IBD, Holidays, Family, Oh My!

I love the holidays! As someone of mixed race and culture, our holidays are full of a variety of traditions, family, friends, and food. The house is constantly packed and the table is often full. Yearly trips to pumpkin patches, haunted houses, rounds of homes for stuffing and pie, Christmas light walks and parties upon parties, upon parties. The holidays are where I put on as much weight from food as I take off from all the physical activities.

Since developing inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), the holidays have been a little more difficult to navigate, often leaving me exhausted and drained only a few days in. Of course, then come the questions or the comparison to an elderly relative who was once healthier at my age than I am. But nevertheless, the natural degeneration of their bone structure and muscle mass is far worse than any “stomach ache” I might be experiencing.

Or the sympathy fatigue where they assume you’re sick all day long and stop listening to your current complaint. Then there is the watchful hawk who keeps asking if you should eat this because she read online that it’s not good for people with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). How do you find a way to circumvent these mini annoyances and enjoy your holidays? Here are four tips on how to fold your IBD into your holiday season.

Tips to survive the holidays with inflammatory bowel disease

Explaining that IBD is different than IBS

There is nothing more annoying than when someone starts telling you how to cure your IBS, when you have IBD. Even though I have a cousin with Crohn’s disease, no one in my family was really familiar with ulcerative colitis. And almost all of my family didn’t understand the difference between IBD and IBS. Ever so gently I remind aunts, uncles, cousins, neighbors, and friends, that “IBS is irritable bowel syndrome which can cause gas, bloating and symptoms that are similar to food allergies. In rare cases, it can cause more serious symptoms.

But my ulcerative colitis is a type of IBD, which is inflammatory bowel disease. I have inflammation centered in my colon (when I had a colon) and bacteria that sometimes centers itself in my small intestine, that has now become a sort of colon replacement, called a j-pouch. IBS can be triggered by food and stress, immediately. IBD will affect me in the long term. Both conditions are incredibly painful, but they are different. And I happen to have both.”

Prepare with an extra set of clothes or pajamas

Stay comfortable! I just bought myself a onesie. That onesie, a pair of underwear, and wipes will stay at my grandma’s house, which is the epicenter for most things holiday. The other place is my great aunt’s home. I know we will be staying for a long period of time, and it’s precious time with my family. I refuse to have to leave because fatigue or an IBD accident. No one loves me more than my family. And although they don’t completely understand living with IBD, they want me to live a wonderful, comfortable life. So it’s okay for me to do a Diana Ross quick change half way through the holiday party if needed.

Bring IBD-friendly foods

You know best what works for you. If I am flaring or I know that there will be more cultural Creole and Latin food at our holiday party than blander, basic food, I will bring something that I know I can eat without repercussions. I make enough or bring enough to contribute to the food table. I often will make something easy like mashed potatoes or mashed cauliflower with added puréed veggies inside, roasted safe veggies, white rice, or baked fish. Sometimes I’ll bring low acid coffee and non-dairy creamer, non-dairy ice cream, and an IBD-friendly dessert.

There are often ways you can adjust cultural holiday dishes. For example, every Christmas we make Gumbo. But I keep a lot of the hot pepper spice and hot sauce out of the Gumbo to make it easier for my system to digest. It’s still yummy, but my family can adjust their level of spice themselves. Then we are all enjoying the same meal without any issue.

No more guilt around the holidays

There is a good chance you won’t make every family event, every religious event, every work party. And that is okay. Don’t feel obligated to make every single event if you aren’t feeling well.  The holidays are supposed to be about fun, love, and laughter. If you aren’t feeling well, you won’t be able to enjoy them. Being at functions in a flare, sick, and unable to participate can add stress. Enjoy and attend the events you can, and don’t worry about the others. Put your health first and the opinions of others last.

You spend most the year fighting your Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis. And just like everyone around you uses the holiday season for a break from work, school, and reality, you can too. IBD is not going to go away and it may try and flare up and join you around the holidays, but with a plan of adjusted action, you can have the best holiday season possible!

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