From The Straits Times    |

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The year end is often a time of indulgence. You are feeling joyful and 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 too much during the Christmas season, here is what you can do to undo the damage and prepare yourself for the next round of festive indulgence.

Overeating can leave you bloated and cause 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 bloating “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 bloating, he added. In fact, if you are bloated or suffering from heartburn, you should avoid consuming more food for a while. You can get relief by drinking ginger, peppermint or chamomile tea, said Dr Lee.

Antacids that contain calcium carbonate, simethicone or activated charcoal can also provide relief from the gas in the abdomen, he added. You should refrain from lying down to help alleviate the discomfort until the symptoms go away, he said.

Lying down will lengthen the time taken for the digested food to travel from the stomach to the small intestine and cause the bloating to last longer. It will also allow the acid in the stomach to travel more easily against gravity towards the gullet. A slow stroll or sitting upright will help to reduce the discomfort of bloating and heartburn.

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

Reduce your calorie intake for the rest of the day or the next few days after overeating. “Say, you had a very heavy Christmas buffet lunch, you can then have a lighter dinner – for example, a noodle soup or salad – to compensate for that,” 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 meal or starve yourself before a feast as this usually leads to bingeing. “Famine and feasting cycles tend to wreak 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 – taking in 500 to 600 calories for two non-consecutive days per week. On such days, focus on fibre, such as fruit and vegetables, and protein like meat, fish, eggs, dairy or legumes.”

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 your 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 wholegrains, fruit and vegetables in your diet regularly will help you to detox as these foods promote bowel movement, which reduces the duration potentially harmful substances (remain) in our body,” said Mr Lim Kiat, a senior nutritionist at the Singapore Heart Foundation.

Some people use apple cider vinegar and ginger tea to purify the body but the evidence on this practice is limited, he added.

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

“Get active with 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 going for a big meal, you can try increasing your calorie output through physical activity in an attempt to match the calorie input, said the Health Promotion Board. Studies have shown that even small increments in the volume of activity are associated with improved health outcomes, it said.

This article was first published on the Straits Times.