The reason overeating feels so shitty in the first place is because, as you fill yourself with food, liquids, swallowed air, and gas byproducts of digestion, your stomach, abdominal muscles, and small intestines get stretched to the max. Understandably, this triggers pain.
But once you’ve overeaten, as one does during holidays that revolve around feasting, you can’t exactly undo it. That said, you can make your belly ache go away ASAP with the proper plan:
After 5 Minutes
Around that point in time when you’re like, “GUYS. I CAN’T EAT ONE MORE BITE!” but then you do take one more bite and feel like you could hurl, the best thing to do is drop your fork and push your chair away from the table.
Because the damage has already been done, and chances are you’ve yet to feel the brunt of it, now’s the time to loosen your pants or change into your most forgiving leggings, if you didn’t think to do so before eating.
“The more restricted you are, the more uncomfortable and less relaxed you’ll feel, which means your GI system will end up feeling even more stressed,” Dr. Lisa Ganjhu, DO, gastroenterologist and clinical associate professor of medicine at NYU Langone Medical Center.
While there’s no need to chug water - it will only make you feel more full - sipping on peppermint tea, in particular, can help by relaxing the digestive track, including the esophageal sphincter, which allows you to burp up any trapped air in the stomach, so you don’t feel quite as bloated and stuffed. (And remember, every time you pass gas or burp, you stimulate digestion by getting all that food in your system moving.) Bonus: The temperature of hot tea can sooth your digestive system. That said, you’ll want to steer clear of extremes, avoiding anything that’s too hot or too cold, drinking too fast, or drinking too much.
If you happen to be a coffee person, a cup of it can help you move your bowels and help you feel less stuffed. But, be warned: Caffeine’s effects are highly individualized, so coffee could make tummy troubles even worse in people who are sensitive to it.
After 15 Minutes
Instead of relocating from the holiday table to the nearest couch - eating, how exhausting! - force yourself to stay upright, even if that just means moving dishes from the table to the kitchen. Lying down can put pressure on the stomach, cause stomach acid to creep up into your esophagus, and trigger uncomfortable heartburn.
At this point, if you’re really in pain, Dr. Ganjhu recommends taking an OTC anti-gas drug like Gas-X, which will neutralize gas bubbles in your digestive tract to reduce bloating; an antacid like Maalox or Mylanta to reduce the extra acid production that happens when you overeat; or Pepto-Bismol or Zantac, which can settle the stomach and sooth irritation caused by overindulging in all the things (including alcohol). That said, if you’re not experiencing any symptoms besides fullness, there’s no reason to take anything.
Big warning: If you’re considering popping a laxative, don’t. “There’s nothing you can take to speed things along that’s safe,” Dr. Ganjhu warns. “Food will empty out of your stomach at its own rate, with higher fat, spicier, and more complex foods taking longer to digest. Give it time, and it will pass.”
After 30 Minutes
Although you’re probably still feeling insanely full, now’s the time to take a little walk. “Walking is the best thing to do after overeating because it stimulates GI mobility to help move food through your body faster,” Dr. Ganjhu says. Remember: When you sit around doing nothing, your GI tract does too.
When you get back, treat yo’self to a belly rub. "It’s like helping a baby burp,” Dr. Ganjhu explains. Besides, “when you’re relaxed your GI tract is relaxed. So pretty much anything that relaxes you will help you feel better,” she says.
1 to 2 Hours Later
While it’s not nap time yet, you still don’t want to do anything overly strenuous. So long as you’re careful to avoid inversions and any poses that put your head beneath your stomach or compressing it, which can cause acid reflux, gentle yoga-inspired stretches can make you feel more comfortable by helping you release trapped gas.
Try sitting on the floor and twisting from the waist, coming into child’s pose, or lying on your back and gently hugging your knees into your chest. If this makes you nauseous or triggers acid reflux, just try some deep breathing to relax the bowels.
2 to 3 Hours Later
Now that most of the food you’ve eaten, if not all of it, has likely emptied from your stomach, which reduces your risk of suffering from acid reflux, it’s finally cool to take a load off and lie down horizontally.
5 to 6 Hours Later
At this point, you should be feeling markedly better. If your massive holiday meal happened right around lunchtime, and you’re now feeling like eating dinner, go lighter than you did midday. “You want to temper your food intake to avoid overdoing it on calories,” Dr. Ganjhu says. (Besides, hasn’t your body already endured enough abuse?!)
Although you might be craving more of the sweets you ate earlier (eating sugary stuff can make that happen), the worst thing you can do is repeat the same eating behaviors that made you feel ill in first place. So make your next meal more mindful by choosing smaller portions of healthier foods (i.e., the greenest-looking leftovers).
The Next Day
At this point, it's all about getting back on track, says Dr. Mark Hyman, MD, the director of the Cleveland Clinic Center for Functional Medicine and author of the upcoming book, The Eat Fat, Get Thin Cookbook. So, instead of starting your day with a few slivers of leftover pumpkin pie, eat a clean breakfast full of whole ingredients containing healthy fats, protein, and produce, and steer clear of processed foods.
Even if your pants are feeling a little bit tighter, don’t try to skip meals. To optimize your metabolism, you want to eat the right kinds of foods and eat enough of those foods, Dr. Hyman says. Trying to drastically cut back on calories will only leave you with a colossal appetite and in all likelihood, another bout of overeating. (Hi, leftovers.)
He also recommends getting some exercise, if you can. And yes, Black Friday shopping totally counts so long as you do your browsing in the flesh, not online.
At the end of the day, both Dr. Ganjhu and Dr. Hyman agree that the best way to sidestep all the pain and suffering that comes from stuffing yourself silly is to avoid overeating in the first place. Yeah, it’s a total buzz kill but still worth noting before you gorge yourself again come Christmastime.
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