The holiday season means many different things to different people, it is supposed to be a period of joy but often it really doesn’t live up to all those expectations that we often have. The media portray images of idealistic families around the Christmas tree having all their dreams come true. For some people the reality is somewhat different, Christmas can be a traumatic time and managing with all the family can be challenging, but it can also be a time when some people are alone too. Here are some tips to help you navigate your way through the period and avoid your gut spoiling the fun.
1. Tis the season to be jolly – really? You have my permission to be a Grinch too if you wish. You should not be expected to see people and be jolly, especially people who you never get along with during the rest of the year. If you don’t get on with someone then Christmas is not a time that somehow the ‘magic’ will make a difference, and likely if your inhibitions are lowered with the odd glass of Advocaat (add your choice of tipple here!) it will not end well! Suggest that you have other plans this year, make your apologies for not seeing them if you wish.
2. Scenes on TV cookery shows promote the domestic goddess, but don’t forget all those well choreographed scenes take time and lots of other people to help, likely months of planning too. Not so much of a goddess then! So don’t try to live up to this myth of being able to manage it all, you will only end up frazzled and this will likely make symptoms worse. You could have a Jacobs join – were everyone brings a different part of the dish. Or you could ask people to bring dishes from around the world, and think of others or you could go out to eat on Christmas day. Consider inviting someone who might be on their own on Christmas day. It really doesn’t have to be a traditional day – make new traditions!
3. Ensure you eat regularly on Christmas day – leaving hours between meals will not help, plan to have a light breakfast before your Christmas lunch – this doesn’t mean grazing all day either. Manage your portion sizes – use a smaller plate if you like your plate full and you will be just as satisfied and not over full and unable to move!
4. Don’t slouch on the sofa eating snacks whilst watching those Christmas movies, let gravity help you gut and try to sit up when eating – or don’t snack, you will eat more than you realise if you are not being mindful about what you are eating. Alternatively plan how much you are going to eat and put it in a bowl so you know when you have had enough. Your body will thank you for it.
5. Include some light activity mid afternoon if you are able – a gentle walk in the park perhaps or some games to get you moving around.
6. Family dynamics can be a rich source of conflict during the season, this can lead to arguments in the period leading up to Christmas and especially on the day itself. Arguments at mealtimes are really not advisable, this will do nothing to help your digestion. Stress causes your body to produce adrenaline, the fight or flight hormone, this is a response to conflict or dangerous situations, originally utilised so you can escape from predators. Your body is therefore NOT concentrating on digesting lunch. In the distant past a dose of indigestion was a very small price to pay to avoiding being eaten. So you might need to be assertive and lay down some ground rules for everyone to follow so that the meal can be as calm as possible.
7. Budget as much as you can. Planning is the key here and Christmas is for thinking of others, but not at the expense of experiencing anxiety at not being able to live up to their expectations. Again tell people in advance what you are planning, say that you are only going to be able to afford to do certain things – you may find that people are relieved that they don’t have to meet these expectations either.
8. Stick rigidly to your Low Fodmap foods (or other tolerated foods) before the day, so if you eat something that you react to, you possibly won’t have as severe symptoms as you would have with eating as you please for the full season.
9. Drink plenty of fluids through the day – a least six to eight cups of non carbonated drinks and if you do drink alcohol, match every alcoholic drink with a non alcoholic one – this will mean you drink less and stay hydrated at the same time. Drinking whilst eating slows the absorption of alcohol into the body. Stay within the healthy drinking guidelines (no more than 2-3 units per day) and watch mixers for fodmaps and fizz. Make a glass of water the final drink before going to bed to counteract the dehydrating effects of alcohol. Remember alcohol is a gut stimulant and hangovers won’t help your IBS symptoms although some people can tolerate small amounts. Try not to over indulge – intoxication can remove your resolve and you might be tempted to have more than you planned. Check out Drink Aware for details of how much alcohol is in your favourite tipple. https://www.drinkaware.co.uk/understand-your-drinking/unit-calculator
10. The best tip is – remember to enjoy yourself – it is not money that makes the difference but being in the presence of friends, family and company on the day – spending time with others.