Holiday Eating: How to Avoid an IBS Flare

Last updated: November 2018

So, it's getting to be that time of year again, when we're all more likely to gather with family and friends at the dinner table to partake in some serious holiday eating.

Some studies suggest that people tend to start eating more once the holiday season starts (which seems to begin as early as October) and into the early new year, with many people reporting they gain several pounds during this time (though another study says it's more like one pound).1,2

Whatever the case may be, it's easy to assume those of us with chronic illness, especially an illness that impacts our digestion like IBS, can make this increase in eating more fraught and potentially more painful or distressing. But there are things we can do to preempt a full-scale IBS flare during the holidays.

Be careful not to overindulge

Remember that you can still enjoy food while not gorging on it. Smaller helpings of the things you want to eat can help reduce or even prevent IBS-associated symptoms like bloating, gas, and diarrhea.

Pace yourself

This is similar to the above but a little different. It's not just about smaller helpings but spacing out treats and meals. Many times holidays can be a non-stop smorgasbord of food. But taking some time in between helpings to let one portion or meal fully digest before eating again can give our GI systems the break they need.

Bring an IBS-safe alternative

Don't be shy about avoiding certain triggers or bringing your own IBS-safe alternative. As a vegetarian, I've grown accustomed to being used to and prepared that places I will go for dinner may have things I can't/won't eat, and also acclimated in that I also usually bring my own meat-free alternative. Same thing goes for my IBS. I will avoid foods that are overly rich or fatty, very spicy, or contain a lot of caffeine or other ingredients I know bothers my IBS (for instance, beans).

Sometimes I will also bring my own option, which may include a lower fat or milder variety of a certain staple (like mashed potatoes made with almond milk and lactose-free butter that are still delicious and rich-tasting, but less fatty and less likely to trigger my IBS; I also bring a vegan gravy made from mushrooms). Some people worry about offending their hosts. But I find as long as I am polite and stress it's due to health issues (sometimes I find it easier to mention I have food allergies), most people are pretty accepting of my restrictions.

Dress the right way

Really. You know how in television shows and movies after someone has a big meal they unbuckle their belts and unzip their pants? There's a truth to it. Tight-fitting pants can impede digestion and lead to an IBS flare in those who have it. So, dressing comfortably in lose fitting pants or skirts that aren't tight around the waist or abdomen can actually alleviate bloating and lessen chances of an IBS attack.

Either avoid alcohol or take in moderation

People tend to drink more during the holiday season, and while it might be a good excuse to help yourself to a little more wine or beer, your body doesn't know the difference between a holiday and a regular day. So, while it's completely up to your discretion what or how much you decide to drink, remember a little can still be nice, but overdoing it can potentially make you spend the rest of your night in the bathroom (which no one wants to do on their holiday time).

Have your emergency meds readily available.

For some this might be Imodium or a prescription medication. I usually carry Pepto-Bismol and/or charcoal tablets with me everywhere in case I feel a flare coming on and I usually take them at the first indication. I also have prescription Bentyl, which I sometimes carry with me in the likelihood of a symptom trigger or when I feel intestinal or abdominal cramps coming on.

Heat helps

In addition to my meds, I often take a small heating pad with me, that can really help relax those gut muscles when they are feeling tense.

Remember to rest

If you are at someone's home where you feel comfortable doing so, ask if there's a place you can sit or lay down and relax a bit. Too much exertion and stress can aggravate IBS, so such breaks can become mandatory for preempting an outbreak.

Enjoy yourself!

Above all, try not to fret too much about your IBS and instead enjoy the people and food and celebrate the season!

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This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.

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