Written by John Immel,
Rich foods and holiday libations may be difficult to avoid during this festive season, or anytime you gather with friends and loved ones. Food is often the centerpiece of social occasions, and an important part of relationship building. It's important to participate, but you may find yourself eating foods you normally wouldn't. Health challenges can resurface after these celebratory occasions, starting with indigestion and a poor night's sleep. Fortunately, Ayurveda has many tips to handle situations like this. Here's how to maximize the fun, while minimizing the damage.
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The Effects of CelebratingCelebrations with food may cause you to eat at a different time than your normal routine, eat a larger quantity of food, or eat unusual or unhealthy foods. Healthy individuals can usually tolerate these moderate transgressions with minimal effects. If your diet is generally healthy, your level of resilience will be high. If you have a habit of celebrating with food on a daily basis, however, your imbalances will start to accumulate, overwhelming your strength and resilience.
As transgressions become more frequent, your body will give you simple signs that you are approaching your limits. Not surprisingly, the food you eat affects your digestion first. If you've stuffed yourself, your stomach may hurt. You may get acid reflux, food coma, or gas and bloating.
After you digest the rich meal of carbs, fats and proteins, the extra calories and proteins are absorbed into the bloodstream, making the blood thick. Sludgy thick blood plasma bogs the circulatory and lymphatic systems. The result is mucus congestion the next morning, or even high blood pressure as the heart struggles to move the thickened blood. A sluggish circulatory system depresses your metabolism, making you feel tired, lethargic, and your thoughts cloudy.
On a case by case basis, you may also notice imbalances in various organs and tissues depending on your constitution. Usually, you will need to wait for these balances to be cleared out of your body before heading off to another holiday party. Alternatively, you can use herbs, exercise, and Ayurvedic wisdom to speed up the recovery process.
Before the Fun: Preparing Your Body for CelebrationPrepare your body for feasts and celebrations with a grace period of light, easy to digest foods 24 hours before a big meal. When I was a boy, my mom would serve a light lunch before the Thanksgiving meal. Similarly, a bit of austerity before your celebrations is a gentle way to increase your strength and resilience. Don't fast completely, however, as this will make you ravenous and likely to overindulge. Here are some pre-feast gentle food recommendations:
Just Before the CelebrationA half an hour before the meal, or just before you leave your house, drink a digestive tea such as Digestive Bitters, Trikatu or Hingvastak Churna. For extra effect, add a wedge of lime and a pinch of salt to ensure you are well hydrated before the meal.
If you know you won't be able to stomach what's on the Thanksgiving table, eat a light meal before you head over to the festivities and then eat lightly while there. If you have a food allergy, abstinence may be necessary.
Social eating involves coordination, patience and inevitable delay. A meal scheduled for 7pm may begin at 8pm. Hunger pangs, low energy, and irritability signal distressed digestion and blood, making folks "hangry." This should be remedied with a light, easy to digest snacks before you arrive at your destination. Although snacking should generally be avoided, in this case a snack will keep your system even keeled. Settling your stomach has the added bonus of making it easier to go with the flow and be social. Here are some quick and healthy snack options:
During the Celebration
Your host may be embarrassed if you refuse certain foods, or take abnormally small portions. Instead, be a gracious guest and accept what has been offered with love, unless you have a food allergy. For seconds, eat more of what balances you, and less of what doesn't. Chew food carefully as this will greatly minimize any ill effects of poor food choices. Saliva contains lots of digestive enzymes, and can help break down and neutralize offending foods.
If the social occasion involves drinking, use alcohol to your advantage (in moderation). Sipping a small amount of alcohol with food can actually help your digestion, and is a congenial way to participate in the social activities of the evening. Select light alcoholic beverages mixed with tropical juices, sours or bitters. Avoid hard liquor.
Forgo harboring any guilt or regret over what you choose to eat, for these types of emotions only serve to hinder digestion and assimilation. Instead, be sure to enjoy the decadence of the food you indulge in by eating slowly and mindfully, savoring every bite. Make sure portion sizes are moderate.
After the CelebrationRest after the meal for fifteen minutes. Then take a short walk with a friend at the party. This will help greatly help your digestion. Take triphala before bed to cleanse your bowels.
The day after the celebration, honor your body by appreciating the challenges it must overcome to keep you healthy and balanced. Eat simply, and get back on a good routine. The general rule of thumb is that you can relax and return to normal, less restrictive food choices after you have eliminated the celebratory meal from your bowels.
When you work with your body, instead of against it, you will speed up the recovery process and increase your resilience, which ultimately means you can celebrate more often.
Remedies by Type
Digestive Imbalances (15 minutes to 6 hours)
Blood Imbalances (3 hours to 24 hours)
Nervous System Imbalances (3 hours to 24 hours)
Summary of Remedies
Support DigestionPrepare the stomach a half hour before the meal with a ginger, lime and salt appetizer. Chew your food as thoroughly as possible as you enjoy the company of good friends and family. It's easy to become so involved in the table's banter that you forget to masticate!
Eat EarlyLunch is the ideal meal for social feasts and eating out. Otherwise, schedule large dinners at 4pm while the body is still strong and to digest food completely before bedtime. Desserts have become a social norm at gatherings, however damaging to digestion, and should be served by 6pm. Eating after 8pm may be impossible to avoid for some social occasions. In that case eat lightly. Overnight, undigested food becomes stagnant in the blood and weighs you down, provoking Kapha and mucous.
Indulge WiselyFollow good eating habits during the entire meal. Eat easy to digest foods first. Indulge only small amounts of difficult to digest foods. Instead of store bought cakes and pies, make your own healthy homemade desserts. Aim to have dessert shortly after the main meal. This will ensure that you don't overdo it with sweets and that you avoid eating too close to bedtime for the body to have any time to digest. Ideally meals are at least four hours apart so that the digestive tract has time to complete digesting one meal before it's beckoned to process another. If you eat your main meal and then dessert an hour later, the turkey that's still in your stomach now has to wait for the pumpkin pie you just gobbled to be ready to move onto the small intestine. This type of digestive backlog can easily create toxic metabolic waste (ama) which clogs your channels and weighs you down.
Take a WalkShortly after your meal, take a short fifteen minute walk around the block. Invite other guests to join you in getting some fresh air. Enjoy the quality time and focused conversation such an outing invites. It can be the perfect way to connect with that loved one you haven't seen in forever and it will benefit both of your digestive systems.
Massage Your Abdomen, StretchBefore bed and the next morning, massage your abdomen gently to encourage good elimination. Stretching your abdomen with various yoga poses the next morning can encourage complete elimination. Exercise also helps to clear out your blood and lymphatic system from accumulated toxins.
Digestive BittersDigestive Bitters before and after a meal can regulate blood sugar, help digestion, reduce heartburn, and encourage a cleansing elimination of the bowels.
Cleanse the Bowels AfterwardsTake triphala at night before bed. Triphala is a mild laxative that cleanses and restores bowel health after an indulgence.
ConclusionFollow these simple tips this Thanksgiving, and at all your holiday celebrations to safely enjoy and celebrate with family and friends this holiday season. Use the wisdom of Ayurveda to ensure your holiday feast is something you, your health, and your GI tract are grateful for.
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About the AuthorJohn Immel, the founder of Joyful Belly, teaches people how to have a healthy diet and lifestyle with Ayurveda. His approach to Ayurveda exudes a certain ease, which many find enjoyable and insightful. John also directs Joyful Belly's School of Ayurveda , which specializes in digestive tract pathology & Ayurvedic nutrition. John and his wife Natalie recently published Explore Your Hunger: A Guide to Hunger, Appetite & Food.
John's interest in Ayurveda and digestive tract pathology was inspired by a complex digestive disorder acquired from years of international travel, including his public service work in South Asia. John's commitment to the detailed study of digestive disorders reflects his zeal to get down to the roots of the problem. His hope and belief in the capacity of each & every client to improve their quality of life is nothing short of a personal passion. John's creativity in the kitchen and delight in cooking for others comes from his family oriented upbringing. In addition to his certification in Ayurveda, John holds a bachelor's degree in mathematics from Harvard University.
John enjoys sharing Ayurveda within the context of his Catholic roots, and finds Ayurveda gives him an opportunity to participate in the healing mission of the Church. Jesus expressed God's love by feeding and healing the sick. That kindness is the fundamental ministry of Ayurveda as well.
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