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IBS: Holiday Survival Guide

November 22, 2019

As we share the love and joy of Thanksgiving meal with our near and dear ones, the last thing we need to worry about is a flare-up of those nasty, irritable bowel symptoms. Irritable bowel symptoms, such as diarrhea, bloating, and abdominal pain, along with the food and festivities of the holiday season, can be a particularly challenging event and put a dampener on the season of sharing and caring.


However, patients with sensitive guts or having been diagnosed with specific diseases, such as Celiac or broad functional disorders like IBS, can take a few basic steps to minimize the chances of flare-ups of their GI issues.


Most of the flare-ups and gastrointestinal upsets can be tied to exposure to a group of food constituents grouped under a category called the ‘FODMAP’ diet. Simply put, these are most of the simple carbs, such as sugars, starches, or sugar substitutes.


The acronym ‘FODMAP’ is comprised of the following:

  • Fructose: Fruits, honey, high-fructose corn syrup, agave
  • Lactose: Dairy
  • Fructans: Wheat, onions, garlic
  • Galactans: Legumes, such as beans, lentils, and soybeans
  • Polyols: Sugar alcohols and fruits that have pits or seeds, such as apples, avocados, cherries, figs, peaches, or plums

The holiday trick of preventing a GI flare-up is to avoid or at least minimize exposure to these foods. Here are a few tips to surviving this holiday season with IBS issues:

Stay one step ahead

Everybody is different, and not everyone with Irritable Bowel Syndrome responds the same way to various trigger foods. Knowing which foods affect you can help you maintain an IBS-friendly diet in your everyday life and make the holiday season more comfortable. Avoid common IBS triggers, such as refined grains, dairy products, plant fiber, caffeine, alcohol, and fatty foods. Keep an eye out for beans, broccoli, cauliflower, and onions, which can cause gas and cramping.
You may not always realize that you’ve eaten a trigger food until it’s too late, and slip-ups happen. Keep any medications you may need with you during holiday events for fast symptom relief.

Hack your holiday meal plans

The holiday season brings with it an array of flavors, but you may find some more pleasing to the taste than they are to your stomach. While you can’t always avoid accidental exposure to trigger foods, you can be smart about the ways you manage seasonal meals.
If you plan to attend an event where food is being served, have a light snack before you head out the door to avoid indigestion from overeating. If you feel less hungry before the start of a meal, you also may find it easier to resist trigger foods. By helping yourself to smaller amounts of food in a serving, you get to savor your meal while giving your body the time it needs to digest.
Avoid consuming foods served at different temperatures in the same sitting. If you’re having a warm meal, allow some time to digest before eating a colder dish. When you’ve finished eating, wait for about an hour and then drink a glass of water to help your body digest.

Bring your own IBS-friendly dish

It’s the season for sharing love, joy, gifts, and food! You don’t have to spend time worrying about the foods you can’t eat when you can look to alternative dishes that won’t affect your IBS. There are plenty of delicious gluten-free and low FODMAP recipes that everyone at the table can enjoy together. Whip up a little kitchen magic of your own and bring it to your next family function.
While you’re still in the kitchen, grab a safe snack so you’ll have another option that will sit well with you. When the meal is over, your loved ones will appreciate your thoughtfulness, and you’ll be able to rest a little easier.

Plan travel and events in advance

Holiday event and travel planning can cause stress, which is bad news for the digestive system. Planning further in advance can ease your mind. Book flights and hotels early and make a packing list of all the necessities you’ll need for traveling.
Make sure to avoid foods that slow you down while you’re on the move. Have some IBS-friendly snacks ready to grab before you leave and keep them on hand as a better alternative.
If you feel symptoms coming on while you’re away from home, have a strategy ready to go. Plan to make frequent rest stops along your travel route and take a mental note of where the restrooms are when you attend events. If you’ll be traveling by plane, take measures to secure an aisle seat to make restroom trips easier.
Keep your go-to medications on hand. You may want to divide your medications into two separate containers for easy access while traveling. Place one in your luggage as a backup and keep the other on your person.

Balance rest and exercise

It’s easy to get caught up in all the festivities, but overexertion can place strain on your digestive tract. Avoid any unnecessary stressors this holiday season. If you find yourself feeling overwhelmed, try deep breathing and meditation to calm yourself, and help relieve abdominal tension.
You may find going for a short walk or finding a quiet place to rest and reflect can help ease tension to your mind and body. Make yourself comfortable, but don’t forget to move around enough throughout the day to prevent constipation and promote your body’s natural digestion process.

Talk to your loved ones

The holiday season is a time to surround yourself with loved ones, and you shouldn’t have to spend it worrying about IBS. If you’re concerned about your symptoms and how they may affect this time with your family and friends, tell them how you feel. Let them know that the time spent with them is valuable to you and talk about any concerns you may have. This is the season for love and togetherness, and you have better ways to spend your time than worrying about IBS.

If your symptoms continue to become worse, consider scheduling an appointment with our expert staff. At Gastro Health & Nutrition-Katy, we help our patients improve their quality of life by assisting them in managing and controlling their gastrointestinal issues. Contact us today to book an appointment and visit our office in Katy, TX.

By Dharmendra Verma

Dharmendra Verma, MD finished his residency training in Internal medicine at the University of Texas, Houston along with MD Anderson Cancer Center, where subsequently, he received subspecialty fellowship in Gastroenterology, Hepatology, and Nutrition.

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1 Comment

  1. AffiliateLabz

    Great content! Super high-quality! Keep it up! 🙂

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