The holiday season in America is all about ignoring your body's natural signals, which are probably screaming, "Stop stuffing your face!" It's also about family and consumerism, but mostly stuffing your face.
Of course, this isn't exactly healthy. Apart from feeling miserable and bloated while you're lying on the couch with your pants undone, it isn't great for your body (internally and aesthetically) to overeat. Fortunately, there are a few ways to help undo the damage from overdoing it on a huge meal.
Take a walk immediately after your meal
After you've forced yourself to scarf down that last bite of food, all you probably want to do is retreat to the couch and not move for 24 hours. But that's the worst thing you can do, says internist Dr. Joseph Mosquera. He recommends immediately getting up and helping to clean up, which will burn off a few calories and keep you from eating any more. Then, put on your walking shoes.
"You may not be in the mood for heavy exercise right after eating, but take a 10-minute walk and try and be upright for a couple hours after eating if you can," he says. If you can stomach it, try to extend that to a half hour; studies have shown going for a 30-minute walk immediately after eating can help regulate the blood sugar spike after a big meal.
The key is to make sure it's really an immediate walk -- researchers who study such things found that an immediate walk is more effective for weight loss than waiting just an hour. Loosen up your belt and start pounding pavement.
Drink lots of water
After you've returned from your walk, focus on taking it easy to help ease digestion. Resist the urge to sip another after-dinner cocktail, and instead drink a lot of water. Gastroenterologist and obesity medicine specialist Dr. Nitin Kumar says drinking water will especially help metabolize meat and sugar. You'll be eating copious amounts of both, right? Right. Flush them out with water.
Unless you have bladder or prostate issues, you should keep sipping water until you go to bed (and probably first thing when you wake up, too).
Take a probiotic
A big, heavy meal might have you reaching for a roll of Tums or a bottle of Pepto-Bismol, which is fine if you're experiencing a sour stomach or indigestion. But Dr. Mosquera warns against trying to undo any perceived damage with a laxative or those "detox" teas that are really just laxatives. You don't want to spend your day off doing nothing but pooping.
Instead, an over-the-counter probiotic supplement could have its benefits after over-indulging. "You've eaten so much your intestinal flora needs to be balanced," Dr. Mosquera says. Flora is another word for "bacteria," the good kind that help you digest your food. You'll need lots of them for that turkey and stuffing you housed.
Set your alarm for a morning workout
It may sound like the last thing you want to do in the moment, but before you hit the sack in a stuffed food coma, make sure you set your alarm for a morning sweat session. This will help burn off some of that food you've eaten. Dr. Kumar recommends sticking to your normal fitness routine, or whatever your fitness level is capable of; no need for something overly strenuous.
"You should be exerting yourself, but not so much that you cannot carry on a conversation," he advises. The sooner you can get back onto a regular workout routine of cardio three to five days a week with some strength training, the better.
Don't go straight for the leftovers first thing in the morning
Your first instinct might be to skip breakfast altogether, which, if you're still stuffed from the night before (it happens!), then that's totally fine. Breakfast isn't all it's cracked up to be anyway. But if you wake up hungry and want to get back on track to a healthy routine, then be sure to eat something filling, yet light.
"Focus on lean protein, complex carbohydrates with fiber, and fats without high levels of cholesterol, saturated fat, or any trans fat," suggests Dr. Kumar. "An example is steel-cut oatmeal, a small egg white omelet, and a handful of almonds." Don't fry up your turkey in bacon fat for a massive morning-after scramble, in other words.
The goal is to avoid falling into the dangerous cycle of starving yourself, bingeing later because you're starving, feeling terrible, and repeating. And stay away from sugary beverages, like fruit juices and sweetened coffees, Dr. Mosquera says. More water is your best bet, as always.
Plan a (small) calorie deficit for the next few days
Since you can easily eat your day's worth of calories at one meal, especially around the holidays, it's best to plan for a gradual calorie deficit for the days and weeks following. Don't starve yourself, but shave off a couple hundred calories from your normal intake for a few days, especially if you're looking to get back onto a weight-loss plan.
"Don’t go overboard on calorie restriction and exercise in an attempt to lose weight quickly," Dr. Kumar says. Instead, he recommends a gradual calorie reduction and tracking your food intake on an app or journal, along with regular exercise. "Avoid a crash diet that will cause a maladaptive response that leaves you higher than you started," he adds.
It's pretty hard to undo months' worth of hard work of diet and exercise in one meal, so don't worry about gaining back all the weight you might have lost. Instead of beating yourself up, focus on the steps you can take to ease digestion, help you feel better, and prep your body to get back on a healthy path... until the next giant meal comes along.