Surviving the Holidays With Crohn’s While Still Enjoying Yourself

Living with Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD) for over 20 years has left me with a different impression of how I experience events. I’ve written about how I nearly let Crohn’s ruin my engagement, and honestly, that’s not the only time IBD has gotten in the way of an event. The problem is mine, and I try not to throw it onto others, but Crohn’s has skewed my outlook on attending and enjoying events. Things like travel time, eating, and energy consumption always lingers at the back of my mind.

If you had asked for my 15-year-old self’s thoughts about the holidays during the peak of my first major Crohn’s disease flare you probably would have gotten a lowly mumbled, “Whatever,” followed by an eye roll. If you had asked for my thoughts on the holidays during the peak of my most recent Crohn’s flare at ages 31 and 32, you likely would have gotten a “Bah Humbug” as my response. But these responses are not representative of my normal holiday self.

I love the holidays!

If I had a mountaintop to shout from, you’d find me there shouting, “Sparkly lights, food, joy, carols! I love the holidays!”

If I could have a Christmas tree up before Halloween, I would. But that is frowned upon for some reason by a lot of people. I know. Oh well.

Now that I’m a few years out from the worst part of my most-recent Crohn’s flare, hindsight is 20-20. But also, hindsight is valuable. What I have tried to impart to those living with Crohn’s and ulcerative colitis, as well as other autoimmune-mediated inflammatory diseases, is that you need to go do the darn things. All the things! So much pressure is put on us as to whether we are going to eat, and a lot of that is self-pressure. No one says you need to eat or drink alcohol in order to be present at an event.

Were you invited to a party by a friend and family member but are nervous about attending? Or maybe you’re worried about your energy crashing? I got tips!

Tips to survive holiday gatherings and actually enjoy yourself!

Self-advocating for yourself starts with speaking up about your needs. If you’re concerned about getting the energy up to go, talk to the host about attending part of the gathering, rather than the entire thing. You know yourself best on how much rest you need prior to getting ready to go somewhere.

If you’re concerned with the bathroom situation at a party taking place at a home, make a plan. Talk to the host and find out if there is another bathroom that you could go to if the main one is occupied. I was very lucky growing up that my aunt’s house, where many gatherings were hosted, had a few bathrooms to choose from that most of the attendees wouldn’t think to use.

Afraid of what food is getting served at the event? I got you covered!

First off, no one says you need to eat. There are times where I can’t bear to eat before going somewhere. Sometimes, I will wait until getting home for the night before touching food. I don’t recommend this, but it’s one way that I can have a little control over my situation.

Offer (inform the host) that you would like to bring a dish. If there’s a safe food that you know you can enjoy while at a party, bring it. Sometimes it’s better to just do than ask. Use your best judgment.

Tips: food, glorious food!

Safe foods for me that I love to make that are holiday party friendly are baked sweet potatoes and baked apples. You can make them as barebones or as fancy as you’d like. From sweet potato casserole to individual twice-baked sweet potatoes with marshmallows and brown sugar on the side for garnishing to baked apple rings or chunks. The possibilities can go on and on. Sugar can be a trigger for some people. So, remember if you’re bringing that dish, keep it as simple as possible. Having those little add-ons on the side allows others as well as yourself to control how much additional sugar will get added. Another great thing you can bring is a fruit and cheese platter with crackers or bread.

If it’s a sit-down meal, this is where things get a little difficult. You can put food on your plate, a small amount, and not touch it. Or you can leave your plate empty and just enjoy the company of others. If anyone asks, you can be truthful or just say that you attended an event earlier and are stuffed.

Sip, drink, and be hydrated

Worried about not looking like you’re drinking? I sometimes bring my own sparkling water and an electrolyte drink or juice and mix them together. It looks like I’m drinking a cocktail and no one is any the wiser.

Other times if I want to enjoy a little wine, I’ll add sprite, sparkling water or seltzer to water it down. I can casually sip, and deftly avoid offers of “let me get you another drink.”

Do you have any tips to help others in the IBD community survive the holidays?

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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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