I’m sharing my best tips to help you survive the Christmas meal without holiday heartburn and indigestion.
It felt like it creeped up on us, but we’ve officially made it to the holidays. Tis the season for awkward family reunions, a shit ton of food and inevitably the infamous Holiday Heartburn. Not so fun fact: 5 million Canadians experience heartburn at least once a week. I wonder how often they get it during the holidays.
What is Heartburn?
Heartburn is defined by a painful burning feeling in your chest or throat. In no way, pleasant. This happens when acidic contents from your stomach actually back up into your throat. Your stomach’s basically saying to your esophagus: I don’t want this food, here you take it. It’s not life threatening, but it definitely puts a damper on your life. Also, if you begin to experience heartburn more than twice a week, you may have a condition known as gastroesophageal reflux disease (aka GERD). Typically, when you have this disease, there are certain foods that can trigger heartburn, however this varies person to person.
Some of the common food offenders include:
- high fat/fried foods
- acidic foods
- spicy foods
- peppermint, chocolate, garlic and onions
- caffeinated beverages
You’ve probably already guessed why they’ve coined the term: Holiday Heartburn. The holidays are a time when we make a few changes to our general diets when it comes to food. We have that little voice in our head that tells us: “Hey, it’s okay, it’s the holidays!” or “We’re celebrating, have another glass!” Sound familiar?
Here are a few more reasons why heartburn typically makes an appearance at the holiday meal.
- You’re eating rich foods you don’t normally eat on a regular basis (unless you eat turkey, graving and stuffing on the daily)
- You’re most likely drinking more than you normally do (you know, maybe as a way to cope with family)
- You most likely eat more than you normally do (people tend to eat more when they’re around lots of people)
Heartburn is no fun, and is definitely the last thing you want to worry about this holiday, so I’ve got some great tips to help you navigate your holiday meal heartburn-free.
Tips to Avoid Holiday Heartburn and Indigestion
Have a Snack Before
A major cause of heartburn is eating a lot at once. Spread out your intake, but having your regular meals before the feast. Have a snack before to curb your appetite so you don’t go ham at the meal.
Wear Comfortable Clothing
Avoid skin tight clothing around the midsection, because this may push against your stomach and force acid into your esophagus. Avoid wearing tight belts and waistbands. Yes, you may have to sacrifice style, but your body will thank you later.
Use a Small Plate
This is a great trick to prevent overeating. When we are around lots of people, we tend to be distracted and eat more than we normally do. One tip is to use appetizer plates as your main meal plate. Instead of trying to pile your plate high with all of the food, pick just a few of your favourites for the first go. If you’re still hunger after you’ve finished your first plate, then by all means, return, but make sure you just ask yourself first if its hunger or boredom.
Give your body time to digest your food. Eating too quickly can be a shock for your body, which may cause heartburn. Chew your food slowly, so you can enjoy it as well.
Choose Lean Cuts of Meat
People that experience regular heartburn will say that high fat foods may be a major trigger because they take more time for your body to digest. Avoid fatty cuts of meat and remove the skin from the chicken or turkey to prevent holiday heartburn.
Drink in Moderation
Alcohol relaxes our lower esophageal sphincter, making it easier for stomach acid to creep into the esophagus, so if you are prone to heartburn, cut back on your intake. Caffeine has been known to do the same, so stick to a small cup of coffee at the holiday meal.
Gravy and Sauces on the Side
Like I mentioned earlier. high fat/fried foods may trigger heartburn, so as much as possible have your sauces on the side instead of smothering your plate with gravy. That way you can still enjoy the food in moderation.
Watch the Stress
Stress has been known to boost stomach acid levels which can lead to heartburn. Yes, the holidays can be a stressful time, that is inevitable, but there are always strategies to cope with it. If you’re cooking the feast, try to do as much as the cooking before, and find times in the day to step away from the cooking to take a break. If you’re dealing with annoying guests and their body shaming ways, check out my top tips for dealing with that here.
Take a Walk After
You may be tempted to lie down after a big meal, but instead, gather some friends and take a nice gentle walk. A simple walk can help to stimulate peristalsis and promote digestion.
Save for Leftovers
Don’t feel the pressure to eat everything on your plate. Just remember how good a leftover turkey sandwich feels, and whatever you feel you can’t eat, save it for leftovers to prevent the future discomfort. You will thank yourself later when you’re enjoying a turkey Sammy, heartburn-free.
Avoid Lying Down Right Away
Don’t lie down! Wait at least three hours after eating to lie down. Standing up helps to promote digestion. If you are going to lie down, researchers have found that lying on your right side makes heartburn worse, while lying on your left side tends to calm it. It’s unclear why this is the case but unless you have to crash, stand up as long as you can.
Go Easy on the Dessert
Obviously, I am all for treating yourself during the holidays, so of course say yes to dessert, but try not to overdo it just because “it’s the holidays”. Choose one of your fave desserts and enjoy it in moderation. Yes, you can have your cake and eat it too!
Ask your Doctor
Finally, there are over the counter meds that may act fast or even prevent heartburn, but you should be having this conversation with your doctor or pharmacist. If you’re still feeling these symptoms for two weeks, please make an appointment with a gastroenterologist.
Bottom line on Holiday Heartburn and Indigestion
The holidays are a time to be with family and loved ones and most importantly indulge without the guilt. Making a few changes at the dinner table will save you a ton of discomfort later on so you can party the night away. I hope your holidays are spent heartburn free and here at Abbey’s Kitchen we wish you a safe and tasty holiday!
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Sofia Tsalamlal, RD, MHSc
Updated on November 13th, 2020
Abbey Sharp is a Registered Dietitian (RD), regulated by the Ontario College of Dietitians. She is a mom, YouTuber, Blogger, award winning cookbook author, media coach specializing in food and nutrition influencers, and a frequent contributor to national publications like Healthline and on national broadcast TV shows.