You know the panic: running and sweating through the airport while trying to catch that flight. Or the anxiety drenched anticipation of what your family will pester and pressure you about this year. The seemingly never-ending search for the perfect gift. And overwhelming overindulgence of food and drinks…
The holidays can bring on both the best and the worst of times. But for people suffering from a chronic illness, such as inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), the seasonal challenges can be even worse.
So how do you manage your mental and physical well-being during this hectic time? We’ve collected our top seven, science-backed tips for managing IBD during the holiday season.
Bring IBD-Friendly Foods
Between unexpected travel changes and festive feasts, diet and meal times can be near impossible to plan for. Yet balanced nutrition is one of the most important factors for IBD support and healing.
When you travel, carry some non-perishable “emergency” foods that don’t cause your stomach upset like crackers. If you go out to dinner, request that the chef prepare your portion with minimal or no sauces or spices. If you’re invited to a house dinner, offer to bring a dish to share that’s easy on your tums. For instance, maybe you do well with mashed potatoes — a holiday dinner winner.
Choose Foods Wisely
An IBD friendly diet can be applied to dinner parties with a few simple tweaks. Focus on basic and balanced foods without heavy sauces and seasonings. For instance maybe the roasted chicken breast will do you well but not the meat stew. The key is keeping it basic.
These are some common triggers that would be wise to limit or avoid:
-Dairy (milk, yogurt, cheese)
-Lots of nuts and dried fruits
-Fried or greasy foods
-Heavy sauces or seasonings
-Raw foods (aim for cooked versions)
If you’re going to try something new, start with a small portion and see how you do. Everyone has varied reactions and has a different response to foods.
If you’re experiencing a flare-up, focus on easily digestible and nourishing ingredients. Aim for small and frequent meals so your stomach doesn’t have to work too hard. If you’re unable to eat solid foods, because of a flare-up, focus on soft ones such as soups, applesauce, smoothies, and mashed potatoes or vegetables.
Limit or Avoid Drinking
Clinical practice and some studies have shown that alcohol should be avoided with IBD since it appears to make symptoms worse for many people. You personally know how much drinking will cause you discomfort. Be realistic with yourself and do what sets you up for success.
If you’re going to drink, curb dehydration by alternating between water and alcohol. Meaning that for every drink you have, you drink a cup of water. Focus on simplistic wine, beer, or spirits, versus cocktails which are packed with sugar which can further upset the stomach and increase inflammation.
Don’t give into peer pressure. Your health is too important. If you don’t want to drink but feel pressured to, a tip is to hold a cup of water with a lime in it, or to refill a beer can or bottle with water. People around you won’t know the difference and you’ll feel the difference!
Prepare an Emergency Travel Pack
Accidents happen, especially when dealing with travel stress. An emergency pack contains items you may need if you find yourself in a situation when you have an accident (i.e. didn’t make it to the restroom). Start by packing wipes, a change of underwear, and hand sanitizer.
If you have space, baking soda also works great for decreasing smells. And gloves are helpful for keeping things clean.
The most important things to bring would be a medical alert bracelet which can give you access to the toilet when a troublesome situation hits, as well as over-the-counter medications such as antidiarrheals and pain reducers.
If you plan to stay overnight somewhere, it may be a good idea to pack an extra pair of pajamas or pants as well.
Manage Your Stress
Stress can be triggered when you’ve set expectations that are too high to be comfortably met — a common theme of the holiday season.
Stress plays a role in IBD. It doesn’t cause IBD but during times of physical or emotional stress, more flare-ups can occur.
Keep yourself sane and symptom free by carving out time to decompress and relieve stress. Maybe this means waking up a few minutes earlier or going to bed a few minutes early so you have time to meditate, deep breath, listen to music, walk, etc.
Download some relaxing music or guided meditations so you can listen during travel time.
Get Past the Guilt
There’s a strong chance you won’t make it to every event, that you won’t have time to shop for everyone on your list, or that you can’t eat grandma’s special pecan pie this year.
It’s ok. Your health is most important so you can ultimately be there for your loved ones.
The holidays are meant for love and joy. Try to shift the energy spent people pleasing towards being present. Put your well-being first and the opinions or judgements of others last and you’ll be that much more available for your friends and family.
It’s your holiday too. Enjoy it.
Don’t feel obligated to attend every event you’re invited to. Be realistic with yourself and choose the ones that really matter to you.
Respect your limits and communicate them to your friends and family. Perhaps socializing sounds good but missing out on sleep won’t serve you. Then plan to meet for a couple hours then get your valuable rest.
Commit to yourself this year.
The true meaning of the holidays is giving and sharing love and reaching out to those who have touched your life. Here at Nori, we’re grateful for you. Thank you for being a part of our community.
Nori Health sends our warmest wishes to you and yours. Have a happy and healthy holiday season.
This article has been written by Lisa Booth, registered dietitian and nutritionist, and co-founder of Nori Health. Content is based on her professional knowledge, and our collection of 100+ scientific research study papers.