Ask the Coaches: How to Recover from a Holiday Binge

Q: Coaches, I hate to admit this, but during the holiday season, I let go a little (well, actually, a lot) at the company holiday party. My employer always takes the team out to an amazing restaurant, and there is so much good food, drink, and of course, dessert! We eat, laugh, and celebrate all we’ve accomplished the past year throughout the evening. Yet every year, I leave feeling stuffed and bloated after overindulging.

And every year, my mom makes amazing Christmas cookies, and as we celebrate the day, I find myself dipping into the cookie jar too much. I just can’t say no.

While I really enjoy these occasions, I feel a bit guilty, and I typically don’t feel very good the next day. (I get a pretty big food hangover—I feel fatigued, bloated, and even have an upset stomach.)

How can I recover quickly from my holiday binges to get back on track (and hopefully reduce some of the harm I did)? I certainly don’t want to ruin all the progress I’ve worked so hard toward just because ‘tis the season to celebrate.

– Annabelle

A: Happy Holidays, Annabelle! I’m glad to hear you’re enjoying all the season has to offer, including the fun events that only come around once a year. My mom is also famous for her cookies. She makes a cookie that her mom learned from her mom — it goes back generations. Everyone in the family looks forward to them for the entire year. (Honestly, it’s a good thing they’re so labor intensive that she makes them only once a year. 😉)

You’re absolutely not alone in your holiday indulgences. I don’t know anyone who doesn’t eat more than they planned, enjoy something that’s not typically on their diet, or has just a bit too much to drink — at least once or twice over the holidays. After all, we’re all human.

In other words, please try not to feel guilty, Annabelle; nearly everyone falls victim to all that the holidays have to offer. You don’t need to make matters worse by beating yourself up.

After all, a holiday binge can leave us feeling bloated and lazy, nursing a headache, battling a bit of brain fog, or even feeling sick to the stomach.

Rather than feeling guilty, enjoy the events as a short-term divergence. Just commit to getting back on track as quickly as possible. Here’s 6 ways to recover from a holiday binge:

How to Recover From a Holiday Binge: 6 Steps

1) Drink up. No, we’re not talking about hair of the dog here—no morning (or… as soon as you finally get up) shots or eggnog. Rather, after a binge, your body and brain are probably feeling pretty dry and crispy. What you need is water. Lots of water. If you typically drink 8 to 10 glasses throughout the day, add a couple of extra glasses to help flush out your system.

Even better, add some lemon slices for refreshing flavor, some extra vitamin C, to help with digestion, and to relieve dry mouth—especially with your first tall glass in the morning.

2) Keep it light. Give your body a bit of a food break and some time to catch up by limiting food after a major binge. Here’s a few shake recipes from our community that provide a big dose of nutrition yet won’t make you feel heavy or set you back. Other options are a small veggie-loaded omelet or just some plain Greek yogurt with some berries. Snack on protein and nutrient-rich foods and avoid simple sugars to help re-stabilize blood sugar. (Leave the cookies with the rest of the family—not in your pantry tempting you to have “just one more.”)

After a day of overeating is also an ideal time to harness the power of intermittent fasting. That’s right, it’s completely fine to skip a meal or two — or even a whole day of eating — as long as you don’t view it as punishment or an excuse to overeat again. In the grand scheme of things, one “bad” day is not going to ruin all your progress. Your results are about your behavior, on average, over time. You can balance things out by eating a bit less the next day or couple of days.

3) Sip it. If your tummy is rumbling and you’re looking for something to calm and relax it, reach for an herbal tea. Chamomile tea has been shown to help relax the digestive tract, and peppermint tea may help soothe an unsettled tummy (though mint can make heartburn worse, so you may want to avoid it if you’re experiencing any of that). Of course, any type of herbal tea can help with hydration. Another soothing option is collagen powder. Add it to warm water or warm tea to help nourish the gut and rebuild tissues.

4) Pop a probiotic. After an indulgence, especially if it involves a load of sugar or alcohol, your microbiome could likely use a little help. You may be able to help replenish the good guys by doubling down on a quality probiotic. Even better, instead of just being reactive, make sure that you’re using a probiotic regularly and ensure you are routinely eating plenty of fiber and prebiotics to support a healthy colony within your digestive tract. As the saying goes, “an ounce of prevention…”

5) Get moving. While you may be tempted to crash on the couch and fill your day binge-watching your favorite shows or movies, don’t. Reclining can not only lead to or make heartburn worse, it can also cause more digestive distress and can even aggravate breathing issues for those with asthma.

If you really overdid it, you’ll want to keep it gentle, but movement will help get your digestive system moving and help energize you. If you can, get outside and take a nice relaxing walk as you enjoy some fresh air and sunshine. You can also opt for a light yoga session, as gentle twisting poses may help assist with digestion.

If you overindulged just enough to feel a little sluggish, go ahead and hit the gym. A good workout will help you release any remaining guilt and help you feel more energized as it clears out the cobwebs. You don’t need to push quite as hard, but it may feel great to at least break a sweat.

While exercise can be quite a powerful tool to counteract the negative metabolic effects of overeating, an even better idea would be to exercise before you indulge. For starters, exercise can “empty the tank,” so to speak, creating room for those calories you’re about to eat. Exercise also “sensitizes” your muscles, making them more likely to soak up carbs like a sponge. And exercise can also help blunt appetite a bit, perhaps limiting how much damage you actually do.

6) Relax and rest. Don’t forget the importance of sleep for recovery—any type of recovery. Get to bed early, so you can get back to your healthy exercise and nutrition routine tomorrow!

How to Recover From a Holiday Binge: A Recap

Again, let go of any guilt. An occasional celebratory feast is nothing to worry about as long as you get back on track and maintain healthy eating much of the time. A cheat day can even help increase metabolism and ramp up fat loss to support long-term results. So, go ahead and enjoy those planned indulgences, Annabelle, and then use the tips above to quickly recover.