Does Holiday Binge Eating Affect Your Health?

Woman eating a gingerbread cookieSince the COVID-19 pandemic started, everyone has become a little more health-conscious. We are looking at ways to boost our immune systems and keep ourselves healthy. When the holiday season begins, we tend to become a little more lax on taking care of our bodies. We indulge in sweets more frequently and who can blame you? The shortening hours of sunlight and oncoming stress tend to put us in a rut where we don’t quite care about keeping up with maintaining our health. 

So we allow the binge eating of all of our favorite comfort foods calling it a form of self-care. But what is that really doing to our health? Do a few weeks of binge eating throw our health off track? Or are we okay to do that during this time of year? 

Let’s see what the research says.

What is binge eating?

Binge eating is a term often used in reference to eating disorders. People with eating disorders will stuff themselves to the brim with food and then when the feelings of guilt or disgust set it they’ll either purge (vomit) or starve themselves. Then their bodies start asking for food because it now has no nutrients from the previous meal and the cycle begins again. 

While this isn’t exactly the case for holiday binge eating, we can see that become a pattern in our own lives. Eat (mostly) healthy during the week and then let ourselves have some leeway on the weekend. Believe it or not, those 2-3 days of unhealthy foods are enough to promote an unhealthy microbiome

A study done at the University of New South Wales found that mice who regularly cycle diet (eating healthy 4 days/week and unhealthy 3 days/week) had the same microbiome profile as those who ate unhealthy every day of the week. 

Microbiome profiles are like fingerprints and show patterns that can be healthy or unhealthy. Both the cycle dieting mice and those who ate unhealthy all the time had a poor collection of bacteria in their guts.

This isn’t to say that letting yourself have a few treats a week is going to throw off your health. But if you’re eating poorly those 2-3 days it can unravel all of the hard work you did during the week by reducing the healthy microbes within your gut. 

 

How does binge eating affect the gut?

Your gut microbiome is pretty resilient and does what it can to maintain homeostasis with a surplus of healthy microbes. And your gut microbiome tends to have a “memory”. 

From the moment you’re born your gut begins to be shaped and the different bacteria that reside there create a specific pattern that your body becomes used to. Whatever your normal routines are, your gut will become accustomed to those and continue to function based on that. This is why some people can lose weight easily and others struggle to maintain a healthy weight. 

When looking at patients with eating disorders we see that they have high quantities of unhealthy bacteria in their guts. They often have high levels of Methanobrevibacter smithii, Streptococcus, Clostridium, and Bacteroides. These all affect the gut-brain axis poorly leading to repetitive unhealthy behaviors and depression. They also have low quantities of healthy bacteria that help to improve health and repair the gut-brain axis.

So what does this mean for holiday binge eating?

Does holiday binge eating affect your health?

Holiday HealthThis answer is going to differ from person to person. If you are consistently eating healthy with occasional snacks, your holiday binge probably won’t affect your health long-term. You may have some acute forms of gastrointestinal stress like heartburn, constipation, or diarrhea. However, once you return to your normal routine of healthy, nutrient-rich foods you will likely not experience any lasting effects of your binge. 

However, if you are a cyclical eater, yo-yo dieter, or are freshly into trying to eat healthily it can affect you long-term. This is because your gut is already used to these binges of carbs, fats, and processed foods. Those “bad” bacteria are laying in the shadows just waiting to be fed all these unhealthy foods to make you crave them more so they can replicate and throw you off the road to being healthy. 

So how can you help yourself to avoid the lasting effects of a holiday binge?

How to keep your gut healthy during the holidays

When it comes to protecting your gut from poor diet choices, there are more factors than just your diet that can affect the balance of microbes. 

Some of the best ways you can continue keeping your gut healthy even if you’re going to assault it with unhealthy foods are:

  • Keep most of your routine as normal as possible — your gut is like a little kid and doesn’t really like things to be out of the norm or it tends to throw a tantrum. Try to maintain some normalcy in your routine so it stays in control.
  • Try to stay on a healthy sleeping cycle — your circadian rhythm has a lot to do with your microbial balance and getting adequate sleep is a key to a healthy gut
  • Walk daily — daily light exercise helps to keep your digestive system happy. Not only does it help with motility, but it actually promotes the growth of healthy bacteria while deterring the growth of unhealthy species. Doing things outside will help clear your mind and get you some much-needed vitamin D this time of the year
  • Focus on your mental health — meditate, journal, practice mindfulness, or do some yoga. Stress is always heightened this time of year and keeping your gut health through lowering stress levels is great for your gut and brain
  • Make sure to get some plant-based foods in your belly — you might prefer pie taking up space in your gut, but making sure you have some plant-based foods (nuts, seeds, fruits, vegetables, etc.) will provide your body with vitamins, minerals, prebiotics, polyphenols, and short-chain fatty acids that help to protect your gut and brain from the oncoming indulgence
  • Take Atrantil — (ask your doctor first) but taking Atrantil helps nourish your microbiome by providing polyphenols, antioxidants, prebiotics, and postbiotics to keep your gut healthy and the microbes happy and balanced

Check out our Holiday Gut Handbook for more ways to improve your guts chances this holiday season!

The holidays are a time for happiness and getting together with your loved ones. Don’t let an unhappy gut ruin your time. Give this article a ‘share’ so you and your loved ones have your happiest and healthiest holiday season yet!

Does Holiday Binge Eating Affect Your Health?Does Holiday Binge Eating Affect Your Health?Does Holiday Binge Eating Affect Your Health?