We are literally days away from Christmas, and for most of us this means good times, lots of yummy food and a drink or two. And while there is absolutely nothing wrong with that, many of us end up feeling bogged down, digestive symptoms flare up and we end up wishing we could have had a little more self control.
Whilst we definitely don't want you to sweat the small stuff and feel anxious about a meal or two that might not be so healthy, we thought we'd share some of our tips for improving digestion so you can have you cake and eat it too. And the best thing about these tips? They can be used pretty much every day for helping to improve digestion.
We hope you enjoy the festive season! xRenee
1. Lemon juice in warm water
Add the juice of half a lemon to a glass of warm water (I do half boiling/half cold) and drink upon rising, or 15-20 minutes before breakfast (it’s also helpful before other meals too). This is like a healthy shot of coffee for your liver, without the caffeine comedown. It kick starts your liver for the day, increasing bile production which in turn improves your digestion. It’s particularly helpful after a night of booze and indulgent foods.
2. Serve bitter greens salads with your mains
This is a similar principle to the lemon juice, bitter foods help to stimulate liver function, but bitter foods also trigger the production of gastric acid. Sooooo if you’re eating a bit of a stodgy Christmas meal, a few bites of bitter greens first will get your stomach going to prepare for the rest. And it doesn’t have to be anything complicated, just chuck some fresh rocket (or a mix of bitter greens) in a bowl with cracked pepper and salt, lemon juice and drizzled olive oil and mix it all together. If you wanna get even fancier you could sprinkle a handful of roasted pine nuts on top.
3. Stay hydrated (and we don’t mean with wine!)
Gah, it is just too easy to become dehydrated over the festive season with all the booze, coffee/tea and just general lack of water consumption. Other than ensuring that you drink water regularly throughout the day (I always have my drink bottle with me as a reminder), perhaps serve your guests sparkling mineral water with meals, or herbal tea after meals.
A simple and refreshing way to jazz up water for your guests is to add things like citrus slices to big jugs of water, loaded with ice; or a handful of berries and citrus slices, fresh mint and cucumber, or my favourite, a few handfuls of lemon verbena (we have tons growing in our yard). There are so many possibilities to make your water look pretty and taste fancy, and keep everyone hydrated.
4. Rest and digest
This is a big one; slow down, chew your food and digest properly. It’s so easy to get caught up in the excitement of the day, or the delicious smells of the food, and just scoff everything down with very minimal chewing. And what’s going to happen? All that food is going to hit your stomach like a ton of bricks and take ages to digest, potentially leaving you feeling all bloated and sluggish. Then before your stomach has had a break, you’re scoffing dessert down, and maybe a wine or two.
So savour your food, enjoy the company, and chew your food thoroughly, your stomach will thank you for it. For those of you, who are real speed eaters, you might even find it handy to set yourself an amount of time to finish your meal. These days when I sit down to eat, I look at the clock and give myself a minimum of 10 minutes to finish my meal. Not only do I feel better for it, I appreciate the food so much more, and because I’ve chewed thoroughly and given my stomach time to start digesting, I actually notice when I’m feeling full and overeat less!
5. Serve enzymatic fruits as an appetiser
Fruits like kiwi, papaya and pineapple contain enzymes that aid digestion.So how bout serving up a tropical fruit salad containing pineapple, papaya and kiwi fruit with lime slices as an appetiser for your guests? Not only will it be a refreshing way to start a meal, but it will also help to prep your guts for digestion!
6. Deep breathing exercises
Sounds difficult yeah? Trust me, these are definitely not, and you’ll have them over and done with in less than 30 seconds. Before you sit down to eat, take 5 deep breaths; breathe in for a count of 5, hold for 2, then breathe out for 5.
These exercise work by triggering the parasympathetic nervous system (also known as 'rest and digest') that helps to calm you, and is also responsible for triggering digestion. I’m sure most of us have experienced that tightness in our stomach from tension or excitement where you try and eat and the food just sits there leaving you with indigestion and bloating. So help cut down the bloat, take a deep breath or two and enjoy your meal.
7. Take a moment to consider that 2nd or 3rd helping
Alright this is one that I am definitely guilty of during the festive season. In case you can’t tell, I love food! And at this time of the year, I let myself be a little more indulgent than usual. But I always end up feeling so sluggish and bloated afterwards and it makes me question whether or not it’s actually worth it.
So if this is you, perhaps taking a moment to think about whether or not you’ve really got room for that 2nd helping right now. Give yourself 10-20 minutes to digest and ‘make room’ for more food, you might go back for more or just realised that you’re perfectly sated and don’t need more food.
8. Balance out with salads and veggies
In the past, I used to think about Christmas dinner as a time to eat all the roasted/baked things that I love: roast veggies, roast chicken or ham and in more recent years, a baked nut loaf. As time has gone on, and my tastes have changed, I think more and more about the salads and green things I’d like to eat with my roast dinner. And when I do eat a more balanced meal like this, I feel much lighter afterwards and definitely no food ‘babies’ the next day.
And there you have it, some simple yet effective tips that will have you digesting better and able to enjoy the festive season without having to stress so much about what you're eating! If you're looking for some healthier recipes for Christmas, do check out our roasted turmeric chicken, sweet garlicky asparagus and others in the recipes section.