There are 6,000 reasons – one for each calorie – to take things steady on Christmas Day.
The average intake may sound mindboggling but it’s true as we over-indulge on drink and a whole host of fatty treats.
Christmas is a time when everyone is pretty stressed and out of their normal routine.
But eating badly can cause a variety of symptoms which will make for a very unpleasant festive season – so it’s important to try to take care of your gut.
You have a trillion bacteria in your tum which are very sensitive to what you eat.
Your gut likes routine and it likes a balanced diet. It likes you to not just have a dietary routine but a physical and mental routine where you do pretty much the same thing day in, day out. And it doesn’t like excesses of anything.
Firstly, they can constipate you which will give you crampy tummy pain, a lot of uncomfortable wind, distension and generally make you feel uncomfortable.
So, without being too graphic, it’s vital that you stay regular. And that means, if you’re a visitor this Christmas, you should not allow embarrassment to stop you using the host’s loo if you need to.
If you do “bottle it up” you’ll end up like an awful lot of my patients who come to me in January because they’ve had 10 days of stool avoidance.
There are other problems associated with the classic Christmas diet of alcohol on an empty stomach – followed by loads of eating.
This can really trigger acid symptoms like reflux, belching, getting a bad taste in your mouth and bad breath.
Excess acid which might cause you to start coughing at night.
A fatty diet, pretty much the norm for the 12 days of Christmas, will irritate the gall bladder. Anyone prone to gallstones or with existing gallstones is much more likely to suffer an attack from eating fatty food.
Bloating is also really common and the office party or friends night out can be ruined if something you’ve eaten has irritated your gut, maybe causing you to pass a lot of wind or have crampy stomach pains.
As for Christmas Day itself, you probably don’t want to be the person with a list of dietary requirements to avoid.
But equally the sheer volume of the 6,000-calorie average takes a toll. It can make you feel distended and gassy because your gut still has to push all of that food from one end to the other – and that might take about three days. So think about that, think about every calorie. Rather than saying: “Would I like some more?” ask yourself: “Am I still hungry? Do I really need that extra portion of Christmas pud?”
Tread cautiously with anything fatty, salty or spicy. If you suffer from diarrhoea or excess gas, lay off the sprouts as they tend to create a lot of intestinal gas.
Christmas pudding is very rich. If you’re washing it down with brandy butter and cream, if you’re igniting it with whisky, those are factors that are going to be an irritant to your gut, with absolute certainly. Have a small bit.
Go easy on the coffee too, as a lot of caffeine can irritate your gut. And it’s a stimulant so you may feel you’re opening your bowels a bit more.
Generally, watch how much picking at food you do on the day.
With alcohol, our liver has 500 jobs to do over and above processing the prosecco. Watch fizzy drinks like champagne, which can leave you feeling quite gassy and distended. Alcohol in general can really irritate the gut, giving you acid.
Some patients will also suffer from diarrhoea, stomach pain or constipation.
When you head to Christmas parties try not to mix your colours of drinks. Darker alcohol is generally more of an irritant if you are sensitive to it. So the clearer the drink, the better.
And stick to one ingredient – mixing vodka with a few things can make you feel quite sickly.
Cocktails contain artificial sugars, drawing water into your gut – making you feel you need a poo. When dealing with the after-effects of parties, hydration is key. So drink lots of water and remember that if you’re drinking you should eat to avoid problems the next day. Have something proper to eat before you go out.
The one in five of us with irritable bowel syndrome can particularly struggle at this time.
IBS is the most common problem I see and it can not only be inconvenient but embarrassing too. Some people have it really badly. You may feel fine at the start of the day but then become extremely bloated, flatulent and forever tripping of the loo. If you have IBS symptoms try probiotics such as Alforex to regulate your gut bacteria.
This can have a positive effect on tummy pain, bloating and any bowel changes.
If you’ve got indigestion or acid reflux the day after a Christmas event, I suggest eating something.
Don’t go for a fry-up or hair of the dog, try something bland, nothing salty or spicy. Milk works well – or buy something over the counter to reduce acid. Avoid caffeine, as that will irritate it further. Some people may need medical help. The pain of acid reflux can be severe and if it’s central in the chest a victim can even think they are having a heart attack.
An attack of gallstones can be shocking and land you in A&E.
The worst-case scenario with constipation is a bowel obstruction. It can also lead to bleeding from the back passage, tears, fissures or a flare-up of piles.
Sorry if I’m sounding like The Grinch!
Now… what about coping after the Christmas season?
I’m not a fan of crazy, restrictive detoxes in January but I do think it’s a good time to eliminate big favourites in your life.
Every January I go off bread, meat and alcohol. It puts discipline straight into a month after a month of total free rein.
AS TOLD TO VIKKI WHITE
- Alflorex, £24.99 for 30 capsules, at Boots or precisionbiotics.com