How to Advocate for Yourself: 10 Holiday Survival Tips for Crohn’s and Colitis

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How to Advocate for Yourself: 10 Holiday Survival Tips for Crohn’s and Colitis


Can you believe it?! Holiday season is officially here! We’ve reached the final months of what I think we can all agree has been a strange and stressful year. Add to that, the stress of holiday travel, errands, and family get-togethers. This is usually overwhelming for everyone... but throw in the rich, festive foods, and booze-filled holiday parties and you have the perfect recipe for an IBD flare. But, all hope is not lost. It IS possible to survive the holidays with IBD. Read on for my top 10 tips to help you survive this holiday season.


1. Be Prepared!

Unfortunately for many with crohn’s and colitis, the high-fat, high-sugar containing foods and alcohol present at holiday events can trigger symptoms. And advice to simply avoid them isn’t very helpful. This is where planning ahead by bringing a well-tolerated dish and/or dessert can be helpful. Either adapt a holiday recipe to suit your needs or go with one of your year-round favorites. If you feel depleted and not up to cooking, consider ordering a dish and/or dessert from a place you know you can tolerate. Either way, you’ll rest assured that no matter what’s on the menu, you won’t be forced to choose between running to the bathroom because you ate that dish or feeling left out. Just bring enough to share! 

Adapting a holiday recipe for crohn's or colitis


2. Don’t be afraid to communicate your needs

It’s always a good idea to let your family/friends know what’s going on. Tell them ahead of time that you’re on a special diet and will be bringing some of your favorites to share. It can help you feel more at ease to clear up any confusion and set expectations early on. 


3. Graze, don’t gorge

Huge meals are commonplace during the holidays. But, this too, is often a trigger for symptoms. Do your best to eat smaller portions or snack every 2-3 hours to avoid the aggravation of a large meal.

IBD skipping meals


4. Hydrate

Added sugar-- found in many holiday beverages--can be another trigger for some with crohn’s and colitis. When in doubt, stick with plain or sparkling water. To jazz up your non-alcoholic drink options, consider bringing mocktail ingredients.


5. Drink mindfully 

Alcohol is another holiday staple and also another common IBD trigger. If you know alcohol causes issues for you, stick to the options above. If you are thinking about including alcohol, be sure to talk with your doctor or dietitian to make sure it won’t interfere with your medications. If you aren’t sure which alcohol type you tolerate best, consider testing some ahead of time and then opt for your best tolerated type.

6. Make your meals enjoyable 

You don’t have to make your meals bland even if you’re currently in a flare. Consider adapting a holiday recipe or choosing to just eat it as is, even if it does trigger symptoms. Sometimes symptoms such as an extra few trips to the bathroom are worth a delicious holiday favorite! Don’t beat yourself up for wanting tasty meals during the holidays. Just because you have IBD, doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy your meals too!

Pleasure in eating for crohn's and colitis


7. Ignore the food police

There might be increased food talk over the holidays as well intended family members share their recommendations on what you should do to “cure” your IBD with “X” diet. Have a plan for what you’ll say to them so that you can feel good about it. Maybe say something like, “oh yeah, I actually heard about that and talked to my medical team about it. They don’t recommend it for me as there’s no scientific evidence to support its efficacy.” Then, immediately change the subject by asking them a question. Hopefully, they’ll get the hint that you’re not interested in hearing their recommendations and will leave it at that.   


8. Enjoy some movement  

Exercise is helpful for reducing stress and aiding bowel function. Try to include it in your holiday schedule to help you feel your best. A light walk with your family or gentle yoga are both great options when your energy is low.  


9. Reduce stress 

Stress management is a must with IBD. Try to plan ahead so that you don’t overload your schedule. If you typically help with holiday event planning, setup, or cooking and don’t have the energy this year, be honest. If you are invited to multiple events, only attend the ones that are most important to you. Trying to make room for every event in your schedule can be stressful, which is the very thing we want to avoid. Know your limits and honor them.

Holiday stress for IBD


10. Do what’s best for you 

My final tip: Don’t stress over doing things “perfectly.” These tips can definitely help you reduce your symptoms. But if you find that the thought of putting them into practice brings you stress, know that it’s okay not to. It’s okay to not bring your own foods to holiday events. It’s okay to skip your exercise. It’s okay to have some alcohol. It’s okay to have symptoms. Holidays should be enjoyable. Do whatever makes you most comfortable and will bring you joy! 



What’s your favorite tips from this list?