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A Quick Look at the Process of Digestion

Holiday foods contain a combination of carbs, proteins, and fats that our bodies have to break down into the nutrients that our cells use for energy. The digestive process begins with the first bite, as food is chewed, swallowed, and then exposed to acids and enzymes in the stomach. By the time that meal of turkey, stuffing, and pumpkin pie travels into the small intestine, it has been converted into a nutrient-rich liquid called chyme. In the small intestine, the chyme is further processed by enzymes from the pancreas and liver. The sugars, fats, and proteins are now able to flow into the bloodstream and around the body.

Stop Signs!

At holiday gatherings, we sometimes continue eating well past the point of feeling “full.” Our bodies are able to accommodate these recreational foods, but it’s helpful to recognize some warning signs to avoid what could be the painful consequences of a holiday binge.

  • Tight Pants! As the stomach is filled, it stretches. An over-filled stomach could crowd other internal organs and cause an uncomfortable, bloated feeling.
  • The stomach, pancreas, and liver have to work double-time to secrete enough digestive enzymes to convert food into usable nutrients. You might notice that your heart beats faster and your body temperature rises as digestion kicks into high-gear.
  • What is heartburn? At the base of the esophagus is a valve that closes tight to keep food down in the stomach. When the stomach is over-filled this valve weakens, causing stomach acid to flow upward.
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Common Sense Strategies

When you’re tempted by a table full of holiday foods, the most obvious strategies are: to use a smaller plate, control portion sizes, and to fill up a take-home box instead of eating everything at one meal. Make sure to drink plenty of water and to include healthy proteins such as sliced turkey along with fresh vegetables and low-fat dip.

After a large meal, try to stop snacking a few hours before bedtime. An active digestive system could interrupt normal sleep patterns. Taking a walk in the evening or the next day will help move food through the digestive system, and the fresh air will alleviate grogginess.

And be cautious about holiday beverages! Eggnog and festive-flavored drinks contain sugary mixes that are high in calories in addition to the 100-150 calories in a shot of rum or whiskey.