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Balancing Gut Health: Tips for Enjoying Holiday Meals Without Regret

Approach holiday eating with these simple strategies to avoid digestive upset and keep your gut happy.

The holiday season is upon us. In their essence, winter holidays are centered around food and eating while enjoying the company of our friends and family. And this is a good thing. Food is so much more than just a source of sustenance. A shared meal unites and brings people closer. Any celebration is incomplete without a meal, whether it is a small family gathering or a fancy gala event. While holiday celebrations are wonderful for nourishing our social connections, an overindulgence with super delicious dishes may take a toll on our gut health and digestion. But there is no need to stress, the holiday season can be quite stressful as it is! The right approach to holiday eating can make all the difference in the world, allowing you to enjoy your favorite holiday foods while keeping your digestion and gut health in check.

Here are a few suggestions that can help avoid overeating and uncomfortable digestive symptoms while enhancing your eating experience.

  • Choose wisely.

While trying the dishes at the holiday table all at once may be tempting, start with just a few. Give priority to protein and vegetables. Protein foods like poultry, meat, legumes, or fish will keep your blood sugar steady, and vegetables due to their high fiber content will keep you satiated longer. A green salad with bitter greens like arugula or a vegetable-based soup can be an excellent starter to your holiday meal. Wait to add rich starchy foods like buttery mashed potatoes, candied sweet potatoes, cheesy casseroles, and stuffing onto your plate, and add just one serving at a time. You can always go back for more if you want. These foods are delicious but quite easy to overdo because they are usually high in fat, salt, and sugar, a combination we find irresistible.

  • Eat slowly

One of the biggest reasons behind overeating is eating too fast. When we eat too fast, the food fills the stomach too quickly which prevents an appropriate signal from being sent to the brain when it is time to stop. It usually takes about twenty minutes from the time of the first bite for the digestive system to send these signals to the brain. It is best to stop when you feel about 80% full. You should feel pleasantly satisfied, but not "stuffed" after a meal. Don't rush through the meal, savor and enjoy each bite. Notice your satiety levels change while you are eating. Sometimes it is helpful to place utensils on the table between the bites and do a quick "check-in" with yourself. If you feel full but there is still food on your plate, don't be tempted to empty the plate just to make it "clean".

  • Chew thoroughly

When food is not chewed properly, it is very hard on your digestive system. Digestion starts in the mouth. Carbohydrates and fats are predigested in the mouth when we chew the food long enough. When the food is not properly chewed it sits in the stomach longer because the stomach has to work extra hard. A greater amount of hydrochloric acid and digestive enzymes are needed to fully break down food and empty it in the small intestines where absorption of nutrients occurs. When a large volume of food sits in the stomach for too long it can enter the esophagus, making it "burn". This is a classic symptom of acid reflux or heartburn.

  • Use digestive aides

Consuming a large high-fat meal may put a strain on your gall bladder and pancreas. The gall bladder stores and releases bile in response to the presence of fat in the small intestines. Pancrease releases digestive enzymes that continue to break down carbohydrates, fats, and proteins. Bitter herbs consumed before a meal can support these organs and ensure smooth and effective digestion.

Bitters is a concentrated blend of bitter aromatic herbs and roots like dandelion, gentian root, burdock, ginger, turmeric, milk thistle, bitter melon, orange peel, and/or fennel seeds. Bitters stimulate bitter receptors on the tongue and throughout the body which signals the vagus nerve to stimulate the entire digestive system from salivary glands in the mouth to the stomach, pancreas, liver, gall bladder, and intestines to produce digestive juices that work in concert to break down the food we eat into the building blocks for energy and vital nutrients. Bitters ignite "digestive fire", an Ayurvedic term, without which is impossible to transform food into fuel. Bitters are also beneficial after a meal as they can relieve acid reflux, gas, indigestion, cramps, and bloating. Bitters are truly a must-have when it comes to supporting digestion, especially through the holidays. If you are new to bitters, start with just a few drops and gradually increase to a recommended dose.

My personal favorites are bitters from Gaia Herbs (alcohol-based), and Dr. Shade's Bitters #9 (for the non-alcohol version).

  • Pause before dessert

After the main meal, give your body enough time to digest and process it. This is a great time to relax, play a game, or get some fresh November air before you go back for dessert.

  • Go for a walk

Walking after a big meal may be the last thing on your mind, but a short stroll (just 15 minutes) can greatly improve digestion, better regulate blood glucose and prevent a blood sugar spike, help maintain healthy weight, calm the mind, reduce stress, and promote good sleep [1], [2].

I hope your holidays this year are yummy, healthy, happy, and stress-free!



1. Pahra, D., Sharma, N., Ghai, S., Hajela, A., Bhansali, S., & Bhansali, A. (2017). Impact of post-meal and one-time daily exercise in patient with type 2 diabetes mellitus: a randomized crossover study. Diabetology & metabolic syndrome, 9, 64.

2. Sullivan Bisson, A. N., Robinson, S. A., & Lachman, M. E. (2019). Walk to a better night of sleep: testing the relationship between physical activity and sleep. Sleep health, 5(5), 487–494.


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