How to get through the holidays with IBS

Holiday season is supposed to be “the most wonderful time of the year”, however it can also be challenging for people with IBS (Irritable Bowel Syndrome).  Celebrating holidays includes family and friends gatherings with plenty of food and presents, work parties, and travelling, but having adverse symptoms during this time can ruin all the fun. Actually, holiday season can be a stressful time for many people with all the planning, shopping and preparations and may cause bloating, abdominal pain, diarrhea and/or constipation. In fact, there is a direct correlation between stress and IBS symptoms via the gut-brain connection. Shopping for presents, hosting and/or attending parties and worrying about the served food may all lead to triggering your symptoms if you don’t have a plan. So, managing your stress and controlling the anxiety before and during the holiday season with help to get through and actually enjoy the holidays.  

Here are 5 tips that you can use to control your IBS symptoms and celebrate this holiday season.

1. Plan everything ahead.

Shopping for holidays can be stressful especially if you have procrastinated. Start making a list of people who you are going to give gifts to. If you don’t know what to get as a gift, simply ask them “What would you want to get for the holidays?” When you have a list of things to get, you are not running around looking for ideas, you already know what to give and where to get it. You can also take an advantage of online shopping at your own house. With all the people shopping for holiday gifts, you may be overwhelmed and inpatient to stay in lines, which may trigger your symptoms making you search for the nearest restroom.

2. Avoid eating trigger foods

Holiday dinners usually include the abundance of dishes which are composed of many ingredients. Some dishes may have hidden components, such as garlic and/or onion powders, honey or other high FODMAP flavorings and seasonings, which may trigger your symptoms. When you are invited to the party, don’t be afraid to ask the host about the menu and the ingredients in the dishes beforehand. This way you know what you are going to eat when you arrive to the party. You can also offer to bring few of your own dishes that you know will not trigger your symptoms, such as a cheese platter with nuts and fruits or your favorite grandma’s recipe dish.  If you are hosting a party, offer a potluck style and ask people to bring their favorite dish. You can even create a contest for the best dish.

On the day of the party don’t skip your meals and have a good breakfast. Some people feel that they have to go hungry to the party so that they can taste all of the dishes, however it is not the case for people with IBS. If you come to the party hungry, you may be tempted to eat foods that will cause an adverse reaction. You don’t want to spend this time sitting on a toilet, right?

If you are invited to the party and not sure what food is served (e.g. it is a work party somewhere in the restaurant), bring some snacks with you, such as fruits, nuts, a protein bar or something that can fit into a small zip lock bag.

3. Drink plenty of water

People with IBS should be drinking plenty of water every day and not only during the holiday parties. If you have diarrhea type IBS, it will help you to replace lost fluids. For people with constipation it can help to soften the stool for easy evacuation. Holiday dinners often include drinking alcohol. Making sure you drink plenty of water throughout the day and during the party will help you to stay hydrated. Try to alternate drinking alcohol with a glass of water. 

4. Know your alcohol triggers

Even tough research is conflicting about IBS and alcohol, alcohol is a gut irritant and may cause abdominal pain and bloating.  People with IBS have different reactions to alcohol, thus knowing your alcohol triggers and the amount you can safely consume will allow you to enjoy the party the entire time.  People tend to drink more alcohol during the holidays. Before drinking alcohol, have a good meal to let the food coat the lining of the stomach for lesser irritation and avoid sweet wines and cocktails since they maybe higher in FODMAPs.  You can also alternate drinking alcohol with a “mocktail”, a cocktail that doesn’t contain an alcohol.

5. Enjoy the holiday season

No matter what you do during this holiday season, remember to enjoy it.  This is the time to connect with your family and friends and spend a great time together. Happiness, joy and laughter have healing properties and may save you from developing the symptoms.

Happy Holidays!

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