We’ve all done it. Every one of us has overeaten at some point, and it’s bound to happen again. We tackle that holiday meal with a little too much zeal, or over-cheat on our ‘cheat day.’ We might spend the rest of the evening parked on the couch, trying not to explode. Worse, we often find ourselves in a shame spiral, lamenting our poor choices, and vowing to ourselves, “Never again!” That promise is one you’re almost guaranteed to break. So what should you do after overindulging? Rather than wallowing in guilt and making empty promises, it’s healthier both mentally and physically to take a proactive approach. Your goal the day after a binge should be limiting the damage, and helping your body to normalize.
What do I mean by normalizing? Well, you need to address a few things that overeating does to our bodies ASAP. For starters, blood sugar spikes are the path to the dark side Type II Diabetes. As your blood sugar skyrockets, your insulin levels increase to compensate. Increased insulin levels can lead to insulin resistance and diabetic or pre-diabetic conditions. Another threat is that eating too many calories puts your body on the defensive against free radicals. Yes, those pesky free radicals are even produced by digestion, and when you digest too much, your body’s defenses may not be able to keep up. There’s also the sodium issue to worry about, and the cardiovascular problems it can cause.
To prevent these free radical, blood sugar, and sodium spikes from causing too much damage, it’s important to focus on the way to get your body back to normal. The good news is that recovering from a binge can be much tastier than you would expect. Here are six foods and beverages that will help you get right.
Grab Some Fruit
But fruit is loaded with sugar, isn’t it? Yes indeed. The good news, though, is that natural foods tend to provide enough good nutrients to outweigh the bad. Fruits have a fair amount of sugar, but it also has a lot of fiber. The insoluble fiber in fruits can aid in cleaning out your digestive tract after a night of clogging up that very same digestive tract. Then the soluble fiber not only contributes to reducing cholesterol, but it can also help to stabilize your blood sugar levels.
Another major bonus to fruit is that it’s often packed with antioxidants, which will help neutralize free radicals that have burdened your body. Fruits like apples, grapes, cherries, and especially berries (of the raspberry and blackberry varieties) will go to work seeking out and destroying those free radicals. If you want to be proactive when you find yourself in a situation where overeating is a definite possibility, try including fruit at the same time. Though the best choice is to not overeat in the first place, if you’re going to do it, add fruit to the menu. It’s a bit like drinking a lot of water when you know you’re going to overdo it on the alcohol.
Side Note: While cranberries contain anti-oxidants, that doesn’t mean that cranberry sauce is OK to overeat. For starters, it usually has way too much added sugar to be considered healthy, and its most prominent anti-oxidant, Vitamin C, is destroyed by heat. Cooking up cranberry sauce makes it a rather weak source of nutrients. Cranberry juice suffers from the same problems. What you may want to try are cranberries that you dried yourself. Doing it yourself avoids much of the degradation of Vitamin C and Vitamin A caused by the commercial drying process. Just put them in the oven with the words, “low and slow,” in mind. Drying them at a low temperature over a long time can preserve many more of the beneficial nutrients.
Eat a Banana
Right about now you’re probably thinking, “I don’t know if you know this, Steve, but bananas are fruits, too.” Before you worry about my inability to categorize bananas correctly, know that this one is on the list for a different reason. The modern diet is heavy in salt, and this can have a lot of adverse side effects. You may have heard that salt makes you retain water, and this is more or less true. Tipping the sodium/potassium balance in favor of sodium makes it tough for your kidneys to filter water out of your body. These high sodium levels lead to not only increased blood pressure as your blood’s water content elevates but also a variety of medical conditions caused by increased inflammation. There are two ways to maintain a healthy sodium to potassium ratio. The first and best way is to reduce your sodium intake, but when you’ve failed at this, you can alleviate some of the strain on your body by increasing your potassium. Hence the bananas.
Contrary to popular belief, the best sources of potassium are not bananas. Foods such as spinach, black beans, white beans, watermelon, sweet potatoes, and butternut squash all have more. After a night of stuffing your stomach, topping off with heavy foods like sweet potatoes and beans might be difficult, but adding some frozen spinach, a watermelon slice, or a banana to your next meal should be pretty easy on your tummy.
Sip Some Juice
“Again with the fruit, Steve!” Settle down, fictional reader. I don’t mean fruit juice here. Cranberry juice and orange juice might contain antioxidants, but I’ve already talked about the problem with added sugar in these drinks. Additionally, those antioxidants are less than you’ve been lead to believe thanks to pasteurization. A more straightforward term for pasteurization would be boiling because that’s what they do to kill off bacteria. It also has the effect of destroying a lot of the goodness in your juices.
No, by juice, I mean making a healthy juice cocktail yourself. The morning after you overeat, bust out your blender and toss in these nutrient-dense ingredients:
Option One- Sweet-Tart Smoothie:
1 Granny Smith Apple, 1 Cup of Pineapple, 1 Cucumber, 3 Kale Leaves, 1 Handful Mint, 1/2 Peeled Lemon
Option Two- Tangy Apple-Kale Juice:
3 Red Apples, 3 Kale Leaves, 1/2 Peeled Lemon
Option Three- Fresh Herb Juice:
1 Cucumber, 2 Celery Stalks, 1 Handful Cilantro, 4 Basil Sprigs, 2 Red Apples
Option Four- Kickin’ Juice Cocktail:
1 Red Apple, 1 Cucumber, 1/2 Ginger Root Knob, 1 Handful Mint, 1 Spicy Pepper (Choose a spice level that’s right for you. If spicy isn’t your thing, you can try a fresh jalepeño. Removing the seeds makes them much less hot, and they have a great flavor. Or don’t add peppers at all! There just won’t be any kick to the Kickin’ Juice Cocktail.)
Don’t forget to core your apples! They’re often easier to blend if you cut them into slices. You can always add a teaspoon of turmeric to any of these juices for additional benefits, but I’ll have more on that later.
Add a Splash of Vinegar
Blood sugar spikes aren’t just dangerous for people with diabetes. They can lead to diabetes, and after a blood sugar spike comes a sugar crash. Accompanying this crash is a drastically increased appetite, which means that overeating one day makes you more likely to overeat the next day. So how do you prevent a cycle of overeating? That’s where vinegar comes to the rescue. Vinegar improves insulin sensitivity and lowers both blood sugar and insulin responses. Just a tablespoon added to a meal can have a positive effect on your blood sugar. A good rule of thumb is that the darker the vinegar, the better it is for you. Raspberry vinegar, balsamic, and red wine vinegar are all much better for you than white vinegar. A couple of exceptions are that apple cider vinegar and rice vinegar are both very healthy as well, with apple cider vinegar coming in second place behind raspberry.
Spice It Up
Vinegar can provide a nice, healthy flavor punch, but so can spices. With the wide variety of spices on the market, there are also a wide variety of effects. Capsaicin, for example, helps your body to metabolize all of that extra fat you had with your Christmas ham. Capsaicin, if you haven’t heard, is what makes peppers spicy, making cayenne pepper a healthy kick in the pants. Turmeric is also heralded for its anti-inflammatory properties and is used in Indian foods, relish, and mustard blends. It adds a pleasant bitter or pungent flavor to your meal. Other spices that may help lower fat levels and insulin while providing anti-oxidants include fresh cracked pepper, cinnamon, cloves, rosemary, oregano, paprika, onion powder and garlic powder. In other words, a great way to compensate for overeating is to make your meals taste better.
Last But Certainly Not Least
You thought that making up for a cheat day was going to be painful, didn’t you? So far I’ve told you that the best way to limit the damage is to eat some tasty fruits and juices, then make your meals more delicious with spices and a splash of vinegar. This is almost too easy, isn’t it? Well, it’s about to get even easier, and more enjoyable. Tip number six is to drink some wine. That’s right, wine is loaded with antioxidants, good for your heart, and has been shown to help shed pounds. It follows the same rule as vinegar in that the darker the wine, the better it is for you. So top off your holiday meal with a glass of merlot, and relax in the comfort of knowing that its antioxidants are undoing a lot of the adverse effects that overeating caused. Of course, you should consume wine in moderation, or you will run into problems from the alcohol content. Your liver has to work harder to filter it out, and your kidneys can strain under the pressure of dehydration. That said, a glass of wine is the perfect way to top off a great meal, for both your health and your sense of satisfaction.