The ST Guide To... surviving festive feasting

A Christmas spread of cakes, cookies, candy and cocktails.PHOTO: ST FILE

SINGAPORE - The year-end is often a time of indulgence. You are feeling joyful and you easily forget to eat in moderation.

There is just one problem: Your body may end up suffering the effects of overeating.

If you have eaten way too much during the Christmas season, here's what you can do to "undo" the damage and prepare yourself for the next round of festive indulgence.

Take a break

Overeating can cause bloatedness and heartburn.

The latter, which is usually described as a burning sensation in the chest, happens when stomach acid is forced back up into the gullet or oesophagus.

"If overeating is a one-off episode, the sense of bloatedness should go away on its own when the food is eventually passed from the stomach to the small intestine," said Dr Lee Eng Sing, a family physician and consultant from National Healthcare Group Polyclinics.

"This may take up to a few hours depending on the content of the meal."


In the meantime, stay away from spicy food, citrus fruits, carbonated beverages and alcohol as these may aggravate symptoms of heartburn and bloatedness, he said.

In fact, if you are bloated or suffering from heartburn, you should avoid consuming more food for a while.

You can, however, relieve the bloatedness by drinking ginger tea, peppermint tea or chamomile tea, said Dr Lee.

Antacids that contain calcium carbonate, simethicone or activated charcoal can also help to relieve gas in the abdomen, he added.

And, you should refrain from lying down to help alleviate the discomfort until the symptoms naturally resolve, he said.

Lying down will lengthen the time needed for the digested food to travel from the stomach to the small intestine and therefore, cause the feeling of bloatedness to last longer.

It will also allow the acid in the stomach to travel more easily against gravity up towards the gullet.

A slow stroll or sitting upright will help to reduce the discomfort of bloatedness and heartburn.

If the symptoms persist beyond a few hours, or if overeating becomes a habit, please consult your family doctor as it could be an indication of other underlying medical conditions, said Dr Lee.

Eat a little less

Reduce your calorie intake for the rest of the day or the next few days after stuffing your face.

"Say, you had a very heavy Christmas buffet lunch, you can then have a lighter dinner to compensate for that, for example, a noodle soup or salad," said Mr Derrick Ong, dietitian and director of nutrition consultancy Eat Right.

"This will help to balance out your calorie intake in a day."

Do not fast after a meals or starve yourself before a feast as this usually leads to bingeing.

"Famine and feasting cycles tend to wreck havoc on our metabolic rate, which can sabotage weight management efforts in the long run," said Mr Ong.

"At best, you can consider doing intermittent fasting - eating 500 to 600 calories for two non-consecutive days per week. On such days, focus on fibre, such as fruits and vegetables, and on protein like meat, fish, eggs, dairy or legumes."

Detox the natural way

You may have heard of people wanting to go on a "detox diet" to cleanse the body of toxins and get rid of excess weight after a period of indulgence.

However, medical science does not support detoxing as our liver and kidneys are already designed to purify the body.

Maintain a healthy, balanced diet in order to manage your weight and support "detoxing" the way nature intended.

"Incorporating whole grains, fruits and vegetables in your diet regularly will help you to 'detox' as these foods promote bowel movement, which reduces the duration of potentially harmful substances in our body," said Mr Lim Kiat, a senior nutritionist at the Singapore Heart Foundation.

Some people swear by the use of apple cider vinegar and ginger tea to "detox" but the evidence on this practice is limited, he said.

Get moving

Engage in physical activity if you want to burn the additional calories consumed during the festive season.

"Get active with your friends and family, and aim for 150 minutes of physical activity - such as jogging - every week to help you shed off some of the 'festive' weight," said Mr Lim.

Or, if you are expecting a big feast, you can try increasing your calorie output through physical activity so that the calorie input will equate the calorie output, said the Health Promotion Board.

Studies have shown that even small increments in volume of activity are associated with improved health outcomes, it added.