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Maybe it's Thanksgiving. Or you just got back from a dinner celebrating your big promotion (congrats!). Or that new pasta recipe you made just tasted so. damn. good. that you had to go back for thirds. Whatever the reason, you ate more than your stomach could handle, and now you're feeling super bloaty and uncomfortable.
The first thing to know? Overeating is totally normal—we all do it from time to time, says Veronica Garnett, MS, RD. And it's not necessarily a bad thing. "It's okay to eat beyond comfortable fullness. You have to take the judgment out of it. It's not good or bad, right or wrong," she explains. In fact on a holiday like Thanksgiving, there's a cultural expectation that you'll overeat. In other words, don't beat yourself up over it, k?
It's also helpful to understand why you're experiencing pain and bloating. Basically, the combination of food, liquids, swallowed air, and gas byproducts of digestion can make your stomach, abdominal muscles, and small intestines stretched to the max. Understandably, this triggers pain.
Once you’ve gone past the point of being comfortably full, you can’t exactly undo it. That said, you can start to feel better both physically and mentally by using some of the following tips. Shall we?
Right after you finish eating...
The first step to feeling better when you feel stuffed AF is to get your mind right. That means challenging any thoughts of guilt or shame you might have about eating more than what feels good for your body.
According to Garnett, one of the easiest ways to do this is to think about how you'd talk to a friend in the same sitch. You'd never tell her that she's a failure for overeating, so don't say those kinds of things to yourself either.
It also helps to be kind and compassionate towards yourself if you're really in a shame spiral. Think reassuring thoughts like "I'm still a good person" and "I'm going to be ok," suggests Christyna Johnson, MS, RDN.
Once you feel like you're in a better headspace, just chill. "Don't drink anything, don't do anything, just sit there and relax for a bit and try to get attuned to your body and see what it needs," says Garnett.
Five minutes later...
Ok, now that you've let things settle for a few, you're probably gonna want to change into comfy clothes if you're wearing anything that feels tight or uncomfortable. “The more restricted you are, the more uncomfortable and less relaxed you’ll feel, which means your GI system will end up feeling even more stressed,” explains Dr. Lisa Ganjhu, DO, gastroenterologist and clinical associate professor of medicine at NYU Langone Medical Center.
Think a glass or two of water might help wash everything down? You might wanna hold off on that. Drinking water will only add volume to your stomach and make you feel worse, says Rabia de Latour, MD, a gastroenterologist, assistant professor of medicine at NYU Langone Health and director of endoscopy at Bellevue Hospital Center.
You're better off sipping on peppermint tea if you're in the mood to drink something. It can help relax the digestive tract, including the esophageal sphincter, which allows you to burp up any trapped air in the stomach, so you don’t feel quite as bloated. Plus, every time you burp or pass gas, you stimulate digestion by getting all that food in your system moving. The warm temperature of the tea can also soothe your digestive system.
15 minutes later...
Instead of relocating from the holiday table to the nearest couch for a nap, try to stay upright. Lying down can put pressure on the stomach and cause stomach acid to creep up into your esophagus which triggers heartburn. You can totally get comfortable though. In fact, Johnson recommends leaning back a little bit to help take some of the pressure off your stomach.
This is also right around the time where you want to distract yourself, says Garnett. Watch TV, call a friend, scroll through the 'gram, whatever's going to take your mind off the pain you're feeling. Distraction can also be super helpful if you're still having some negative thoughts and emotions about overeating, she says.
If you’re really in pain to the point where you can't distract yourself or get comfortable, then consider taking an OTC anti-gas drug like Gas-X, says Dr. Ganjhu. It'll neutralize the gas bubbles in your digestive tract to reduce bloating. You can also try an antacid like Maalox or Mylanta to reduce the extra acid production that happens when you overeat or Pepto-Bismol or Zantac, which can settle the stomach and soothe irritation. But again, this is only if you have a major stomachache. Otherwise, just ride it out and know that the discomfort will eventually pass.
One more thing: If you’re considering popping a laxative, PLEASE don’t. “There’s nothing you can take to speed things along that’s safe,” Dr. Ganjhu warns. “Food will empty out of your stomach at its own rate, with higher fat, spicier, and more complex foods taking longer to digest. Give it time, and it will pass.”
30 minutes later...
Tired of sitting on the couch? Consider whether a little physical activity would make you feel better. (If just the idea of getting up makes you wanna vom, don't). But if you're up for a light walk around the block, go for it. Walking will stimulate GI mobility, meaning it helps move food through your body faster which = you feeling better faster.
When you get back, treat yo’self to a belly rub. "It’s like helping a baby burp,” Dr. Ganjhu explains. Besides, “When you’re relaxed, your GI tract is relaxed. So pretty much anything that relaxes you will help you feel better,” she says.
One to two hours later...
It’s still not nap time yet (sorry!). If you're still feeling off, try doing some gentle stretches or restorative yoga. Just like the belly rub, this is gonna help to calm down your nervous system, which makes it easier for your body to digest, explains Johnson.
Try sitting on the floor and twisting from the waist, coming into child’s pose, or lying on your back and gently hugging your knees into your chest. If this makes you nauseous or triggers acid reflux, just try some deep breathing.
Oh, and definitely don't do any inversions or poses that put your head below your stomach or compress it, which can cause acid reflux and upset your stomach even more.
Two to three hours later...
Now that most of the food you’ve eaten, if not all of it, has likely emptied from your stomach, which reduces your risk of suffering from acid reflux, it’s finally cool to take a load off and lie down horizontally. Yay!
Five to six hours later...
At this point, you should be feeling waaay better. The most important thing to do now is to eat as you normally would. Don't worry about eating a small meal to compensate for the one you consumed earlier or anything like that. Doing so could spark an unhealthy cycle of deprivation, says Johnson. Instead, Garnett recommends listening to your body's hunger cues and thinking about what you're in the mood to eat.
And the idea of 'eating clean' to 'get back on track'? Those are toxic diet culture messages, says Garnett. "Don't listen to your own internal judgment about what you should and shouldn't eat. Ask yourself what it is that you want," she says. If what you want happens to be a piece of pumpkin pie that's totally cool.
The next day...
The day after your big meal, just keep eating like you normally would and continue to be kind to yourself, says Johnson. If you're still feeling bloated, put on another comfortable outfit.
Now's also a good time to reflect on why you ate past the point of being comfortably full, says Garnett. Think about whether there was some kind of trigger, whether it was a stressful day at work or a conversation with your family caused you to overeat. If you have a dietitian, therapist, or friend that you can process this with, try to talk through it together.
Bottom line? Overeating isn't a catastrophic event. Just be kind to yourself, be gentle on your body and you'll feel better in a few hours.
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