What holiday binge-eating does to your body

Posted on 3 December 2018

The festive period is synonymous with holiday feasts and loosening your belt. We speak to gastroenterologist Dr Christian Jeske at Mediclinic Midstream to determine how much overindulging is ‘safe’ and when you should draw the line.

Too much of anything is never a good thing, particularly when it comes to overindulging. Occasional bouts of overeating aren’t likely to affect your weight much, but it can have a significant effect on your gut flora.

What is gut flora?

Gut flora, or gut microbiota, is the name given to the trillions of micro-organisms or bacteria living in your intestine. They are essential for helping your body digest certain foods and ensuring healthy digestive functioning. They also play a crucial role in the immune system, part of your body’s multi-faceted barrier against bacterial infections. They affect everything in your body, from your metabolism to your immune system and your moods.

Healthy gut flora is incredibly important for our overall health and wellbeing.

A high-fibre diet consisting of a wide variety of whole foods, such as fruits, vegetables and whole grains improve gut bacteria diversity. Red meat, high-fat dairy products and fried foods all reduce the growth of healthy bacteria and enhance the growth of ‘bad’ bacteria linked to chronic disease. Similarly, a diet high in sugary foods, refined foods and saturated fats can contribute to the growth of disease-causing bacteria.

Gut instinct: The gut-brain connection explained

The drawbacks of overindulging

Dr Jeske says that while occasional overeating will not upset the healthy balance of your body, frequent overindulging has its drawbacks.

“Frequent consumption of large quantities of the wrong foods teaches your body to anticipate the higher calorific intake, and your body quickly learns and adapts to this new ‘normal’,” he explains. “Regular binge-eating, even just during the festive season, may see you struggling to settle back into a healthy eating regime afterwards,” he explains.

“Alcohol consumption also has a harmful effect on gut bacteria. A moderate intake of red wine is the exception – due to its high concentration of polyphenols, red wine may actually promote gut bacteria.”

5 Ways to minimise the negative impact of festive indulgence

Dr Jeske suggests the following to avoid overindulging:

  • Eat regular meals. Do not starve yourself for that one special meal and then overeat.
  • Eat mindfully: Enjoy every bite and pay attention to the appearance, taste, aroma, texture and even the sound of munching of your food. The slower and the more mindfully you eat, the more time you give your body to react to satiety and tell you when you have had enough to eat. You don’t have to overeat to enjoy a meal. Try to stick to healthier food options. Healthy food does not have to be boring food.
  • Drink lots of water. This activates your metabolism, flushes your kidneys and helps to keep your bowels regular.
  • Be selective. Rather than eat everything at the party, choose three to five of the most appealing dishes on offer. Many festive foods are laden with calories, so opt for smaller portions. Studies suggest that using a smaller dining plate can reduce your food intake by up to 22%.
  • Exercising during the festive season will help you feel better and aid digestion.

Does exercise remove the effects of an unhealthy diet?

Published in Healthy Life

In the interest of our patients, in accordance with SA law and our commitment to expertise, Mediclinic cannot subscribe to the practice of online diagnosis. Please consult a medical professional for specific medical advice. If you have any major concerns, please see your doctor for an assessment. If you have any cause for concern, your GP will be able to direct you to the appropriate specialists.

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