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Winter Holidays, Upset Stomachs

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WebMD Feature
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

The holidays are cruel to our stomachs. Between October and January, our stomachs endure a lot -- Halloween candy, ladle after ladle of gravy, one-too-many flutes of champagne. We pay for that overeating, ending many holiday nights -- bloated, stomach roiling -- with a nightcap of antacid.

This year, break that holiday tradition. Enjoy the holidays, and the food, without the heartburn, upset stomach, and diarrhea or constipation. This article explains why we suffer digestive problems during the holidays, and then offers six tips to help you avoid tummy trouble.

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How Holidays Make Us Sick

  • Large portions. It’s simple: The more food you cram into your stomach, the more pressure on your esophageal sphincter, the muscle that keeps digested food down where it belongs. When the pressure is great enough, food and acid will back up, causing heartburn. Too much food can also slow down your whole digestive system, leading to stomachaches and constipation.
  • Rich foods. Holiday foods are generally high in sugar and fat. Both cause weight gain and added over a few months, that excess weight can trigger upset stomach. Fat is an immediate problem, since it slows down the digestion and can trigger reflux.
    Other foods known to cause reflux include chocolate, coffee, alcohol, mints, and acidic foods, says Kelly A. Tappenden, PhD, RD, professor of nutrition and gastrointestinal physiology at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.
  • Lack of fiber. Think of your favorite holiday food. It probably isn't bran flakes. That's part of the problem -- fiber tends to be missing from the holiday dinner table. "Low-fiber holiday foods can really stop you up and lead to constipation," says John Clarke, MD, a gastroenterologist and assistant professor at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine in Baltimore.  
  • Holiday stress. Stress -- triggered by mall shopping, cooking, cleaning, travel, and family conflict -- can cause upset stomach and heartburn. On top of that, many people cope with stress by overeating and drinking too much.

 

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