9 Simple Ways to Avoid Bloating and Weight Gain During the Holidays

For most, the holiday season is a time of celebration, although for some it tends to be a time of bloating and weight gain. Being part of the holiday celebration without putting inches on your waistline may be difficult, but it is definitely attainable by remembering a few key things.

Although there are many different causes of bloating, one of the most common is a shift in the bacteria or flora of the intestines.

When there is an overgrowth of bacteria, called Small Intestine Bacterial Overgrowth (SIBO), the foods we eat are digested by bacteria. As the foods are broke down by the bacteria, the bacteria produce methane gas, which becomes trapped in our belly, causing bloating. The reason people notice this more during the holiday season is due to some of the following:

  1. Stress: Due to all the holiday stress, the intestines may go into a “fight or flight” mode and slow down. When the intestines slow down, bacteria are able to reproduce rapidly and build up in the small intestines causing SIBO.
  2. Food Intolerance: Everyone’s bacteria are different, so when we expose our intestines to unique and new combinations of foods, the bacteria proliferate and break down these foods, producing more gas.
  3. Swallowing Air: During this time of year we swallow more air due to talking, eating too quickly, drinking from straws or even chewing candies and gum. When air is swallowed, it is hard for the digestive tract to absorb it and it is just compounded by the air produced by bacteria. 

    Tips for Avoiding Bloating

    Knowing the potential causes of bloating and arming yourself with the tips below will help you to avoid weight gain and bloating during the holiday season:

    • Eat before you party: Don’t arrive starving to a party or dinner. Eat a healthy snack, such as a handful of raw almonds (packed with fiber and protein), before going to a party in order to take the edge off and avoid indulging in unhealthy foods and portions.
    • Watch what you drink: When you first get to a party, drink a glass of water before any other drinks. If you do drink alcohol, moderation is the key, both for calories and the decreased inhibitions which can lead to more eating and drinking.

      Don't order a sugar-free cocktail—studies show a higher absorption of alcohol in a shorter period with artificial sweeteners in a mixer. Aside from the alcohol issue described above, artificial sweeteners have been shown in multiple studies to actually cause more weight gain and diabetes than regular sodas! The diet sweeteners trick the body into lowering the metabolic rate and over time cause weight gain. Also, try to avoid drinking large amounts of eggnog, which is around 300 calories per serving!
    • Make a colorful plate: When you add color to your plate, like green, yellow, or red, it most likely is a healthy vegetable. Keep your plate colorful!
    • Don’t be saucy: Most sauces and gravies are really calorie heavy with lots of sugar. Liquids digest in a linear fashion and things like sauces can spike insulin, which is a storage hormone, and pack on the pounds fast.
    • The day after meal plan: Plan ahead for a healthy lunch and dinner the day after a big party so you don’t eat all the high-calorie leftovers, like pie for lunch.
    • Mingle: At a party, don’t put the focus on the food and drink. Aim to be sociable. Focus on talking and mingling with friends and family, not the food.
    • Avoid the artificial sweeteners: In addition to the issues described above, sweeteners are non-absorbed molecules that the bacteria love. Eating low-calorie diet foods can cause a lot of bloating since our intestines aren’t able to absorb the sweetener; the bacteria break it down, producing methane, which leads to bloating.
    • Choose the older cheese: Serving cheese and cheese trays is common during the holidays. Many people are lactose intolerant or have a lactose or dairy sensitivity which can be exacerbated by eating cheese. If you are one of these suffers, but still want to be able to indulge on cheese, choose a hard, aged cheese rather than a soft one. Eat Gruyere over Mozzarella, for instance. The bacteria in the aged cheeses have their own lactase enzyme and breakdown the lactose for you.
    • Keep the gluten to a minimum: You may not have celiac disease, but you may still suffer from issues with gluten. Many people have gluten intolerance and don’t realize it. If you have SIBO, gluten is another food product that bacteria digest, creating gas and bloating.

    This time of year my patients always ask me about how to prevent bloating during the holidays.  My advice is to be proactive, and have a plan to stay hydrated, avoid high-calorie processed foods and avoid those foods and drinks which cause bloating. There are many ways in which to plan out your holidays in order to stay healthy and keep the waistline from expanding. The above tips should give you a head start on the weight gain game.


    Artificial sweeteners versus regular mixers increase breath alcohol concentrations in male and female social drinkers. Marczinski CA, Stamates AL., Alcohol Clin Exp Res. 2013 Apr;37(4):696-702. doi: 10.1111/acer.12039. Epub 2012 Dec 6.

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