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How to recover from a holiday food-binge

We're almost 2 weeks into 2022. Do you still feel like you're recovering from holiday festivities? Today's missive answers a question we've gotten from some of our community members in the last couple weeks:

"What should I do to recover from my holiday food binge?"

A lot of us veer off course dietarily during the holidays. We'd like to tell you that, as Balance Medicine physicians, we always manage to rise above this, but we don't.

Esme has wonderful, doting grandparents who love to prepare (or procure) yummy things for her, and her parents are all too happy for the opportunity to indulge. Thankfully, our family is blessed with some amazing culinary talent and nutritional wisdom at the grandparent level, but that doesn't mean we can't go overboard.

(Just in case you think we're trying to pass the buck, you should know that Hillary made the pumpkin pies this year, and Jonathan made the bacon sandwiches.)

After a binge - either too much food, the wrong kinds of foods, or both - it's common practice to jump right back into a usual routine and expect the body to run normally. When it doesn't (which is most of the time, whether you're aware of it or not), it can be frustrating and worrisome. Why can't I eat like I used to? Am I getting old? Am I getting weak?

The truth is, whatever your age and baseline health, it's normal to require a recovery period after a binge. Necessary even, lest your discretions cause you longterm harm.

Food, as it travels through the body, is not inert. It actively produces an effect, which can linger for a time (days, weeks, months, or even years depending on the circumstances). Since the effect of a binge is, by definition, greater in size than the effect of a few days of moderate eating, it may take a significant amount of time for your body to feel and function normally again.

Moreover, you might be wise to take some targeted action in the meantime to ameliorate some of the binge's more significant effects. 24 hours and a bowl of steamed broccoli probably wont do the trick.

Before we get to some basic rules for binge-recovery, we must acknowledge that, for some folks, a binge is just too costly an affair. If you're diabetic or pre-diabetic, or if you have an autoimmune disease, asthma, serious food allergies, or cancer, you'd better avoid the binge entirely. Prevention truly is the best medicine, even though this article isn't about it.

This article is about restoring balance after a storm. A binge of a given magnitude will require a recovery period of equal magnitude if you want to achieve an overall effect balance. So put your usual routine on hold. Embrace the recovery. Be an active (albeit sluggish) participant in it so that you can complete the steps necessary to get yourself back on track and avoid longterm harm.

During a recovery period, you may experience low energy, muscle weakness, heaviness, digestive and bowel changes (gas, bloating, cramping, diarrhea, constipation), mood changes (agitation, irritability, depression, anxiety), disrupted sleep, headaches, muscle and joint aches, susceptibility to cold and flu, and more. If you have preexisting symptoms, they may be worse.

Here are some simple ideas you can put into practice to help the body recover:

Have a plan

On an average day, most of us don't have the energy or patience to think creatively about food. The problem can be even worse on low-energy days after a binge. It's helpful if you have a premeditated, binge-recovery plan on hand - like you would a fire-evacuation plan - that you can put into action without much cognitive effort.

Include some simple rules (like the ones below) as well as a grocery list, a handful of simple recipes, and a timeline for returning to your usual routine.

Be patient

Be patient with your body. You abused it there for a moment. Allow it the time and attention it needs to recover (usually a few days, in extreme cases weeks or months). Balance is part of all life.

These ideas are not hard to comprehend, however, you're still going to be tempted to jump right back into your usual routine and ignore them. It's just habit. Be patient - write this at the top of your plan.

Eat lightly

Your digestive system is likely to be under the weather in the days following a food binge, whether you notice it or not. Even ordinarily benign foods and combinations may stress it. Eat lightly, both in terms of content and quantity.

Brothy meals such as soups, stews, and congees (grain or pseudo-grain porridges) are ideal because they have a high liquid-to-solid ratio. Avoid spicy, greasy, overly sweet, and rich foods for the time being and keep table-side flavorings (e.g. salt and pepper) to a minimum. Bland is best. Boring maybe, but you can blame the binge.

It's also best to eat smaller-than-usual meals during this time. We recommend that you increase meal frequency, but decrease meal size. That way, you aren't giving the digestive system too much content in one sitting, but your calorie count does not go down (this is assuming that your usual calorie count doesn't need to go down anyway). For instance, cut breakfast and lunch into two meals each, spaced 2-3 hours apart. Keep dinner small, and try to avoid snacking before bed.

Cook all foods

While your digestive system is ailing, go ahead and outsource a lot of its work to your sturdy, inanimate cookware. When you cook a food, the energy captured as heat changes the food’s chemistry and structure. Proteins are easier to digest, meat is easier to chew, and starches are no longer indigestible.

Hopefully now you're thinking, "Wait, if that's true, shouldn't I always cook my foods?" Yes! (You'll discover that most of these rules are worth doing most of the time.) We get twice as many calories from a cooked potato as we get from a raw one. Cook your foods (even fruits) as much as possible.

Rest around meal times

You're healing. You need your rest in general, but especially around meal times. The parasympathetic nervous system - commonly called the "rest and digest" system - governs digestion. If you are working, worrying, or wandering about during meal times, your parasympathetic nervous system won't be adequately engaged so your digestive organs won't receive ample blood supply and secretions or move digestive material through properly. Stop working and rest before eating (at least 30 mins.), during eating, and after eating (another 30 + mins.).

Try your best to avoid strong emotions around meal times as well, especially anger. Anger, you may have noticed, has an upward movement - the face gets red and hot, the eyes get buldgy, and the jaw clenches. Anger moves in the opposite direction of digestion, which should go downward, so it will have a heavy impact on it.

Each emotion affects the body in a different way, which can impede normal functioning. We plan to write about the effects of emotion shortly. Stay tuned.

Get some moderate exercise

It's a common story. The holiday gathering is underway, and you make a deal with yourself: you can eat whatever you want as long as you hit the gym hard in the next few weeks.

You can go ahead and terminate that contract. While we highly recommend physical activity after a binge (well, anytime), start lightly and work your way up to more vigorous physical activity over time. The digestive system plays a key role in muscle nourishment and repair. You want it back working at full capacity before you start taxing your muscles in a significant way.

So why not just lay on a couch for the week? Because healing, repair, and (well) all physiological activities depend upon circulation. Exercise keeps things moving, and it plays a huge roll in regulating inflammation. We recommend starting with a couple gentle walks a day, outside if weather permits (fresh air!). Then gradually resume a more comprehensive exercise regimen over a period of a week or so.

Apply a dietary tilt

If the simple rules above don't return you to normal, you may need a little extra therapy. Dietary remedies are always a good place to start. What you want to find is what Traditional Chinese Medicine food writer Daverick Legget calls a tilt, a gentle leaning in a desired direction for a sustained period of time. “[D]ietary remedies need to be gentle. A tilt…will be of far greater benefit than a ‘binge’,” says Legget (no argument from your bindged-out self).

Think of food like medicine and find a dietary tilt that will bring you back into balance. We can help you with that at Turtle Tree.

You'll find more information about the above ideas and other successful eating habits in our eBooklet. Download for free HERE

Warm regards,

Hilary and Jonathan

PS: Remember, if you sign up for one of our monthly plans during January, you'll get all of your January visits absolutely FREE. Compare plans and claim your free month HERE


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