Obviously, the best thing you can do to reduce bloating after a big meal is to avoid overeating in the first place, but let’s just say the meal got the best of you. Here are some ways to help improve your digestion (and reduce the bloat) afterwards.
Pay attention to your eating style. Okay, technically this isn’t a post-meal strategy, but it’s worth mentioning since it can help reduce gas, bloating, and abdominal pain. Sit upright while you eat, chew thoroughly, and eat slowly. As you’re eating, put your fork down between bites, and enjoy plenty of conversation to help you slow down. Not only can your eating style prevent unwanted GI effects, but it can also help reduce the odds of overeating in the first place.
Take plant-based digestive enzymes. Digestive enzyme supplements help break down food into smaller molecules, which makes them easier to digest and absorb. You may already be familiar with Lactaid, enzymes to help you digest lactose, a common cause of bloating among those who are intolerant. But a broad-based supplement provides other enzymes to help you break down carbohydrates, fats, and proteins a little better. These types of enzymes help optimize your digestion and may help alleviate temporary bloat when taken either just before or after a big meal.
Drink water. Water helps improve digestion and nutrient absorption so be sure to drink plenty of fluids if you’re experiencing post-meal bloat. Plus, if you’re prone to constipation (which can contribute to bloating), water can help keep things moving. And often, overeating rich, holiday foods means we’ve also consumed extra sodium, which contributes to bloating. Drinking water will help flush out the excess to help you recover and feel better in your body.
Sip some peppermint tea. Peppermint can help relax your digestive system and relieve the spasms that contribute to pain and bloating. Beyond that, sipping tea is a relaxing ritual, and that sense of calm it encourages can help promote healthy digestion. If you commonly experience post-meal bloating and distress, time-released peppermint capsules might help. One caution on peppermint tea and capsules: They might lead to heartburn, especially in susceptible people (say, you commonly have heartburn), so if you’re in this camp, this wouldn’t be the natural digestive aid for you.
Practice deep breathing. Studies suggest that bloating and abdominal distention can impact breathing patterns, and that doing some breath work might help. Try practicing some belly breathing exercises, which also have relaxation benefits that can improve digestion naturally. If you place your hands on your belly and it barely expands when you take a deep breath, you could probably benefit from this practice. BellyBio is an app that can help train you in the proper technique, so it’s worth the free download to help you recover from a big holiday meal.
Take a walk. Walking speeds up your digestion a bit, so when you need to bounce back after a big meal, a walk can be really helpful. And if you’re worried about working up a sweat, don’t be. Researchers found that a slow pace (about 2.5 mph) was enough to speed up stomach emptying, so a stroll around the neighborhood could be enough to help you feel better. This is one strategy my son and I employ often—especially after a big Thanksgiving dinner!
Avoid lying down. A big meal can make you feel sluggish, so the natural response is to lie down and chill or nap. Resist the urge! Lying down after a big meal is one of the worst things you can do because it increases the likelihood that you’ll experience acid reflux. It’s best to wait two or preferably three hours to allow your system a chance to digest naturally before you lie down.
Skip the judgmental chatter. It’s a pretty common tendency to harp on yourself after overdoing it, but not only is this detrimental to your emotional wellbeing, it could be worsening your bloating and GI discomfort. It turns out, your brain and your gut are intimately connected, so when you experience stress, it could manifest as stomach discomfort or digestive issues. And of course, beating yourself up creates stress. Though it’s always best to try to avoid overeating, it’s unrealistic to think you aren’t ever going to get a little carried away with food. It happens to everyone and is totally normal! So try to skip the judgment and negative talk and get a little curious instead. Why did you overeat? In the case of a holiday meal, it could be that the food and the company felt special and you lost track. When you examine the situation with curiosity instead of judgement, it’ll help reduce the stress and might help you approach the next big meal more mindfully. Give it a try!
Reboot with real food. Skip the urge to do a fast or cleanse and reboot with real food, instead. Real, fiber-rich foods help nourish the trillions of bacteria in your gut and promote healthy digestion on an ongoing basis. Plus, some artificial foods (such as artificial sweeteners) can trigger bloating, and may even alter the bacteria in your gut. Two of my favorite morning-after meals are a protein- and produce-packed smoothie and protein pancakes. Both contain fiber from real fruits (I also add veggies to my smoothies) and protein, which promote fullness in a light and healthy way. You can grab my recipe for protein pancakes here.
One more word on bloating and digestive distress. If you routinely experience symptoms, it’s worth checking in with your doctor. You may have a digestive disorder or another clinical issue that would benefit from more comprehensive care.