We've all been there: Running through the airport, trying to make our flight. Or the anxiety-ridden anticipation of what our family will pester us about this year. The seemingly never-ending search for the perfect gift. And overwhelming overindulgence in food and drinks.
Everyone knows that the holidays can be challenging, but the difficulties are compounded for those with chronic illnesses like inflammatory bowel disease (IBD).
To help you keep your mental and physical well-being in check during this hectic time, we've collected some research-backed tips for dealing with IBD during the holiday season.
Provide IBD-Compatible Foods
With last-minute travel and holiday meals, it's tough to plan for nutritious eating. However, a balanced diet is a key to supporting IBD healing.
Make sure to bring along some easy-to-digest foods when you're on the go in case you can't find anything else that agrees with your stomach. If you eat out often, request simple preparations of your meals with little to no spices. And if you ever get invited over to someone's house for dinner, offer to contribute a dish that won't make your tummy upset. For example, maybe mashed potatoes sit well with you—something both delicious and holiday appropriate!
Be Smart About What You Eat
Remember to keep those with IBD in mind when planning your next dinner party. A few dietary tweaks can make all the difference for guests suffering from this condition. Stick to essential foods that are well-balanced and devoid of heavy sauces or seasonings; simple roasted chicken breast, for example, is a safer bet than a rich meat stew. The key is keeping it unpretentious – no need to overthink things!
Here are some common triggers it would be best to limit or avoid:
-Lactose or Dairy products (milk, yogurt, cheese)
-Nuts and dried fruits (In large quantities)
-Greasy or fried foods
-Heavy seasoning or sauces
-Uncooked foods (aim for cooked versions)
Always start with a small amount to gauge your reaction when trying something new. We all react differently to food, so it's best to proceed cautiously.
If you have an irritable stomach, choose foods that are easy to digest and full of nutrients. Eat smaller meals throughout the day instead of large ones, so your stomach can work less complicated. If you can't eat solid foods because of symptomatic reactions, focus on soft foods such as soups, applesauce, smoothies, mashed potatoes, or vegetables.
Limit or Avoid Alcohol
Although clinical practice and research studies have found that alcohol can exacerbate symptoms in individuals with IBD, you know your body best. If you feel that drinking will cause you discomfort, it is essential to be realistic with yourself and set yourself up for success by avoiding alcohol altogether.
To avoid dehydration, drink water in between alcoholic beverages. Simple wine, beer, and spirits are better than sugary cocktails, which can irritate your stomach and cause inflammation.
Don't let others influence your decisions about your health. If you're feeling pressure to drink alcohol but don't want to, try holding a cup of water with lime or refilling a beer can or bottle with water.
Have an Emergency Travel Pack
Being prepared for accidents is always a good idea, especially when traveling. An emergency pack should contain items you may need if an accident occurs and you're not near a restroom. Pack wipes, clean underwear, and hand sanitizer into your bag. Baking soda is excellent for decreasing smells, and gloves help keep things clean.
A medical alert bracelet is essential for accessibility to the restroom when an issue arises, as well as over-the-counter medications like antidiarrheals and pain reducers. If you're staying the night, it's always a good idea to bring an extra set of clothes.
IBD and Stress Management
Stress can be caused by high expectations that can't be comfortably reached or maintained — a typical result during the holiday season. Although stress doesn't cause IBD, it can intensify symptoms during physical or emotional distress.
One way to keep your mental state healthy and stress-free is by making time in your schedule to relax. This might look like waking earlier than usual or going to bed a select few minutes before, so you can do things you enjoy, such as meditating, deep breathing, listening to music, walking outside, etc.
Preparing with some relaxation techniques can make travel much more bearable. Consider downloading music or guided meditations to help you relax during your next trip.
Say No To Guilt
There's a decent chance you won't be able to attend every single event, that you'll run out of time while shopping for presents, or that you won't have grandma's special pecan pie.
Your health is the top priority-- everything else comes second. You need to be healthy to take care of your loved ones.
During the holidays, focus on creating positive energy instead of expenditure. If you put your well-being first and don't allow other peoples' opinions to bother you, you'll be more fully available for your friends and family.
Try Not To Overcommit
Sometimes it's necessary to miss an event, even if you were invited. Assess which events are worth your time before committing. Respect your boundaries and communicate them to the people you're close with. Socializing sounds appealing, but sacrificing sleep won't do you any good. So plan to meet up for a little while, then get some rest.
This year, commit to yourself and your health.
Holiday Wishes From GI Associates
Remember what the holidays are really about this holiday season: giving and sharing love. Show your appreciation for those who have been kind to you throughout the year. At GI Associates, we're grateful for every one of our patients. Set up an appointment today if you need help with your IBD.