For many individuals with digestive diseases and disorders, such as irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), functional dyspepsia, and gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), the stress and changes to routine often experienced during the holidays can make symptoms much worse than usual. This is the time when you most want them to subside, so there are steps you can take to minimize this, and enjoy a comfortable holiday season.


1: Plan out your holidays

If you are travelling, consider where you are going and what you need to be comfortable. Do you need to plan out bathroom locations in advance? Will you be on a long plane ride and need to bring gut-friendly snacks? Are you staying with family, or at a hotel? If you are staying home for the holidays, you might still need to consider some aspects. Are you having family over? Do you need to prepare space for people to sleep or organize large meals? Ask yourself these questions well before the holidays begin, so you can start to develop a game plan. Make sure you have everything you need ahead of time, so that you reduce your stress load during the holidays and make sure you don’t forget anything important.


2: Pack well for peace of mind

Speaking of planning, make sure to pack everything you might need if you are going to stay somewhere that isn’t your home. If you have IBD or diarrhea-predominant IBS, fatty foods and stress can increase the likelihood of experiencing fecal incontinence, which isn’t something that you want to experience at a family gathering. However, these things can happen, and knowing that you have spare pants, underclothes, wipes, and any other items you need to deal with this problem, can make you ready to handle any situations that come up. Those who experience severe bloating should pack comfy clothes. Consider wearing a pair of stretchy pants or a loose-fitting dress, or keeping one of these items on hand to change into if you feel the need, to reduce pressure from bloating.


3: Indulge without overindulging

It’s no secret that the holidays tend to focus on food, particularly rich, high-fat foods, which can make symptoms in IBD, IBS, functional dyspepsia, and GERD much worse for some individuals. It’s important to know how much of these foods you can handle, and avoid eating too much. Don’t load your plate with these decadent foods, but you can likely enjoy small portions, depending on your preferences and symptom severity. Try to stay away from the worst offenders: the foods that you know always make you sick. You can also think about ways of making your favourite foods more gut-friendly. If you have celiac disease, make gluten-free alternatives and take them with you, so you don’t feel left out when everyone else is eating stuffing and fresh rolls. If you need to reduce the amount of fat in your foods, try experimenting with flavourful herbs and low-fat condiments. If you are lactose intolerant, there are many products available to replace dairy in any recipe.


4: Take your medicine

In the hubbub of dealing with the holidays it can be difficult to remember to take your medications, but it’s extra important to make sure to maintain treatments that keep your symptoms under control in day-to-day life when you are in stressful conditions. Set up reminders on your smartphone or in a journal so that you don’t forget to take them during the commotion of the holidays! Make sure you pack enough for any prescription medications, and include any over-the-counter medications you might need, such as pain relief medications or antacids. This goes for other treatments as well, if you know that exercise reduces your symptoms, try to find time to go for a walk in the morning. If you know that eating many small meals keeps your symptoms in check, then take small portions at family dinners and keep healthy snacks on hand to eat between meals. Try to keep up with any other aspects of your disease management. If you regularly track symptoms in a journal, continue to do so while on holiday, even if you only spend a few minutes on it each day to quickly jot down the day’s overview.


5: Make sure to relax

You might need to travel, spend hours toiling in the kitchen, or deal with the stresses that can happen when interacting with family you haven’t seen in some time. Don’t do more than you can handle. Its okay to take a break, and don’t be afraid to ask for help if you need it. You can also use whichever techniques you’ve found to help keep your stress level down, such as breathing exercises, yoga, meditation, or warm baths, and make sure to get enough sleep.

First published in the Inside Tract® newsletter issue 204 – 2017