For lots of people, the holidays mean time off, quality time with family/friends, tuning into gratitude, and enjoying lots of really tasty food! But for those of us dealing with a health condition impacted by food, eating a bunch of rich food for a day and then getting back to “normal” can feel more like a privilege than a choice. Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) and adverse food reactions can feel a lot like a raincloud following you around – especially during the holiday season, when everything is so food-centric. But the good news is it’s possible for you to navigate holidays and IBS so that you can still enjoy yourself and feel great in your body!
Fortunately, having navigated my share of “IBS holidays” first-hand throughout my gut-healing journey (and after helping many others to do the same), I’ve figured out some easy hacks to be proactive and thrive (versus just survive) during the holidays.
Check out my 5 tips for navigating IBS at Thanksgiving, Christmas, Hannukah, and other food-centric holidays below.
(Updated July 15, 2022)
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IBS holiday tips
On the one hand it’s just one day, and it’s not going to kill us – but on the other hand, is it worth dealing with the pain or flares that could follow? Of course we all want to be able to enjoy ourselves and not live in a bubble. But we also want to be able to feel GOOD – and not get derailed clinically!
So where do we draw the line?
1. Do your research
Chances are, you’ll hopefully have some general idea before the “day of” where you’ll be, who will be there, and who’s hosting. If that’s the case, just like going out to eat, why not use that to your advantage? Be proactive and do a little research in advance!
If you can find out some more info about what foods will be served, you can then prepare a little better… (See below!)
2. Bring your own safe foods
Depending on what kind of food will be served at your holiday celebration, fill in the gaps and bring what you need!
If there aren’t going to be any “You-friendly” desserts (or veggies, or apps, etc.), bring a few of your own favorites that work well for you, and that you know others will love too.
3. Advocate for yourself
There’s nothing worse than those obnoxious judgmental comments about what’s on your plate (or what isn’t)!
This should go without saying, but it’s rude to make remarks or interrogations around what others are eating, and it feels embarrassing to be the one getting put on the spot. (We should all be able to eat what we want without having to deal with the Inquisition.)
Remember, you don’t owe anyone an explanation for your food choices if you don’t feel comfortable sharing what you’ve been going through!
All of that said, advocating for yourself may be easy to say and hard to do, but it can go a long way.
- A lot of people I help with digestive issues/food sensitivities tend to be fellow people-pleasers, so these are great opportunities for practicing boundary-setting!
You can stick up for yourself in the moment (i.e. “thanks for your concern but I’d rather not talk about this right now!”), or it can also help to talk to a few supportive people in advance who you know will be at your holiday event, so you can lean on them for some extra support in the moment if needed.
4. Include veggies!
Whether it’s something orange or green (or something else non-starchy), cooked or fresh… making ~ 1/3 of your plate veggies during the main course will go a long way for anyone. Veggies help us to feel satiated and nourished, keep blood sugar stable and balance out all the other wonderful parts of the meal.
It doesn’t need to be (and shouldn’t be) “rabbit food” style veggies – choose something delicious!
(Bring your own veggies if you need to in order to make this happen!)
- The other 2/3 of your meal should be a mix of starchy carbs and some kind of protein like turkey or tofurky to name a few examples… that’s easy to do on Thanksgiving, if you ask me!
5. Pick your battles.
There’s something to be said about “soul food”, or sacred, special foods that nourish our soul. Enjoyment of food is a sacred experience and a part of our mental health!
- There’s also something to be said about not eating the foods that we don’t really enjoy. (Don’t eat something JUST because it’s there in front of you and you feel the need to be polite! That is not what I’d consider a sacred experience.)
When we give ourselves permission to enjoy food and make it a sacred part of our life, it gives us freedom. It allows us to ditch the guilt and shame that can often follow when we worry too much about what we believe we “should” or “shouldn’t” eat (that’s a waste of energy). Guilt and shame also ironically set us up to self-sabotage in the form of gorging on food and then beating ourselves up about it the next day.
Pick your battles!
Some indulgences and experiences are well worth a little bloating etc., while other choices may NOT worth sending yourself spiraling into a flare for days after the fact.
It’s a grey area and a fine line; it’s up to you what you’d like to indulge in in and what you’d rather not!
Only YOU know how each experience will impact you.
There is no right or wrong answer here but it’s important to give yourself permission to enjoy your day, which should include the food you’re eating!
IBS holiday tips: more resources
For more tips and tricks on empowered eating during the holidays, you might like to check out my guest appearance on the Quantum Shift podcast (Episode 2: How to make empowered choices and maintain momentum through the holiday season).
Wherever you are, and whatever you’re doing this year, I hope this I hope you and your loved ones have a happy, healthy holiday season.
Thanks for reading, sharing and being a part of my community – I’m grateful for you!
XO — Jenna