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Digestive Problems During the Holidays

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woman with digestive problems Paul Hakimata/PhotoSpin

Family time, homemade goodies and lots of alcohol are all a part of the joys of the holidays. They can also lead to a roiling stomach. Holiday rich foods, lack of fiber, large portions and holiday stress are all triggers for a churning digestive system.

The more food you eat, the more pressure there is on your esophageal sphincter, the muscle that keeps digested food down, says WebMD.com writer, R. Morgan Griffin. Too much pressure leads to food and acid backup, causing heartburn. Large portions can also slow down your digestive system, which is when stomachaches and constipation occur.

Holiday foods, high in sugar and fat, which cause excess weight, triggers upset stomach. Fats slow down digestion and lead to reflux.

Stress about finding the right gift, or cooking and cleaning for the family, can cause heartburn and upset stomach. Stress can also lead you to eat larger portions over the holidays to counteract it.

Along with constipation and heartburn, indigestion may also be a common occurrence during the holidays. Indigestion is not the same as heartburn, but rather a bothersome upset stomach during or right after a meal. A symptom of indigestion would be a burning feeling or pain in the abdomen.

Although stomach noise is often associated with future stomach problems, the growling is typically due to normal digestion. Only when the rumbling is accompanied by other symptoms such as bloating and cramps does it point to gastrointestinal disorders. Stomach noise can occur after eating, between meals or as a hunger signal, says Michael F. Picco of the Mayo Clinic.

Picco said, when you haven't eaten for a while, hormone-like substances that make up the digestive system are released. The hypothalamus, a part of your brain, turns on your desire to eat. A message is sent to the stomach and triggers muscle contractions, which release acids and other digestive fluids.

Try to identify past digestive triggers such as foods, beverages and eating patterns. Compensate healthy food with non-healthy choices or simply choose which holiday foods to indulge in.

Also, drink lots of water. Water is essential for normal bowel function. Avoid drinking coffee or soda if they may trigger your digestive problems.

When diarrhea strikes, it’s important to drink plenty of fluids to avoid becoming dehydrated. Water and sports drinks will replace electrolytes (lost minerals).

Pay attention to portion sizes, as well as how often and how quickly you eat. Move, limit alcohol, and eat consciously and slowly, during the holiday season to avoid digestive problems. Enjoy the holidays to the fullest by making these smart digestive choices.


What makes my stomach growl when I'm hungry? Mayoclinic.com. Retrieved December 4, 2012.

Winter Holidays, Upset Stomachs. WebMD.com. Retrieved December 4, 2012.

Indigestion. MedlinePlus. Retrieved December 4, 2012.

Digestive Problems: 10 Tips for Daily Life. WebMD.com. Retrieved December 5, 2012.

Reviewed December 6, 2012
by Michele Blakcsberg RN
Edited by Jody Smith

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We value and respect our HERWriters' experiences, but everyone is different. Many of our writers are speaking from personal experience, and what's worked for them may not work for you. Their articles are not a substitute for medical advice, although we hope you can gain knowledge from their insight.


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