Lifestyle

How to Begin Restoring Gut Balance After the Holidays

Holiday Meal “Triage

There’s nothing better than a holiday spread. Between the roasted turkey, seemingly endless sides, and decadent desserts, holiday meals are extravagant in nature. These aren’t foods that we typically eat during a given week, which can amp up the excitement when we’re making our first (or second) pass at helping ourselves. It’s par for the course to walk away from a holiday meal reaching for the nearest sweatpants, but what happens when we’re still feeling off following the Thanksgiving debauchery—ehem—indulgence?


If you’re feeling bloated or general discomfort in the days after the big holiday, this is completely understandable. With close to 100 trillion bacteria in your digestive tract, it doesn’t take much to cause a shift. However, this dynamic can work in your favor—it can also quickly change for the better. In fact, studies show that 2-4 days of healthy eating can start to bring your gut microbiome back to balance.1 Of course, don’t take this as a sign to regularly initiate dysbiosis in your gut with erratic eating patterns. Maintaining equilibrium should be the rule, while the odd holiday indulgence is the exception. With that said, here’s how you can reinvigorate your gut health following your Thanksgiving meal. 


Tune into your circadian rhythm.

Letting your body sleep and wake up naturally actually plays a role in your gut health. By letting your sleep cycle happen as it should on the evening immediately following your big meal, you’re lessening the chance for any additional disruption to your gut microbiota. The night after your restful sleep, try to get to bed a half hour earlier than usual and set your alarm for an early start. Getting your sleep schedule back on the right track can do wonders for your energy levels, which increases the likelihood you’ll stick to your self-care plan.

 

Eat more plants.

It’s no secret that a Western diet that’s high in animal protein, fat, and sugar can wreak havoc on your gut microbiome. Clean up your G.I. tract after the holidays with meals that are rich in fruits, veggies, and whole grains. Take a pause on red meats, processed foods, and dairy to give your gut buddies a chance to rejuvenate. A higher fiber intake will act as prebiotic nourishment for your gut microbiota. Choose foods that are compatible with your body, but look to fiber-rich sources like broccoli, raspberries, lentils, and beans to help restore balance. 


Moderate your alcohol consumption.

Following the holidays, you might be spending some downtime with family and friends. When you’re all getting cozy on the couch, you might want to complete the vibe with a glass of red wine. If you do, keep it to one or instead opt for a piece of dark chocolate for a polyphenol-rich treat. 


Move your body.

Your Thanksgiving meal could have spiked your hormonal stress levels, and one of the best ways to curb this could be an endorphin-releasing workout. According to the gut-brain connection, feelings of anxiety could impact the composition of your gut microbiome. Don’t stress the meal that you ate, instead move forward positively with a brisk walk with your dog, a yoga flow class, or hit the gym for a weight lifting session. 


Stay hydrated.

Make sure you’re drinking ample water to help move food through your system and aid in healthy digestion. A good rule of thumb is drinking .5 to 1 oz. of water per pound you weigh. If you’ve followed the step above, make sure you’re drinking enough water to account for a sweaty gym session. Switch it up with an herbal tea or foods that have high water content, like cucumber or watermelon. 


Remember to ease back into your routine to avoid a slingshot effect. If you force yourself to do too much too soon, you could increase your chances of falling back into unhealthy habits. Take small steps each day to maintain a healthier, low-stress lifestyle with a balance of solid sleep, moderate exercise, and plant-rich meals. These small changes amount to major impacts when enacted over the long-term. If there’s anything that keeps you grounded during the holidays, try to remember the big picture of your health. Moderation is the key to overcoming the blimp of a Thanksgiving meal. 


References:

1. David, L.A. et al. (2014). [Study on diet affecting and altering the human gut microbiome]. Nature, PubMed Central.