The Great Digestion: How Not to Overeat on Thanksgiving

Here are some of Aarti Sequieira's strategies to consider if you too want to avoid the dreaded loosening of the trouser button, all based in Indian tradition.
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You’ve ordered your organic heritage turkey.

You’ve even figured out your signature cocktail using the cocoa-chile d’arbol bitters you’ve been brewing.

But have you figured out your digestion plan?

The Great Digestion is as much a part of the Thanksgiving tradition as the spread, no? Come the end of the meal, a chorus of “Oh, I ate too much” leads quite quickly to snore-riddled naps on the couch only to be followed by another chorus of “There’s a lead weight in my tummy.” Every year, I go through the same routine, promising myself that next year, I will do better, that I won’t end up lethargic on the couch nursing a sour tummy, a sad way to end one of the most magical days of the year.

But this year, I think I have a fighting chance. And it’s all because of a chance Los Angeles moment last Thanksgiving that set my mind’s wheels in motion.

My husband Brendan and I were hosting our very first Thanksgiving in our new home. It felt very grown-up, because unlike the decade of Thanksgivings prior, we actually had a dining table to offer people (no more balancing sides on spare chairs and coffee tables!). The turkey carved and plattered, the prayers said over the feast and the feasters, I crept away from the table to grab a small bottle I’d tucked away on the counter.

“Hey guys,” I announced as I walked back to the table, struggling with the cap on the bottle, “I’m not sure if you want any, but I’m going to take some of these digestive enzymes my naturopath put me on. No pressure but…”

“No way!” my friend Nicole exclaimed. “I brought enzymes, too!”
“What?” I snorted.

“Yeah! What kind do you have? I have ones that help digest dairy, and another one that helps digest protein.”

We all collapsed in laughter, shaking our heads at how very LA we had all become (none of us natives to this strange land of juice cleanses, digestive enzymes and ironically, some of the best burgers money can buy). Within minutes the enzymes were making their way around the table with the same vim and vigour as the sweet potatoes and Tandoori turkey.

And can I tell you? It made such a difference. At the end of the meal, all of us commented that despite indulgently tucking into the banquet before us, none of us had needed to break out the yoga pants that we’d all brought with us (hey, I did say we live in LA, right?).

So this year, I’ll be taking that whole digestion thing a little more seriously. Here are some strategies to consider if you too want to avoid the dreaded loosening of the trouser button, all based in Indian tradition (Disclaimer: I am not a nutritionist).

1) Don’t drink water before you eat

This one might be a bit controversial but this is a theory that I grew up with. Despite what many trainers and nutritionists say, Ayurvedic principle advises against drinking water before eating. The theory goes that water dilutes your digestive acids, thereby making it harder for your dinner to break down. So wait until you’ve finished your meal to drink some water. What about the cocktail and wine, you ask? Well, no one in my family has disavowed me of this, so I’m just going to go ahead and share my (perhaps twisted?) logic with you: wine is acid right? So won’t it help me digest? Right? (See disclaimer above).

2) Eat some papaya

At our hotel in Goa this summer, Bren and I ate plates of papaya before indulging in the traditional, but rather hearty South Indian breakfast of masala dosa (pototo and onion stuffed rice crepes) with vegetable sambar (stew). We found that rather than carrying a carb-anvil in our tummies all day, we felt nourished and energized. Papaya is known for its ability to soothe tummies and aid digestion. Heck, some folks even use papaya as a marinade to break down tough cuts of meat. So this year, I’ll make sure I lay out a platter of papaya. How nice that it’s orange, too, perfectly fitting into the Thanksgiving colour scheme! Some other good digestives? Fennel (think of slicing it thinly on your crudite platter) and ginger; I love placing a few pieces of crystallized ginger on the table.

3) Finish off with some saunf

The last time you were at an Indian restaurant, you may have noticed a small bowl of what looked like microscopic candies as you walked out. These are candy-coated fennel seeds (or “saunf”) that are said to not only sweeten your breath but also help digestion along. They’re widely available at Indian or South Asian markets, and a little bowl adds both a festive and helpful touch to the dessert table! If you can’t find them, then just dry toast a small handful of fennel seeds; they’ll do the same thing, without all that added sugar.

Along with some digestive enzymes, and perhaps even a little Amaro, I think I’ll be safe from that dreaded moment when I surreptitiously undo the button on my jeans.

Do you have any ideas for keeping the over-stuffed feeling at bay?
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