Let’s face it. Sometimes even the most disciplined of us are going to overindulge. We convince ourselves it’s ok to eat one more bit of dessert, drink just one more drink, eat the whole bag of junk food we’ve been craving. But afterward, inevitably, we feel lousy. Especially during the holiday season, where for a couple months we are surrounded by Halloween candy, Thanksgiving turkey and Christmas desserts it’s no wonder most of us gain at least a few pounds. But, there are some things we can do to help avoid that after dinner heartburn. Here are 8 easy steps we can all take to avoid that bloated, sluggish feeling and revive us from our food coma.

  1. Portion Control I get it, we all know we shouldn’t overeat. But, once the food is on your plate, it’s only a short trip from the plate to your mouth, so it’s better to serve smaller portions to begin with. You can also use a smaller plate to the same effect. In the end moderation is key, because the more pressure at the bottom of your stomach, the longer food will have to stay in your stomach and there’s more chance for the food you just ate to try and go up, not down.
  2. Savor the Flavor Actually chew, swallow and taste your food, don’t vacuum it in and straight down. Digestion starts in the mouth with chewing the food into small pieces that are easier to digest. Enzymes in saliva begin to break down carbohydrates and your taste buds signal the rest of the digestive tract to get ready for the types of food it’s about to digest. Even before we put the food in our mouth the smell and the appearance of the food will trigger digestive enzymes in our body.
  3. Relax and Enjoy What we are thinking and feeling, and what state our body is in while eating, has a lot to do with how well we digest our food (or not!). If we are stressed, scared, or angry then our Flight or Fight(Sympathetic) System will be triggered. The sympathetic nervous system slows down digestion in order to move blood and resources to your muscles and the areas of your body will need to deal with the threat and stress. So, the more relaxed we are the more efficient our digestion is.
  4. 100 steps “If you take 100 steps after each meal, you’ll live to 99.” This common old Chinese saying (which sounds a lot better in Chinese because it rhymes) is actually quite true. There have been several studies (click here and here for those studies) showing moderate activity after eating improves blood sugar metabolism and assists in digestion. This doesn’t mean go for a run, because this will actually slow your digestion, but instead of slumping down in the chair and loosening our belt, it’s much better to go for a walk around the block or in the backyard.
  5. Eat Your Fiber – Only 5% of people in the US eat enough fiber. Fiber is the fibrous part of plants our bodies are unable to digest or absorb. This extra bulk helps move things through your digestive tract quicker, and is an important food for our gut bacteria. We can get more fiber in our diet simply by eating more whole fruits and vegetables. Avoid processed foods as most of the fiber in these has been removed.
  6. Warm It Up Spices such as garlic, coriander(cilantro), cardamom, basil, cumin and cinnamon are all considered warming in herbal medicine. They have been used throughout human history not just for their added flavor boost, but because of this warming quality on the digestion. This means spices increase circulation, activity and movement through the digestive tract. They help the body produce and release bile to digest fats, reduce cramping and bloating and in some cases directly fight off pathogens that may be in the food.
  7. Herbal Allies Perhaps one of the most well-known herbs for digestion is Ginger. Reducing nausea and bloating and stimulating movement through the digestive tract, ginger after a meal can greatly assist the whole digestive process. Shan Zha is a type of Hawthorne Berry very commonly consumed in China to help digestion. A berry that could be used for a similar purpose here in the US is the cranberry. Yep, that side dish of cranberry at Thanksgiving is more than just a pretty garnish! Digestive Bitters are another helpful remedy, especially when consuming meals high in fat. Bitters are a blend of many different herbs that target the liver, pancreas and other digestive organs in order to stimulate their digestive activity.
  8. Digestive Enzymes I’ll always recommend consuming whole foods and herbs over isolated chemical supplements, however, sometimes supplements can be a helpful “Band-Aid” solution. If we know we are going to eat something our body needs help with, or if we have a chronic digestive illness we can take these enzymes preventatively before the meal to give our body a little extra help. There are many digestive supplements on the market and many of them of good quality. Consult with your natural health practitioner about which might be most helpful for you. For a natural source of enzymes, two fruits, papaya and pineapple, contain papain and bromelain which are helpful in digesting protein.

Dark blue berries and star shaped clusters of cream white blossoms with a strong sweet and musty aroma, the elder is one of the most famous and revered of all herbs in the Western Hemisphere.

‘Our forefathers also held the Ellhorn holy wherefore whoever need to hew it down (or cut its branches) has first to make request “Lady Ellhorn, give me some of thy wood and I will give thee some of mine when it grows in the forest” – the which, with partly bended knees, bare head and folded arms was ordinarily done, as I myself have often seen and heard in my younger years.’ (Arnkiel)

Used for thousands of years as protection against the invasion of evil influences both physical and spiritual, today elder is recognized as an effective anti-viral. Tracing it’s use back to several thousand years before the common era, the elder tree has been one of humanities allies long before recorded history ever remarked upon its virtues. The entire plant, from the bark and leaves, to the flowers and berries has been used for everything from food and medicine to flutes and toys. Over the millennia elder has gained a reputation for having influence over spiritual forces, both evil and good.

In Cole’s Art of Simpling he relates:

‘in order to prevent witches from entering their houses, the common people used to gather Elder leaves on the last day of April and affix them to their doors and windows,’

Lady Northcote in The Book of Herbs says:

‘The Russians believe that Elder-trees drive away evil spirits, and the Bohemians go to it with a spell to take away fever. The Sicilians think that sticks of its wood will kill serpents and drive away robbers, and the Serbs introduce a stick of Elder into their wedding ceremonies to bring good luck. In England it was thought that the Elder was never struck by lightning, and a twig of it tied into three or four knots and carried in the pocket was a charm against rheumatism. A cross made of Elder and fastened to cowhouses and stables was supposed to keep all evil from the animals.’

Potent Antiviral

Today, the flower and berries of the elder plant have been extensively studied for their potent antiviral abilities against influenza and herpes simplex 1. They have also been shown to be anti-bacterial, anti-inflammatory and antipyretic (lowers fever). Elder’s blue berries are also high in Vitamin C, making elder a perfect herbal remedy with direct action against the virus or bacteria making you sick, and also relieving the many side effects that come along such as a high fever, sore throat, and inflamed airways.

Chinese Medicine and More

In Chinese Medicine Elder is described as cooling and able to expel superficial heat causing symptoms of cough, sore throat and malaise. This is the same use as what modern research indicates. Elder’s cooling nature is especially helpful at breaking a fever, and relieving the upper and outer areas of your body like the sinuses, throat and skin when they feel warm, congested and are inflamed. While best to take in the first days before feeling very sick, elderberry is a perfect immune boost even if you are already suffering from a cold or flu. More than just a cold and flu remedy however elder has many medicinal compounds inside that are antioxidant, beneficial for blood pressure and also assist in blood sugar metabolism.

Great Recipes to Enjoy

If you want to make your own medicine from elder it is quite easy. Simply make a tea with the freshly picked flowers or blue berries. Elder wine is a common treat enjoyed in Europe and a syrup made with the berries is a great way to get your kids to take their medicine. Click here for many great recipes using elder such as vinegar, syrup and a tasty cordial. I look forward to making this cordial every year! Keep in mind however, there are many types of elder tree out there though, and while the flowers and leaves can be used medicinally in all species, the blue berries are the only berries that should be consumed in any significant quantity. So, if you live in Colorado like I do where the main type of elder that grows in the mountains contains the red berries, please, only consume the flowers and not the berries.

  1. Chevalier, Andrew. Natural Health Encyclopedia of Herbal Medicine 2nd ed. New York, New York: Dorling Kindersley Ltd, 2000.
  2. Garran, Thomas Avery. (2008) Western Herbs According to Traditional Chinese Medicine: A Practitioner’s Guide. Rochester,      Vermont: Healing Arts Press.
  3. Grieve, Maude. (1971) A Modern Herbal. New York: Dover Publications, Inc.
  4. Hearst, Caroline et al. (2010) Antibacterial activity of elder (Sambucus nigra L.) flower or berry against hospital pathogens. Journal of Medicinal Plants Research, 4(17), 1805-1809.
  5. Vlachojannis, J. E., Cameron, M and Chrubasik, S. (2010) A Systematic Review on the Sambuci fructus Effect and Efficacy Profiles, Phytotheapy Research, 24, 1–8.