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Tis the Season of Feasting and... Digestive Discomfort?

The holiday season is synonymous with joy and celebration, bringing with it an array of festive activities and culinary indulgences. However, this time of year can also bring heightened stress levels and dietary changes that may adversely affect our digestive health.

It's important to be aware of how holiday habits can impact our gastrointestinal well-being and to know what you can do about this seasonal digestive discomfort.

The Impact of Holiday Indulgences on Digestive Health

Our holiday calendars are brimming with many celebratory events with friends and family. Each occasion is an invitation to indulge in rich, sugary, and heavy foods, along with increased festive cocktails. These changes in diet can lead to common digestive issues such as indigestion, nausea, bloating, and irregular bowel movements. These symptoms are not just uncomfortable but can also detract from the overall enjoyment of the season.

Why Digestive Issues Surface More During the Holidays

The holiday season is marked by numerous celebrations that often center around food. This time of year should be relaxing, fun, and enjoyable with friends and family. Still, most of us experience higher stress levels along with overindulging in holiday foods that can negatively affect our digestive system.

Exploring the Culprits Behind Holiday-Related Digestive Discomfort

A multitude of factors contribute to digestive discomfort during the holidays. The richness of festive meals, the abundance of sugary treats, and perhaps an increased intake of alcohol can all play a role. Moreover, the emotional aspects of the holiday season, including stress and excitement, can also have a significant impact on our gastrointestinal health.

Listed are a few contributors to GI issues.

  • Excessive Alcohol Consumption: Consuming too much alcohol can lead to increased episodes of reflux and indigestion. Additionally, alcohol's diuretic properties heighten the risk of dehydration, further complicating digestive health.

  • Consumption of Heavy Foods: Typical holiday dishes are rich in sugar and fat. While these foods are enjoyable, they can slow down the digestive process. This often leads to symptoms like increased reflux, bloating, and a sluggish bowel movement.

  • Reduction in Fiber Intake: Holiday meals generally lack sufficient dietary fiber. A fiber-deficient diet can result in constipation, contributing to bloating and abdominal discomfort.

  • Overeating: Large portion sizes common during the holidays can cause the stomach to distend excessively, leading to increased reflux, bloating, and general abdominal discomfort.

  • Stress and Digestive Health: The holiday season can be a stressful time, which directly impacts our digestive system. Stress can induce nausea, indigestion, and bowel irregularity, partly due to its effects on the gut microbiome. Excessive holiday stress often correlates with increased overeating and alcohol consumption.

  • Emotional Impact: Heightened emotions that can sometimes happen with families and friends during the holiday season can contribute to anxiety and stress, exacerbating digestive issues.

  • Dietary Pattern Changes: Alterations to one's regular eating habits or experimenting with new foods during the holiday season can disrupt normal digestive processes.

Having recognized various digestive challenges associated with holiday eating habits, what strategies can we adopt to prevent or alleviate these issues?

The solutions are generally simple and straightforward.

  • Moderate Alcohol Consumption: It's important to practice moderation in alcohol intake. Avoid excessive consumption to prevent issues with reflux and dehydration.

  • Adequate Hydration: Regular water intake is crucial for maintaining intestinal regularity. Drinking enough water also helps to offset the dehydrating effects of alcohol.

  • Balanced Dietary Choices: If a heavy dinner is anticipated, opt for a lighter lunch with lean proteins and high-fiber vegetables to maintain regular bowel movements. Also choose carefully the amount of fats and sugars to consume at each meal. For example, small amounts of dairy throughout the day are better tolerated than multiple dairy foods at one meal.

  • Mindful Eating Practices: It takes approximately 20 minutes for the brain to recognize fullness after beginning a meal. Eating slowly, and pausing to take deep breaths between bites, can prevent overeating and enhance digestion.

  • Regular Physical Activity: Engage in a short walk instead of resting post-meal. A 30-minute walk after eating can aid in lowering blood sugar levels and improving digestive processes. Also, try to adhere as much as possible to your regular exercise routine.

  • Dedicated Relaxation Time: Allocate time for relaxation activities, such as solitary walks, yoga, or meditation. These practices can help reset cortisol levels and reduce stress, positively affecting digestive health. Taking a solitary walk outside can be a nice break from holiday commotion and fuss.

  • Prioritize Sleep: During the busy holiday season, ensure you get enough sleep. Adequate rest is essential for reducing stress and maintaining a healthy digestive system.

When changing habits isn't enough...

There are two supplements that can be highly helpful during the holidays when you are eating out and not in total control of the ingredients in the food.

Gluten Awareness and Management

Gluten, a common protein found in many foods, can be nearly impossible to avoid. Unexpected sources of gluten include prescription medications, cosmetics, and certain gourmet meats. Furthermore, gluten can be present in seemingly gluten-free foods due to cross-contamination or trace ingredients. Even foods labeled gluten-free, especially gluten-free pizzas and pastas, contain small amounts of gluten. Eating a lot of gluten-free products can inadvertently lead to the consumption of more gluten than your body can tolerate.

I highly recommend taking Wheat Rescue before you eat out. If you're gluten sensitive or Celiac, you absolutely need to avoid gluten but you can take this if uncertain about the ingredients in your meal.

  • Powerful digestive enzymes and probiotics that supports gluten and casein digestion

  • Supports the breakdown of glutenin and gliadin proteins as well as gut microbial diversity

  • Supports healthy gut barrier function.

Click here to order.


FODMAPs are fermentable carbohydrates such as cabbage and beans that resist digestion. For many these foods can cause bloating, gas, diarrhea, and constipation. Compliance with a low FODMAP diet can be particularly difficult during the holiday season. Consider the following supplement if avoiding FODMAPs is difficult.

  • An effective digestive enzyme blend to support the breakdown of potentially troublesome FODMAPs.

  • Helps overcome occasional digestive issues without the need for a complicated, restrictive diet

  • Supports the efficacy of a low FODMAP diet when greater restrictions are necessary

  • Maintains continued consumption of nutrient-dense, antioxidant-rich, plant-based foods

  • Supports restrictive diet compliance while reducing confusion, frustration, and other challenges to quality of life

Click here to order.

Note: This enzyme blend is intended for short-term use while still consuming a diversified diet. It is not intended to be used long-term but instead as temporary help while a root cause resolution is being sought. As it is designed to break down fermentable (i.e., prebiotic) fibers, it should not be taken alongside prebiotic supplements.

To learn more about optimizing your health at the Johnson Center, click here. If you have any more questions about your path to optimal health, email our office at or call 276-235-3205. To download Dr. Johnson's new e-book, Finding Balance: The Key to Combating Midlife Weight Gain, click here.

The Johnson Center for Health services patients in person in our Blacksburg and Virginia Beach locations. We also offer telemedicine for residents of Virginia and North Carolina!


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