Get a handle on holiday eating with expert tips from a specialist physician at Touro.
Looking forward to the holidays, but dreading the effect that all of those multicourse family meals will have on your diet? Dr. Vivek Huilgol, a gastroenterologist at Touro Infirmary, offers tips to improve eating habits — from cutting down on stress and boredom-induced eating, to managing acid reflux — and a few remedies to comfort and calm irritated GI systems.
It’s important to keep in mind that eating is innately tied to emotion and psychology. “Everybody has to eat,” says Dr. Huilgol, who recently opened NOLA Gastro at Touro Infirmary. “The truth of the matter is that food, especially at holidays, is about the social aspect. There is an emotional overlay to eating. Some of it’s good, and some of it’s stressful. You do want to try and take care of yourself as best you can.”
10 Tips to Maintain Digestive Health Through the Holidays
Stick to your routine. If you’ve found a balance of diet and exercise that works for you, don’t abandon it the moment you sit down for dinner. If you don’t have a routine yet, try to establish one before the holidays. “I genuinely eat an apple a day — that’s to keep me away from myself,” Dr. Huilgol jokes.
Most people can incorporate more soluble fiber into their diets. “One of the advantages of having adequate dietary fiber is that it makes you feel full and you don’t overeat,” he explains. Yogurt containing live cultures is also a long-heralded digestive aid. “It’s about maintaining adequate beneficial bacteria in your gut.”
Drink water. It’s especially important to stay hydrated if you’re traveling over the holidays. “When you travel, you’re going to get dehydrated — you need to keep your water intake up,” Dr. Huilgol says. “Alcohol on an airline flight dehydrates you further.”
Watch your alcohol intake. Temper your holiday libations with a glass of water in between each cocktail, beer or glass of wine. This approach will both help you avoid a nasty hangover and aid in digestion. “People don’t necessarily know that the recommended limit on alcohol intake for men and women is different,” Dr. Huilgol says. “Women are physiologically capable of processing half the amount of alcohol as men.”
Pre-empt reflux. Avoid spicy or acidic foods that can trigger or worsen reflux, such as tomato sauce or citrus-based dishes.
Take your time at the table. “Chew your food slowly and thoughtfully,” Dr. Huilgol says. “It’s more about taking in the ambience of what you’re doing. From an emotional food perspective, you focus on the food and enjoy it. From a physiological perspective, it gives the stomach hormones time to release and inform the brain that you’re actually full.”
Use a smaller plate. “Pick up a smaller plate, and don’t pile it to the moon,” Dr. Huilgol says. “When you’re seated at the table, put your silverware down between bites.”
Take breaks. “Often, big family meals become long, extended affairs,” Dr. Huilgol says. “If you’re going to have a multicourse dinner, try to take a break … wait at least 20 minutes between courses.”
Don’t snack after the meal … “The stomach empties quite slowly,” Dr. Huilgol says. “It has a tremendous capacity to expand, but, ultimately, it has to grind the food down into 1- to 2-millimeter-sized particles before they’re allowed to leave the stomach. If you eat a really big meal and you’re still feeling full two hours later, you still are.”
… But do enjoy an after-dinner mint. “The tradition of having an after-dinner chocolate, or mint, comes about because it allows you to relax the lower esophageal sphincter and allows you to belch,” Dr. Huilgol says.
However, those with acid reflux should avoid mints, which can worsen reflux. “If you do have reflux, stay upright after the meal and chew a piece of gum in a flavor other than mint,” he advises. Ginger chews are also an excellent natural way to soothe mild nausea.
Take a walk. “After the meal, take a long, pleasant stroll,” Dr. Huilgol says. “There’s a lot of evidence that shows exercise does aid digestion.”
“When I was thinking about which specialty I wanted to pursue, I chose gastroenterology because, 20 years ago, I thought it was cool looking inside the human body to see what was going on, and being able to help people. And the truth of the matter is, I still really enjoy it.”
Vivek Huilgol, M.D.
NOLA Gastro at Touro Infirmary
3715 Prytania St., Suite 500