Pro Tips and Hacks for Successfully Navigating Holidays with IBS and Other Gut Issues

How to Successfully Navigate Holidays with IBS & Other Gut Issues: 9 Pro Tips

Gut issues like irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), and other issues that often masquerade as IBS (like small intestinal bacterial overgrowth (SIBO), inflammatory bowel disease (IBD),  sucrose intolerance, and food sensitivities) can often feel like a rain cloud, following you around everywhere you go… Especially during the holiday season, when everything is so food-centric.  But the good news is it IS possible to successfully navigate holidays with IBS and other types of gut issues!  It just takes a little extra effort and mindset work. 

Below are some insights and hacks (developed and practiced by yours truly – a former IBS sufferer) to help you enjoy food-centric events and feel great in your body, during the holidays, even with gut issues.  

(Updated December 18, 2023)

Holiday eating – start here

On the one hand, holidays don’t come around very often.  (A few days of indulgences can’t hurt anyone, as you’ve probably been graciously reminded of by more family and friends than you can count.)

But on the other hand, is it really worth dealing with the pain or flares that could follow a few bites of “mystery pie” or the casserole that great aunt Aggie insisted you must try?

Only you know the answer to that, my friend!

But in short, everything is relative depending on:

  1. Your level of CLARITY (do you know what’s causing your symptoms, and which foods your body can properly digest?)
  2. What types of foods you can and can’t tolerate
  3. What kinds of foods are available at your holiday events
  4. Your ability to effectively communicate and enforce boundaries around your food choices

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!

Below are some tips and tricks to help you at every stage of the journey, depending on where you’re at.

Please take what you need, and leave the rest, as you navigate your holidays with IBS-like symptoms!

Do your research

First thing, first… do you actually know what’s causing your IBS-like symptoms, and which foods trigger you?

If not, this is a great place to start!

(If you need help figuring this out, you may want to consider keeping a food-symptom journal. )

This can be done virtually, or if you’re more old-school like me, feel free to order a copy of my paperback IBS Food Diary, which is available for purchase on Amazon worldwide!

Plan in advance

Okay, so you’ve figured out which foods work well for your body… but you still need to attend a food-centric event!

Chances are, you’ll 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!)

Bring your own “you-friendly” foods

Depending on what kind of food will be served at your holiday celebration, fill in the gaps and bring what you need!

  • For example, if you can’t find any veggies on the menu that aren’t coated in stuff that would send you spiraling into a flare, I highly recommend bringing a simple veggie dish (such as these low FODMAP maple glazed carrots, or low sucrose roasted brussel sprouts.

If there aren’t going to be any “you-friendly” desserts, you may want to bring a few of your own favorites that work well for you, and that you know others will love too.

Sucrose Intolerance 7-Day Meal Plan + 21 Sucrose Intolerance Recipes - PDF

Advocate for yourself

There’s nothing worse than judgmental comments about what’s on your plate (or what isn’t), made  people who have NO idea what you’re going through! 🙁

(We should all be able to eat what we want, in peace, without having to deal with the Inquisition!)

Remember, you don’t owe anyone an explanation for your food choices.  It’s 100% okay to say you don’t feel comfortable talking about how your body processes food! 😉

All of that said, advocating for yourself may be easy to say and hard to do, but it can go a long way.

Think of this as an opportunity to practice better boundary-setting! (Did you know that people with gut issues generally tend to struggle with setting healthy boundaries? This is a conversation for another time.)

A few examples of what you can say when someone tries to put you on the spot, questioning your food choices:

  • “Thanks for your concern, but I don’t feel like sharing personal information about my health right now!”
  • “I’m navigating some health issues that are impacted by food, and I’m making choices based on what works best for my body.”
  • “I’m working with a registered dietitian/nutritionist who is teaching me how to heal my gut with food.” (if applicable)
  • “Hey auntie, can you pass the ___(insert food of choice)___?”
  • “Oh wow, who made this __(insert food of choice)__? It’s delish!”

It can also help to confide in a few supportive allies in advance, if you know they’ll be at your holiday event.  Then, you can lean on them for some extra support in the moment if needed.

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.

Veggies help us to feel satiated and nourished, keep blood sugar stable and balance out all the other wonderful parts of the meal. They can also provide antioxidants, prebiotics, and fiber to help balance out all the other rich, yummy stuff you’ll likely be enjoying.

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!

Lean on functional foods and supplements (as needed)

Did you know that to this day, I still lean heavily on functional foods and supplements to stay in IBS remission?

That’s right… functional foods (like probiotic sauerkraut, and bone broth) and herbal supplements (like digestive bitters) or digestive enzymes can go a long way to help your digestive system break down and digest foods more efficiently and effectively.

Consider checking out some of the following articles on functional foods and gut health supplements to get a better idea of what can work well for you!

Breathe deeply before meals

Sometimes, it’s not about WHAT we eat – but HOW we eat, that can make a big difference in how we feel!

For example… Did you know that simply taking 5 deep breaths before a meal can help your body to digest your food with more ease?

Chew your food… very WELL!

Chewing your food to applesauce consistency is something I recommend as a foundational habit, in my signature online program – The Gut Code™.

Give it a try! You may be shocked to see what a difference this makes in how you feel.

Give yourself grace

Last but not least… remember there’s no “right” or “wrong” way to eat – and there is no such thing as “perfect” eating.

It’s really all about how you want to experience life!  How do you want to feel? What sensory experiences do you not want to miss out on?

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 certain foods and make this a sacred part of our holiday traditions, it can be liberating.

Pick your battles (within reason)!

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.

Bottom line:  You get to decide what you want to experience, and how you want to feel!

Navigating holidays with IBS: more resources

I hope you found this helpful! For more support, feel free to check out the following resources on all things gut issues, IBS and holiday eating:

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.

Final thoughts

Holidays are a lot of fun, but this time of year can also create added stress and worry for those of us with gut issues impacted by food.

Being proactive, doing your research, planning in advance, bringing what you need, advocating for yourself, and communicating your needs clearly can go a long way to make the holidays more enjoyable for my peeps out there navigating IBS and other types of gut issues.

Please know that I understand what you’re going through!

If you’d like to connect with a holistic-minded community of others like you this holiday season, feel free to join us in my private Facebook community, Whole-istic Living for Better Gut Health.

Whole-istic Living ("Holistic Living") Facebook Group with Jenna Volpe

Sending lots of love this holiday season!

XO – Jenna

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