Your Guide To IBS-Stress-Free Holidays
For most, the holidays are a wonderful time to enjoy a variety of festivities with friends and family members. Eating, traveling, and celebrating are all important aspects of the holidays, but if you suffer from IBS (irritable bowel syndrome), you may find the holidays to be especially difficult. Being expected to consume mountains of food, often away from home, can sound like a recipe for disaster for anyone with IBS; fortunately, there are steps you can take to successfully navigate the holidays. Try using some of the following tips to keep your IBS in check during the holiday season.
Eat Small Meals Before Gatherings and Events
Overindulging during the holidays is easy, and if you have IBS, you will want to avoid doing so at all costs. Before attending gatherings or events, try to consume a small meal so you won’t be extremely hungry or eat all the wrong things by accident. High-carbohydrate, high-fat holiday foods can spell disaster for anyone with IBS, primarily because individuals with IBS tend to have a stronger gastro-colonic reflux, meaning they experience strong colon contractions when fatty foods reach their duodenum. Contractions can result in symptoms such as gas, abdominal pain, cramping, diarrhea, and constipation.
Avoid High-Carbohydrate and High-Fat Foods
High-carbohydrate and high-fat foods are not ideal for individuals with IBS. If you find yourself eating such foods, try to limit your intake. They can worsen the symptoms of IBS, and make it difficult to enjoy your holiday season. You will also want to limit your intake of saturated fat, which is found in foods such as pastry, meat, and cheese. Consider replacing them with unsaturated fats found in nuts, seeds, and olive oil.
Speak Up at Restaurants
For many people, eating out is a part of the holiday season. While this year may be the perfect time to skip these outings due to the pandemic, some restaurants are providing safe and socially-distanced options and you may find yourself going to dinner with loved ones. Unfortunately, many of the holiday foods served by restaurants can make your IBS worse, especially if they contain a considerable amount of fat or carbohydrates. This may seem disappointing, but luckily, most restaurants are far more accommodating now than in the past. Many restaurants offer a plethora of gluten-free and dairy-free options to patrons, and these options can be a lot healthier for your digestive tracts than traditional holiday fare. For this reason, don’t be afraid to speak up for yourself at restaurants if you want to learn more about gut-friendly dining options.
Limit Alcoholic and Carbonated Beverages
Alcohol and carbonated beverages can worsen IBS, particularly the symptoms of diarrhea. If you find yourself surrounded by beer, wine, soda, and other similar beverages, it may be wise to choose an alternative drink. Strive to maintain at least two alcohol-free days per week and to consume no more than two units each day. A unit of alcohol is equivalent to one 25ml shot of spirits, one 125ml glass of wine, or half a pint of standard strength beer. You can also find delicious mocktail recipes to still feel festive while avoiding alcohol.
Most people know that caffeine is a stimulant, but did you know it can also stimulate colon activity? Many people don’t, but this holiday season, you may want to keep the number of cups of coffee you consume in check. Non-herbal teas also contain a significant amount of caffeine, so you should limit your intake of such teas as well. Try to limit your intake of coffee and non-herbal tea to no more than three cups per day. If you consume traditional coffee instead of instant, you may want to limit your intake to two cups per day. There is also caffeine in soft drinks, so be aware of this the next time you have a soda.
Modify Your Fiber Intake
If you suffer from IBS, you may find the topic of fiber to be confusing – and for good reason. For many people, increasing their fiber intake can result in an improvement of symptoms, while for others, consuming too much fiber can make their symptoms worse. The amount of fiber you consume should depend on your individual needs.
There are two types of fiber – insoluble and soluble. Insoluble fiber does not readily dissolve in water, so it is not easily broken down. Instead, it absorbs water and allows stools to pass through the bowels with greater ease. Reducing your intake of insoluble fiber may help reduce the symptoms of diarrhea. If you are attempting to reduce your intake of insoluble fiber, you may want to avoid foods such as nuts, whole grains, corn, and the skins of fruits and vegetables.
Soluble fiber, on the other hand, can be broken down by water and natural bacteria in the gut. Soluble fiber can soften stools and help to improve constipation symptoms. The following foods contain soluble fiber:
- Fruits and vegetables
- Whole grains
Increasing your soluble fiber intake can help improve symptoms of constipation, but consuming too much can cause abdominal pain, gas, and bloating. When adjusting your fiber intake, it may be wise to keep a journal of your symptoms so you know exactly how much fiber you should consume.
Check out some IBS-friendly recipes on CureRate here.
Fiber requires water to dissolve, so you should strive to drink 8-10 cups of water each day. Water is not only good for your entire body, but it can help with your IBS symptoms, especially constipation. You may substitute some of your water intake with herbal teas.
Avoid Fast Food
Fast food is full of fat and sugar, and if you suffer from IBS, you will definitely want to avoid the drive-thru. Avoiding fast food can be difficult, especially if you are in a rush, but your digestive system will thank you in the long-run. If you are traveling during the holidays, pack your own IBS-friendly foods instead of depending on take-out. If you don’t know what to pack, the following foods are a good place to start:
- Lower-fat dairy products, such as low-fat yogurts and cottage cheese
- Lean cuts of meat (cooked in minimal amounts of oil or butter)
- Grilled, poached, and steamed meats and vegetables (avoid frying)
When using condiments, try to choose lower-fat versions if possible. You should also limit your intake of cheese and other high-fat dairy products.
Pack Your Food and Water
If you are visiting an area you are unfamiliar with, you may want to pack your own food and water. Depending on the area you are visiting, undercooked foods and other foods that can cause digestive issues may be common. Before traveling, you should research the local cuisine of the region to get an idea of what to expect and prepare accordingly. This is especially true if you are traveling to a different country or a place you have never been to. It may also be wise to research the local restaurants if you plan on eating out as well.
Map Out Restrooms Beforehand
If you suffer from IBS, you know how upsetting it can be to experience a flare-up in a place with no restrooms. Fortunately, you can map out restrooms in advance before you arrive at the shopping center or airport. There are numerous smartphone apps you can use to find clean and safe restrooms virtually anywhere, so take advantage of them. When you have an idea of where the restrooms in a certain area are located, you can reduce your stress level, which can also have a negative impact on your IBS.
There are several emergency options for when you can’t get to a bathroom quickly enough. Portable toilets with leak-free and odor-free disposable bags are perfect when on-the-go, and you can even keep one in the back of your car to ease your mind.
You can also keep a small emergency kit with items like bathroom spray and flushable wipes in your bag for when visiting friends or family or using the restroom in public.
Choose Healthy Airport Dining Options
Airports are full of restaurants and dining options, and you can easily become overwhelmed by the sheer number of choices available to you. If you are aiming to keep your IBS under control, you may want to consider healthier dining options while waiting for your flight. By choosing healthier options, such as grilled chicken instead of a cheeseburger and fries, you won’t have to worry about potential in-air symptom flare-ups and you can remain in control of your symptoms.
Remember to De-Stress
The holidays are a great time to celebrate and appreciate what is truly important, but it can also be a stressful time. Stress is known to make IBS symptoms worse, so you will want to avoid it at all costs this holiday season. Between decorating, cooking, celebrating, and traveling, it can be hard to de-stress and take time to relax, but it is a must if you want to keep your IBS symptoms at bay. Don’t be afraid to say “no” if you are overscheduled or just plain stressed out, and always take time out for self-care. Your stomach will thank you for it at the end of the day.
Get Into Exercise, Yoga, and Meditation
If you are having trouble de-stressing during the holidays, there are several things you can do to improve your mood and calm down. Activities such as exercising, yoga, and meditation are known to reduce stress levels and elevate mood, so it may be worth giving them a try. You don’t have to be an experienced yogi or meditator to enjoy the benefits of such activities. There are many smartphone apps that can help you get started on your journey to peace and calm.
Try Cognitive Behavioral Therapy
In recent years, therapy has become more popular than ever. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, a type of therapy that changes the way you react to situations, is one of the most popular forms of therapy. Often abbreviated CBT, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy can help reduce your stress levels and keep your IBS symptoms in check. If you feel your anxiety getting out of control, you may want to consider seeking professional help this holiday season. A trained therapist can help you learn and implement CBT techniques in a safe and supportive environment.
Take a Probiotic
Taking a probiotic or other supplements can help relieve symptoms of IBS and restore balance in the gut. There are numerous probiotics to choose from, so you will want to speak with your doctor before choosing one. You can also check out what probiotics are working for other people with IBS. If you intend to travel this holiday season, you may want to start taking your probiotic a few days before your trip. Doing so can help prevent traveler’s diarrhea and flare-ups in general.
There is no doubt about it – holiday shopping can be stressful. Few people look forward to the busy crowds and cramped stores during November and December, but fortunately, you can now shop online with ease. Many stores even offer many of the same in-store deals to online shoppers, so there is no need to worry about the stress of in-person shopping during the holidays. Shopping online also eliminates the need to worry about public bathrooms while you shop.
Consult Your Doctor
If you find yourself plagued by IBS symptoms, it may be wise to consult a professional. Booking an appointment with your doctor is always a great decision during the holidays if you suffer from IBS. It is always best to consult your doctor as early as possible, ideally before the holidays arrive. Your physician may be able to help you better understand how to manage your symptoms, which can be useful when stressful situations arise. He or she may also be able to suggest various over-the-counter remedies or prescribe prescription medications when necessary.
Make Basic Lifestyle Changes
You may also be able to better manage your IBS symptoms by making a few basic lifestyle changes. Such changes can have a major impact on your digestive health, so be sure you are incorporating the following habits into your lifestyle:
- Avoid skipping meals.
- Eat each meal at a regular time each day.
- Don’t eat too late at night.
- Chew your food well and sit down to eat.
- Take your time when eating.
These tips may seem simple, but they can make a huge difference by keeping your digestive system healthy.
IBS During a Pandemic
Living with IBS in general is never a walk in the park, and this past year has been an especially difficult time. The holidays are certainly going to look different, and there are a few extra things to keep in mind while dealing with COVID-19. For example, social distancing may prevent some families from getting together this Christmas. Symptoms such as constipation and diarrhea may be more bothersome than usual because of the added stress. You’ll want to pay extra attention to your sleep and dietary habits during this time.
You also may not be able to see your doctor as quickly as you could in the past due to new circumstances regarding the pandemic, so figuring out ways to reduce symptoms at home is crucial. It may take some experimentation, but you can try slowly increasing your fiber intake, decreasing certain carbohydrates, and cutting back on gluten. Keep an in-depth log of your symptoms and dietary changes until you are able to see your doctor.
Although the holidays look different this year, you’ll still want to enjoy the festivities and try to make the best of the situation. Luckily, there are many recipes created by people with IBS you can implement during your socially-distanced activities that the whole group can enjoy.
Remember to Have Fun
Now that you’ve covered all your bases, you should remember to have fun this holiday season. Holidays should be a time for joy and celebrations, and by keeping the previously mentioned tips in mind, you can enjoy your holidays without having to worry about your IBS symptoms constantly. Be sure to appreciate the smaller things and avoid stressing yourself out. It is possible to survive the holidays with IBS with preparation and the right mindset.
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