For those of us who are trying to manage symptoms with a healing diet, social occasions and holidays can be tricky. On the one hand, we want to connect with friends and family over a shared meal. On the other hand, we may be concerned that food can trigger digestive issues, inflammation, fatigue, headache, or other symptoms. I have been on a modified low-FODMAP diet for a few years now and have developed strategies that have helped me have stress-free and enjoyable holidays.
1. Have a Plan
The best thing you can do is plan ahead. Learn as much as you can about the venue and the menu so you are prepared and know what to expect.
2. Host the Holidays
This is my preference since it allows me to be in charge of the menu while accommodating everyone’s dietary restrictions and preferences. For example, we have my modified low-FODMAP/vegetarian diet and others who are dairy-free and gluten-free. I spend time planning the menu to ensure there is something for everyone to enjoy.
3. Bring Food to Share
If you are not hosting the event yourself, then reach out to the host ahead of the holiday to find out what’s on the menu. I know a lot of us don’t want to discuss our health issues with others, especially in front of a group of people. Call or email to briefly mention that you are on a special diet to manage some health issues. You’d be surprised how much people want to help make you feel comfortable, if you let them. Let the host know that you are happy to bring a few dishes that you can eat and that everyone else can enjoy.
4. Don’t Show Up Hungry
I’ve made the mistake of assuming there will be something to eat at a social function only to find that pickings were slim. If you aren’t hosting and you are unsure of the menu then don’t show up hungry. If I am attending an event where I don’t know the host or I know there won’t be many vegetarian or low-FODMAP options, then I eat before the event. This allows me to pick on the few foods I can enjoy and focus on socializing. Showing up hungry will only leave you frustrated and likely to eat foods that are off plan, which can lead to symptoms. Showing up hungry will also lead to overeating and for many of us with digestive issues, large meals can leave us feeling bloated, gassy and in pain.
5. Eat Easy to Digest Foods Before the Event
My clients are on personalized protocols so easy to digest foods may differ for everyone but here are some general guidelines:
· Grill, bake, poach proteins – avoid fried foods
· Cooked vegetables are easier to digest than raw
· Minimize spices
· Drink lots of water
6. Budget for Booze
Most healing diets eliminate or minimize alcohol and for a good reason. Alcohol is a gut irritant (hello bloating, acid reflux and more time in the bathroom) and can cause inflammation. Plus it taxes your liver and we want to encourage toxin removal. I hate to be the fun police but I also know you want to have a great time and “feel normal”. So with all of that being said, can you enjoy a drink or two with your meal without triggering symptoms? Perhaps a glass of white wine or vodka won’t be too much of an issue. Avoid beer (bloating) and red wine (high in histamines) if you are sensitive. And remember, there’s nothing wrong with staying alcohol-free, if that helps manage your symptoms.
7. Don’t Eat All Day Long
Thanksgiving can be a notoriously long meal. We often start with appetizers upon arrival, followed by the turkey and side dishes, followed by the dessert buffet followed by after dinner coffee and drinks. Is it any wonder why most of us feel so stuffed, tired and uncomfortable? Our bodies were not meant to eat large meals for long stretches of time. Full digestion can only happen when the stomach is empty and this takes about 4 – 5 hours.
8. Take a Walk
Moving after a meal helps to keep the meal moving through your digestive tract. A carb-heavy meal may make you feel tired. So help your body expend the energy you just filled it with. Take a walk, play with the kids, or throw the football around.
9. Connect & Enjoy
We can better digest our food when we are enjoying ourselves and in stress-free mode. Use this time to reconnect with loved ones, share stories, tell a funny joke, look at old pictures, and make new memories. Focus on the people and activities that bring joy and let everything else go.
10. Just in Case
Be prepared with tried, true and trusted remedies just in case you aren’t feeling well after the holiday meal. Make sure you have them on hand and bring them with you if you’re traveling.
Sara Kahn, MS, CNS, CDN is a board-certified nutritionist specializing in digestive health conditions like SIBO, IBS, acid reflux and more. She’s the founder of Belly Bliss Nutrition and the Solving SIBO Program.