The end of the year is traditionally a time to enjoy company while savoring the delicacies of the season. But alas, the winter months always seem to bring a slew of stomach issues, given all the hearty, cozy meals and cold weather. Understanding the medical reasons behind distressing digestive triggers may help you avoid an upset stomach this winter and enjoy the treats of good food and good friends. Here are three factors to be mindful of that can spark stomach issues:
1. What You’re Eating
Indigestion is what we call that uncomfortable feeling of fullness in your upper abdomen. The medical term is dyspepsia, and it can often include nausea, bloating, cramping, and heartburn. With the abundance of delicious meals, it’s no surprise that indigestion hits hard during the holidays and beyond. But what is it exactly about those meals that cause the discomfort?
- They’re huge. Are your eyes bigger than your stomach? Large portions can make you uncomfortably full.
- They’re low in fiber. Without adequate fiber, your body has a harder time digesting, which leads to bloating, gas, and cramps.
- They’re high in sugar. Excess sugar is difficult for your intestines to absorb, which leads to the production of gas.
- They’re high in fat. Fat slows down digestion, so the more you eat, the harder time your body will have digesting.
- They’re paired with excess alcohol. Meals that are high in sugar, fat, and alcohol can decrease the tone of your lower esophageal sphincter (or LES), the muscle responsible for keeping digesting food down. This results in an increased risk of regurgitation.
- They’re eaten right before bedtime. When laying down to sleep, your back naturally adds pressure to your LES. This means heading to bed just after indulging in a big meal can increase the likelihood of indigestion.
Pacing yourself, thinking twice about second helpings, and balancing sugar & fat with some high-fiber foods can help you avoid indigestion at the dinner table.
2. What You’re Catching
Being around groups of people and eating lots of different foods can lead to the spread of germs. Some illnesses that may upset your stomach include:
- Stomach flu. Commonly referred to as the stomach bug, the technical term for this illness is actually viral gastroenteritis. What’s happening is an inflammation of the small intestine caused by a virus, most commonly rotavirus or norovirus. It’s highly contagious and often makes the rounds in settings like schools, nursing homes, sports teams, offices, cruise ships…and family gatherings. Symptoms include diarrhea more than 3x per day, fever, nausea and/or vomiting, body aches, and stomach cramps.
- Food poisoning. Food poisoning occurs when a virus, bacteria, or parasite enters your body through the food that you eat. Symptoms can be very similar to the stomach flu, making it hard to decipher which is which. Some common culprits for food poisoning include:
- Raw eggs, fish, and other meats
- Unpasteurized foods like milk or cheese
- Undercooked rice
- Food that has not been properly washed
- Drinking contaminated water
- COVID-19. While not the most common indicator, an upset stomach is a symptom of COVID-19. Many who contract the infamous infection experience nausea, vomiting, and/or diarrhea. The only way to know for sure if you have COVID-19 is to get tested, and the best way to prevent COVID is to get vaccinated. Boosters are now available as well.
Sticking to smaller groups, staying home when you’re feeling sick, and regularly washing your hands can help to avoid the spread of illness.
3. What You’re Feeling
There is a profound connection between the nervous system and the gut. This means that feeling overwhelmed by stress can result in digestive disruptions. With shopping, cooking, cleaning, and traveling, the holidays are enough to leave anybody’s stomach in knots. Stress-induced dyspepsia happens when this anxiety impacts the stomach by speeding up or slowing down your digestion. The result is issues like diarrhea, constipation, heartburn, and/or nausea. Some tips for avoiding anxiety-based dyspepsia include:
- Plan the details ahead of time. Make the shopping list, organize meals, and make the beds. This will help you avoid a last-minute scramble to get everything perfect before your guests arrive.
- Pencil-in ways to de-stress. Do a takeout night, book a massage, or simply check the weather report and plan a neighborhood stroll. Adding these into your busy schedule helps you take some time for yourself to regroup and relax.
- Try to enjoy the moment. This tip is for anyone who started January thinking, “What just happened?”. Instead of letting the weight of the ever-growing pile of dishes keep you down, try to sit back and savor the moment. This perspective shift can relieve stress and help you to enjoy moments that turn into cherished memories.
If you have a gut feeling that something is wrong with your stomach, we’ll be standing by to help. Visit your local vybe and feel better sooner.