If It's Your First Holiday Season With IBD: Here's What to Expect
Last updated: December 2023
Every IBD patient has "that" holiday season: the first holiday season since being diagnosed with IBD and/or making changes to their diet to better manage symptoms. It can be terrifying, joyful, exhausting (physically and emotionally), frustrating... or surprisingly really great since you finally know how to eat for your properly diagnosed disease.
However, it is inevitable that your holiday season, which is often full of family gatherings and celebrations with friends, will be met with many questions and unsolicited advice. But, here are a few tips on what to expect and how to navigate the November-through-January holiday-palooza while staying healthy and sane.
Tips for surviving the holidays with Crohn's or ulcerative colitis
Expect A LOT of questions
There will be a lot of questions about your disease, how you are feeling, your dietary restrictions, how you were diagnosed, etc. You can answer as many or as few as you'd like, and don't feel guilty about shying away from details. This is your journey, and your journey only. If you feel like being an open book, that may help others fully understand what you are experiencing on a daily basis, but please do not feel pressured to overshare!
Expect even more unsolicited advice
Unfortunately, this just goes with the territory. People will offer all kinds of advice – what to eat, what to avoid, medications to try, stories about coworkers who may have had something similar to what you have and they tried these magic beans and it made it all go away. You name it, people will mention it.
It helps to keep an open mind to what others suggest, as some tips may actually come in handy, while others are simply anecdotes of what has worked for others and do not pertain to you or your situation. Regardless, try not to feel frustrated, and know that whatever advice others share with you is simply because they want to help. I always say "thank you" when others make a suggestion, and move on in the conversation.
Sometimes, I will let them know I actually tried whatever it is they are suggesting, or correct them if they are talking about a different disease (most often IBS). But I do it with kindness and love, as that is all they are trying to show me.
Know your limits
It is important to set boundaries during the holiday season. From knowing when to say "no" to social commitments to managing your schedule so that you do not feel burnt out before December 1st.
You may be feeling extra fatigued this year due to your Crohn's or UC, so passing on the midnight doorbuster tradition you have on Black Friday may have to be moved to online shopping instead. Also know when to put limits on family commitments, social activities, volunteering for school activities with your children, and decorating. It can definitely all add up, leaving you feeling sick and stressed for the days you need energy most.
Also, keep in mind your limits regarding your diet. The first Thanksgiving after I was diagnosed with Crohn's was a huge learning curve, as I quickly realized I couldn't eat the same amount of food I was used to without having a severe stomach ache, and I also couldn't indulge in the same kinds of sugary desserts I had in years past.
However, once I mastered how much (and what) to eat during the holidays, I never felt better. I also now bring at least one dish to every gathering and party I attend so that I know there is at least one thing I can safely eat. It not only makes the host happy, but it makes me feel more comfortable while navigating a potentially stressful situation.
Practice grace and patience
This year may not be the "best year ever!" for holidays. It may feel burdensome and exhausting, but it is a right of passage as an IBD patient to learn how to navigate these busy times as best as possible. The average person experiences added stress and fatigue during the holiday season due to parties, heavy meals, decadent desserts, excessive shopping, and planning and decorating, so it is no surprise that Crohn's and colitis patients experience all of this, and then some.
Should you eat something you weren't supposed to, or overdo it at a work holiday party, give yourself some grace. You will not get it perfect every time, especially the first time. Use every mistake as an opportunity to learn for the next time, and make note of what works and doesn't work for next year.
'Tis the season for hating our IBD!
The holidays should be a time of joy and cheer, but living through them with IBD can feel like anything but that. However, keeping these tips in mind can help you get through the last few months of the year a little easier and start off the new year wiser and healthier!
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