indulgent foods and focus on enjoyment. Fill up on high-fibre healthy foods such as fresh fruit and vegetables – this will help curb cravings and keep you fuller for longer.

Feeling sick after eating too much cake

4. Stress

Looming deadlines, financial worries and end-of-year anxiety can all cause digestive problems. According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America (AADA), anxiety can literally make you feel sick to your stomach and manifest through symptoms such as stomach cramps. Studies have also linked gastrointestinal symptoms with emotional stress.

What to do: Identify your most common stress-triggers during the holiday season. If it’s going to involve busy shops, avoid the situation by going during a quieter time or doing your shopping online. If it’s travelling, control the situation by planning ahead. Try to avoid family conflict during this time of year by resolving unspoken issues. Get ahead of deadlines if you can and make time for regular self-care, whether it’s exercise, quiet reading time or meditation.

woman stressed at her desk over festive season

5. Inactivity

Regular exercise is important to keep your digestive system functioning optimally. Physical activity can also help combat stress that may lead to digestive problems. When you're inactive, your digestive system becomes sluggish and may struggle to process copious amounts of holiday food.

What to do: While there’s no harm in taking a break from your normal workout routine, you can still incorporate exercise during your holiday by going on daily walks, playing games with the children or swimming – there are so many options.

lazy man on couch

Image credits: iStock