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Keeping digestive system, waistline happy


November 15, 2017 | View PDF

As a culture, we spend a lot of time centered around food. We eat for daily sustenance. We eat to socialize. We eat to celebrate. We eat out of comfort. We sometimes even eat due to stress or family obligation. All of these reasons to eat can be a part of a holiday meal. As we prepare to celebrate Thanksgiving, an extremely food-centered holiday, I've prepared this guide to help keep your digestive system and waistline happy. Being a strategic holiday eater can help you avoid the pitfalls of over eating: fatigue, heartburn and bloating.


Make sure to eat prior to the meal: too often people won't eat until the holiday dinner is served. This is often done with the thought that this approach will help save room for the main event. What this actually does is set you up for is impaired digestion. Skipping meals all day creates imbalances in your blood sugar, so by the time the meal is served, you become ravenously hungry and consume food too quickly and overeat.

Portion control

Set up a makeshift buffet line. Serve the food on individual plates, instead of putting the serving dishes on the table. Keeping the excess food out of reach can discourage overeating. Choose a smaller sized plate to help prevent piling it on the larger plate. I recommend a 9 inch sized plate. And if you truly want to try everything being served, start with 1 to 2 tablespoons of each item, depending on the total number of options available. Half of your plate should be vegetables (do not count potatoes here), one fourth should be starches and grains (potatoes, stuffing, bread) and the other fourth should be your protein.

Pace Yourself

When dinner is served, eat mindfully. Shift focus onto the actual act of eating, savor the flavor and enjoy each bite. Chewing food thoroughly helps begin the digestive process by aiding in increased production of digestive enzymes and stomach acids. Increased saliva production that occurs from chewing helps to break down your food more thoroughly and prevents overeating. Chew each bite around 20 to 30 times which allows smaller pieces of food to be transported to the stomach and the stomach acids to coat these smaller pieces and increase absorption of nutrients from food. Taking a digestive enzyme blend with your meal helps to break down the proteins, starches and fats in your meal and helps to decrease bloating and heartburn, while maximizing your nutrient uptake.


Drink water with your meal, but not too much. And don't drink it iced. Think sips of water during your meal, not glasses. Most people do not consume enough water, so often they think they are hungry when they are actually thirsty. Having too much water with your meal dilutes your stomach acids and digestive enzymes making it harder for them to do their job. Drinking ice water slows down digestion. (think about muscles tensing and constricting in cold weather, the digestive tract is really one big heap of smooth muscle.) When it comes to alcohol go lightly and perhaps consider it after the meal rather than pairing it with a large amount of food. Alcohol slows digestion and may induce heartburn and bloating.

Rest and Digest

After finishing the main course, take a pause before breaking out the desert. I recommend waiting at least an hour before the next course, this allows enough time for to food to travel out of the stomach and into the small intestine. Think of it as preventing overcrowding in the stomach which can trigger bloating and heartburn. During that time, enjoy good company, conversation or play a board game. Taking a gentle walk about 30 minutes after your meal can help to prevent post dinner fatigue. When dessert is served have small slices rather than full sized pieces.

Put a Spin on Some Classic Dishes

You can decrease the calorie content on some of the holiday classics and in turn improve your digestion by decreasing the fat content of the meal: an easy thing to do is to replace the cream or milk in the mashed potatoes with mushroom, vegetable or chicken stock in a one for one substitute. You can also use Greek yogurt or silken tofu as substitute for cream cheese or sour cream in casseroles.

Dr. Stacie Wells, ND, FAAEM is a Naturopathic Doctor & Fellow of the American Academy of Environmental Medicine. She practices at the Northwest Center for Optimal Health in Marysville, WA. Contact her at 360-651-9355 or


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