Festivities, not flare-ups: 10 tips to survive the holidays with Crohn’s or colitis

Christmas decorations
By Adam Hunter

The holidays are fast-approaching, which means there could be plenty of shopping, eating, and socializing on the horizon. As fun as these activities may be, the holidays can also be a stressful and exhausting time for anyone – let alone someone with Crohn’s or colitis. Here are 10 tips that can help you deal with the upcoming holiday season:

1. Be aware of and acknowledge your limits. This means listening to your body and realizing its requirements. If your favourite holiday dish or dessert no longer agrees with you, don’t give in to the temptation. If you’re tired, forget about decorating or shopping and take it easy instead. 

2. Prioritize and be realistic. Accept that you probably won’t be able to get everything done that you set out to do without working yourself into exhaustion and possibly causing a flare-up. Create a to-do list and prioritize items by selecting only those you’re certain you can accomplish. If you’re a social butterfly with lots of invites, be selective about which events you attend. 

3. Divide and conquer. Don’t try to do all the holiday chores yourself. Instead, choose a few tasks and ask family members or friends to pick up a couple they can help out with. 

4. Shop strategically. If you’re experiencing a flare-up period, or if you just want to avoid the stresses of long lines and parking lot traffic jams, shop online or opt for the simplicity of gift cards.  

5. Consume smaller meals more frequently. Over the holidays, it’s typical to have huge meals and eat a lot in one sitting, which can cause abdominal discomfort and cramping. Eating mini meals more frequently can lessen both. For instance, consider eating portions as big as your fist every three to four hours. To assist you with decreasing portion size, use an hors d’oeuvres plate. 

6. Stay away from fatty foods. Butter, margarine, oils, fatty meats, and cream can satisfy our taste buds, but may also cause gas and diarrhea. This is especially true if you’ve had a portion of your bowel removed. If you still want to eat traditional holiday dishes containing these tricky foods, find modified versions of them. You could opt for lean brisket or low-fat egg nog. 

7. Limit high-fibre foods. Avoid or limit nuts, seeds, skins, and leafy vegetables, as they may lead to cramping and diarrhea. If you want to include fruits and vegetables in your meals or desserts, skin them, remove their seeds, and cook them beforehand. Also, if you’re a pie lover, opt for fruit- rather than nut-based pies. 

8. Stay hydrated. Drink lots of fluids, but avoid caffeine-containing and carbonated drinks, as they can worsen diarrhea and produce gas. Water is your best bet, but if you want to indulge in pop or coffee, drink a couple of glasses of water in between. 

9. Drink alcohol in moderation. It’s important that all of us drink responsibly, but that’s especially true if you have inflammatory bowel disease. Even moderate drinking can lead to flare-ups for some, and mixing alcohol with certain medications can cause problems. Know your body and your medications so that you can strike a safe balance.

10. Be ready for anything. If you’re headed to a party, eat before you leave home, or bring food to share with others so you’re not tempted to eat problematic dishes. Or keep a snack handy. If you’re traveling, use the washroom when you have the opportunity, as your next chance may not be for another few hours. Keep in mind that a full bladder may aggravate your digestive tract.

A little planning ahead can help you avoid situations that may give rise to your symptoms, and let you enjoy the festive season with a healthy gut. Happy holidays!

  • Canada has among the highest incidence rates of Crohn's and colitis in the world.
  • 1 in 140 Canadians lives with Crohn’s or colitis.
  • Families new to Canada are developing these diseases for the first time.
  • Incidence of Crohn’s in Canadian kids under 10 has doubled since 1995.
  • People are most commonly diagnosed before age 30.

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