How to Manage IBS During Holiday Gatherings

Last updated: March 2021

It’s the holiday season, and along with the gift giving and being of good cheer, there are multiple gatherings, which usually center around food and drink.

Like many people living with IBS, I watch what I eat very carefully. After going through an elimination diet a few years ago, I learned my body doesn’t tolerate gluten or dairy products well. In addition to causing IBS to flare, gluten and dairy also cause other inflammatory reactions in my body, causing pain in my gut and in my joints. At first, it was difficult to eliminate gluten and dairy, and eating out was extremely challenging. Now, I’ve gotten used to it and can manage without too much difficulty, and I’ve learned along the way strategies that help make it easier:

Talk to the host beforehand.

I always try to talk to whoever is hosting and ask what foods and drinks will be available. Personally, I don’t assume that anyone will cater to my needs, so I don’t use these conversations to assert my dietary needs or ask how they will accommodate me. Rather, I try to understand what ingredients have been used so I know what to avoid or what I can bring to provide for myself.

Talk to the chef(s)/cook(s) at the event.

I’ve learned the hard way not to trust my eyes to determine if something is okay for me to eat. I now always ask what ingredients were used. There could be hidden ingredients that can cause your body to flare, and people who aren’t sensitive to certain foods may not even realize which foods have gluten or dairy in them.

Eat before you go.

Sometimes, like for a recent family birthday party where pizza and sandwiches were the spread, I eat before I leave home. It’s easier to decline foods that I can’t eat if I feel comfortable and full.

Bring a dish to share.

I’m the only one in the family who is gluten- and dairy-free, so at my family’s recent Thanksgiving dinner, I brought my own gluten-free stuffing and a gluten- and dairy-free pie. And, I was happy to share with anyone who wanted to give my options a try.

Take snacks along with you.

I like to have a fruit and nut bar handy in case I get into a situation where there’s nothing I can eat.

Of course, it’s not just the food. There’s also the conversation about my diet and/or IBS, and that can be challenging, too. I’ve been asked more than once, “So what happens if you eat gluten or dairy?” And often this is asked while we are sitting around the dinner table. Personally, I just don’t find it appropriate to talk about the symptoms of IBS at the dinner table, so I usually sidestep the question at that moment, generally referencing that it increases the level of pain in my body (true, if incomplete). It also helps me to remember Brené Brown’s assertion that our stories aren’t for everyone – people earn the right to hear your story. Share what feels comfortable for you. Taking care of yourself includes eating what keeps you healthy as well as establishing healthy boundaries.

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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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