The Ultimate 4-Step Health Plan

From Dr. Josh Axe, DNM, DC, CNS.

Tis the season for holiday parties, cocktails and, more often than not, meals that are much larger than they probably should be.

You’ve been there before—a Thanksgiving, Christmas or other celebratory meal so delicious that you wish you had just worn your comfiest pajamas to the dinner table (or at least pants with an expandable waistline). And when a meal is that tasty, it’s easy to find yourself eating more, and more and more…Then it hits you: the uncomfortable, bloated belly that begs you to find the nearest couch to lie down. Was it that extra plate of stuffing (what a perfect name) or was it that second piece of pumpkin pie?

The good news is that there are some all-natural ways to get your body back on track and stave off that impending food coma (and a few extra pounds). Here’s the four-step plan that makes it possible.

1. Start with Digestive Enzymes

This article is all about bouncing back after a food binge, but the best recovery plan actually starts before you take your first bite. Digestive enzymes are vital to good digestive health, as they help break down larger food molecules into smaller particles that the body can more easily use, while also helping to keep large amounts of food moving efficiently through the colon. Digestive enzymes also enhance nutrition absorption and prevent nutritional deficiencies. The problem is that many people are deficient in these critical enzymes, especially as they get older, because our natural enzyme production decreases with age.

Consuming digestive enzymes prior to your meal will prepare your body to better digest and absorb the nutrients from all those delicious foods you’ll be eating and help you to avoid the feeling of having a basketball lodged in your abdomen. Taking enzymes can also help you prevent the acid reflux, heartburn and stomach pain that can also be caused by overeating.

2. Digestive Herbs for Dessert

After you eat a huge meal—especially a carb- or comfort-food centric one like the ones typically served around the holidays—the last thing your belly needs is a serving of a high-calorie dessert. It will only exacerbate bloating, and the sugar will cause the entire digestive process to slow down. But I also know that giving up dessert during the holidays is nearly impossible. So if you just have to try a slice of cheesecake or your grandma’s favorite trifle, keep your portion small and follow it up with a warm cup of tea made from herbs that will aid digestion and calm any internal distress. One of my favorite herbs for digestive health is fenugreek, which is known to help with numerous digestive problems like upset stomach, stomach inflammation and constipation. Other tasty and therapeutic tea options include peppermint and ginger. Most grocery stores sell a variety of digestive tea blends; choose your favorite and keep it on hand for all of your biggest meals.

3. Take a Walk, Not a Nap

It’s called a food coma for good reason—overeating can make us feel very, very sleepy, especially if the meal was full of carbs and/or sugar. This overwhelming fatigue that follows a large meals is the result of the tremendous amount of energy required for digestion. When you overeat, more of your blood supply must be directed to your stomach and gastrointestinal system to facilitate digestion, and with all of this blood going towards food processing, there is less blood for the rest of your body, leaving you feeling tired or light-headed.

But if you want to recover as quickly as possible, you must resist the urge to lie down at all costs. Instead, have that hot cup of tea and take a nice walk. Speed walking isn’t necessary, and it would probably be pretty difficult with a stomach full of turkey). Shoot for a moderate pace for a moderate amount of time (30-45 minutes), to aid the digestion process, keep the blood circulating and help you to feel more alert. Going for a walk will also burn calories and may cancel out the extra calories you just consumed.

4. Eat More Protein

This may sound counterintuitive, but in the meals following your food binge, it’s important to eat more protein-rich foods. Not only is this a good idea after binges that are often loaded with carbs, sugars and fat, it’s a smart idea, in general, for keeping your energy up and your waistline down. Overall, I recommend that you make about 30 percent of your plate a high-quality source of protein at every meal. This ensures you eat enough throughout the day to meet your needs and prevents you from overeating the bad stuff.

Having an easily digestible, protein-rich smoothie for breakfast the morning after a food binge is a smart way to get back on track and give you energy without filling you up with something heavy. You may think that skipping meals is the way to go following a binge, but that will only slow down your metabolism and make digestion that much more difficult. Keep eating regular meals after a binge, but be sure to eat lighter meals that are rich in protein.

Food binges happen to everyone—sometimes intentionally, but a lot of times completely by accident. You were so hungry, and the food just tasted so good. When it happens, though, don’t beat yourself up about it. Instead, try these easy, effective and super healthy ways to bounce back. (I do want to note, however, that if you find yourself binging on a regular basis, it’s important to see a doctor who can determine whether you have a more chronic problem like binge eating disorder.)

Feel inspired? Read Dr. Josh Axe’s guide to foods that make you feel crappy or check out these five gluten-free recipes.