By Sara Calabro
Thanksgiving is this Thursday. In previous years, we’ve written about the similarities between acupuncture and Thanksgiving. We’ve also talked about what acupuncture can teach us about gratitude and change.
This year, we’re honoring Thanksgiving with tips for battling the holiday’s most common nemesis: bloating.
Often, the meals we share on Thanksgiving are memorable for more than just good times with family and friends. Bloating and indigestion can be epic on Thanksgiving, and they can put a major damper on otherwise joyous celebrations.
We asked acupuncturists from around the world for do-it-yourself recommendations for reducing bloating. Here are 11 tips for staying comfortable this Thursday, in the days that follow, and whenever else you experience bloating.
Chew your food
Helena Barker, an acupuncturist and naturopath in Meath, Ireland, recommends slowing down. “Eating quickly can cause air swallowing that leads to bloating,” says Barker. “You can decrease bloating simply by chewing your food more. This puts less pressure on your Spleen, the system responsible for digestion in Chinese medicine. Also, thoroughly chewing and tasting your food makes it more satisfying, which means you may eat less.”
New York City acupuncturist Juliette Aiyana agrees: “It takes about 20 minutes for your stomach to sends hormonal signals to your brain telling it that you are full,” she says. “Slowing down and chewing well while enjoying the flavors of your holiday food may prevent bloating caused by overeating.”
Jacksonville, Florida acupuncturist Kendra Lay recommends at least 20 chews per bite. “A person can do more if they’d like—even up to 100 chews!” says Lay. “When food is chewed properly, the digestive enzyme amylase is released in the saliva to chemically break down starches and carbohydrates. Undigested carbohydrates are a big reason for distended bellies, so making sure your food is broken down properly before it hits the rest of your digestive tract is a great remedy for bloating.”
Drink warm liquids
Delphine Baumer, an acupuncturist in Vancouver, British Columbia, recommends ditching the iced water. “Avoid drinking cold liquids, especially with meals,” says Baumer. “The digestive organs are made of smooth muscle, and muscles like warmth. Ingesting cold will weaken the digestive system. Warm liquids will help it relax and gain strength over time, reducing bloating.”
Baumer adds, “Remember to drink most fluids between meals and to only have small sips at meal time.”
Get to know ginger
Brooklyn, New York acupuncturist Margie Navarro‘s favorite at-home cure for bloating is a cup of ginger tea, ideally before a meal. Navarro says, “Using freshly sliced ginger root is best. Pour boiled water over the sliced root, cover, and steep for about five minutes.”
Navarro explains that ginger helps stimulate saliva, bile and gastric juice production, helping to prevent food fermentation in the digestive tract. She says, “This is why ginger is best used before a meal.” Navarro points out, however, that ginger also helps relax the muscles within the digestive tract, helping to release trapped gas. “For this reason, it may help after a meal as well,” she says.
Wayland, Massachusetts acupuncturist Marisa Fanelli concurs on the power of ginger. “For indigestion and bloating, I swear by a cup of peppermint tea with thin slices of ginger and honey,” says Fanelli. “I let the tea steep for a good amount of time so that the ginger gets soft and absorbs some of the sweet taste of the honey. After I drink the tea, I eat the ginger. It’s my post-holiday cocktail, and it never fails to soothe my stomach and banish bloating.”
Steep some seeds
Corvalis, Oregon-based acupuncturist Brodie Welch recommends a concoction of steeped seeds to combat bloating.
“Grab a mug and throw in one-quarter teaspoon each of whole cumin seed, coriander seed, and fennel seed,” says Welch. “Cover with hot water and a lid to keep the volatile oils in. Strain and drink. All of these herbs are used in Chinese medicine and Ayurveda to benefit digestion, and decrease gas and bloating.”
Welch says it’s okay to add a couple of cardamom pods, slices of fresh ginger, and a little maple syrup to make the drink tastier.
Notice your reaction to certain foods
Sarah O’Leary, an acupuncturist at Mend Community Acupuncture in Baltimore, Maryland points out that bloating can be a sign of a mild intolerance to certain foods. “Notice when you bloat most. Is it after eating a bagel or other high-wheat-content food? After eating a lot of soy, in a latte or in the form of tofu? Or maybe dairy gets you feeling bad. Some guts have a hard time with one more more of these foods.”
O’Leary recommends switching things up to lighten the wheat-dairy-soy load for a week or two and then reintroducing the culprits one at a time. “Make sure to give yourself enough time to notice if you react with bloating,” says O’Leary. “Twenty-four hours should do it.”
Eat with the seasons
If after trying out O’Leary’s recommendation you discover that you can’t eat certain foods, Los Angeles acupuncturist Laura Drago suggests a good rule of thumb: “Eat with the season.”
Drago explains, “Stop eating salads after spring and summer. Cook your foods in the fall and winter. Eat foods that grow naturally at the time of year you’re in. If you don’t know what grows, eat what the farmer’s market sells!”
Enjoy a morning cocktail
Not that kind of cocktail. Daniella Weill, an acupuncturist and naturopath in Jerusalem, Israel recommends drinking the following concoction first thing in the morning: Squeezed juice from half a lemon and one teaspoon virgin olive oil, mixed into one glass of water.
“My patients who do this daily don’t need any pills for bloating, heartburn, or other digestive disorders,” says Weill.
Rub your belly
Acupuncturist Leona Marrs, of Los Angeles, recommends rubbing your belly in a clockwise direction to reduce bloating.
“My qigong teacher first showed this to me as a way to warm up your center, which stimulates Spleen and Stomach qi to guide digestion,” says Marrs. “I have many patients who complain of bloating, especially women, and it always seems to help move things along. I recommend 10 circles per day.”
Acupuncturist Angie Savva, of Sydney, Australia, adds, “In Chinese medicine, bloating and indigestion indicate that the qi in the abdomen is obstructed, so self-massage can help improve flow and regulate the functions of the digestive organs.”
Brian Huwe and Mary Beth Ladenheim, acupuncturists in Fincastle, Virgina, suggest a simple self-massage routine: “Lie comfortably on your back. Place one hand (right hand for women, left hand for men) above your belly button. Place your other hand on top of the first hand. Then move your hands together in a circle around your navel. Do this 100 times. Then reverse the direction of the circle and repeat 100 more times.”
Massage this point
Naomi Frank, co-owner of Toronto Community Acupuncture in Toronto, Canada, recommends performing self-acupressure on acupuncture point Triple Heater 6. It is located on the back of the wrist, approximately three inches up from the wrist crease (see picture at right).
“When needled, this point can almost instantly reduce bloating,” says Frank. “You have to be a little more persistent with acupressure, but it works just as well. Apply pressure for a minute or two, alternating sides, until you feel relief.”
Frank adds, “The beauty of acupressure is you don’t have to worry about the exact location. The whole area will be beneficial. Find a tender spot in the area and go for it.”
Take a walk
“Hands down, the best way to treat bloating, especially during the holidays, is to get the family together and take a walk after the big meal,” says Jeremy Cornish, an acupuncturist in Asheville, North Carolina.
“It doesn’t have to be a long walk, just enough physical movement to help stimulate digestion,” says Cornish. “Plopping down on the couch will slow down your system, and that stagnation causes the discomfort of bloating. Spending quality time walking with your loved ones is a great tradition—and not just for the digestive benefits!”
Los Angeles acupuncturist Kathleen Port recommends taking a full-spectrum digestive enzyme as soon as you start eating. “You can do this with each meal or just the larger meals,” says Port. If you suffer from bloating, Port also recommends asking your acupuncturist about the herbal formula Bao He Wan, sometimes known as Preserve Harmony Pill. Port says, “If it’s appropriate for you, taking it after dinner can help with bloating.”
Acupuncturist Michael Costa, of Culver City, California, recommends hydrochloric acid supplements. “Bloating after eating can be a sign that the stomach is not digesting food well,” explains Costa. “If you find yourself getting bloated after protein-heavy meals, taking a Betaine HCl supplement at the beginning of the meal can help create the right environment to efficiently break down protein.”
Costa notes that Betaine HCl is contraindicated in people with stomach ulcers. It’s always advisable to talk to a healthcare professional before taking any new supplement.
Happy Thanksgiving from AcuTake!
Photos by Sara Calabro and Mary Marsiglio
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