Overindulging during the holidays can leave you feeling blah, but these tips can help.

The Holiday Food Hangover: How to Avoid It

The holidays are a time of festivities and celebration – until they’re not, and you wake up feeling bloated, sluggish, headachy. If you’ve noticed that this can happen even if you avoided overdoing the wine, you’re onto something. It’s  known as a food hangover, and it’s a real thing, experts say.

What Causes a Food Hangover?

The biggest culprits are fatty, sugary, salty, starchy and fried foods, which overload your digestive system, leading to bloating, heartburn, gas, and even nausea and stomach pain. Of course, this problem is compounded when you just eat too much, period. Part of the issue is the rich cheeses, shortbread, and chips you ate last night are high in fat, and fat takes longer to digest, slowing everything down.  Too much salt causes water retention, leaving you puffy and bloated. And the big spikes in blood sugar from those truffles and tarts cause a crash afterwards, leaving you tired, grumpy, and sluggish.

The low-energy, blah feeling can persist for a full day or even longer.

How to Avoid a Food Hangover

There are three things you can do in advance to prevent a food hangover:

  • exercise
  • drink lots of water
  • don’t over do it

While the third is easier said than done, the first two are manageable. Balance every drink with a big glass of water – carry a water bottle with you to events if you’re not sure it will be available. And go for a walk or run before heading out. Better yet, take a walk between dinner and desert – friends might even want to join you, and continue the celebration on the move.

Lastly, avoid the post-dinner drink; studies have shown that those who drank port, wine, schnapps, and other popular dessert drinks digested their food more slowly than those who followed the meal with water. Herb tea after a big meal can also aid digestion.

How to Fix a Food Hangover

The first thing to know about a food hangover is that fasting the next day isn’t the way to get rid of it. While you might think “I just won’t eat much today” to balance things out, this will make you feel even worse, intensifying the crash. And then you’ll be so hungry you’ll overeat, continuing the cycle.

Instead, concentrate on eating fiber and high-protein foods tobalance all the fat and sugar and get your digestion going. Kick off your regimen with a bowl of oatmeal, which is almost pure fiber,to soak up all that fat and salt.

Ignore your instinct to get yourself moving with caffeine – coffee and black tea are diuretics, so they can be dehydrating. Instead, try herb tea – ginger helps with nausea, while mint and chamomile can help with bloating (though chamomile will make you sleepy).

Eat lots of fruits and vegetables, but if gas is your problem, avoid onions, broccoli and cauliflower, and others that can be gassy. Take a break from dairy products, too.

If indigestion continues, probiotics can be helpful in getting things back on track. Continue this regimen for a day or two, until your energy comes back and you feel like your old self.

Melanie Haiken writes about health, wellness and fitness for national magazines and websites. She specializes in discovering and reporting the latest research on diet, nutrition, fitness, weight loss and other health-related topics. Her award-winning stories have appeared in Fitness, Shape, Health, Forbes, and other respected magazines. She also contributes health stories to numerous Kaiser Permanente newsletters and other publications.