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Don’t Let Stomach Issues Steal Your New Year

Follow these tips to keep your stomach cheerful all winter long!

The beginning of a new year is a time for reunion, celebration, preparation, and, of course, comfort food! But festivities are often cut short with common yet negative stomach issues such as nausea, heartburn, bloating, indigestion, acid reflux, and constipation. These issues are often referred to as gastrointestinal (GI) discomforts.

According to the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, your gastrointestinal tract - a long series of hollow, tube-like organs that move and break down foods in your body - plays a vital role in your digestion.

But despite its importance, issues with this system can be hard to talk about - even when health professionals say not to be embarrassed.

Clyde Collins, MD, a gastroenterologist on the medical staff at Baylor Scott & White Medical Center - McKinney, says, “Unfortunately, it is common to experience GI discomfort around the holidays. We often indulge in foods that are typically richer than our normal meals.”

To reduce and prevent stomach issues to keep the festivities going, follow these helpful tips from Baylor Scott & White Health.

Woman,Stomach,Ache, stomach issues
How do you prevent common stomach issues during the holidays and beyond? | Shutterstock

When Should You See A Doctor About These Issues?

While the holidays are a time for excitement and cheer, it is important to listen to your body to determine normal GI symptoms versus symptoms you should see a professional about. 

Imran Sheikh, MD, a gastroenterologist on the medical staff at Baylor Scott & White Plano, has some information that may help you mitigate these feelings of unease around your stomach issues. 

“Occasional GI symptoms that are mild and not persistent are not uncommon, and often related to dietary factors,” Sheikh says. “However, if these symptoms are persistent, worsen, or are considered warning symptoms, you should see a doctor.”

Dr. Sheikh says these warning symptoms include black stool, change in bowel habits, blood in stool, symptoms associated with weight loss, a change in appetite, or trouble swallowing. Additionally, people with a personal or family history of cancer shouldn’t hesitate to see a doctor if any symptom is troubling them.

Tips on How to Prevent Negative Effects of Holiday Feasts

Dr. Collins advises that people should practice discipline during holiday feasts to reduce their chances of experiencing stomach issues such as fullness, nausea, acid reflux, and constipation. This can be done by avoiding overeating and alcohol consumption or pairing festivities with some exercise. 

Rama Behara, MD, a gastroenterologist on the medical staff at Baylor Scott & White Medical Center - Centennial, also suggests exercise during the festivities to help burn excess calories. Behara says it also helps to avoid eating too quickly. He says eating slowly can help avoid overeating and the associated digestive issues like heartburn and nausea.

“Instead of squeezing one of each item from the table on your plate, try and use small plates or smaller portions and never go back for seconds unless you’re still hungry. By giving your body time to digest your first helping of food, you might realize that you don’t need that second plate.”

Another helpful tip: consider bringing a fruit or veggie platter to that potluck with your friends. Dr. Behara says that this healthier option can help curb extra calories and help prevent stomach issues. Overall, you should try to limit foods high in fat and sugar and alcohol.

Setting Dietary Goals to Continue Reducing Symptoms After the Holiday Season

What if your holiday feasts have already come and gone? Don’t be too hard on yourself. “Commit to new change for a new year,” says Behara. “Set short and long term goals before the holidays are completely over.”

But how can you make changes like that stick? Dr. Behara says that a great way to implement these changes is to find a friend or family member willing to work with you on the goal or act as a support system for said goal. And remember to treat the changes like a marathon instead of a race. Take your time with these changes. Nothing happens overnight!

The holidays are meant to be a joyous celebration with friends and family, a time to reflect on the past year, set goals, and prepare for the year ahead. Think of these suggestions as tools to keep the holiday cheer going into the next year, rather than restrictions designed to hold you back.

Physicians provide clinical services as members of the medical staff at one of Baylor Scott & White Health’s subsidiary, community or affiliated medical centers and do not provide clinical services as employees or agents of those medical centers or Baylor Scott & White Health. ©2022 Baylor Scott & White Health.

This article originally appeared in our January/February 2022 edition of Local Profile.