Thanksgiving with Crohn's or UC

When most people are looking forward to the Thanksgiving Day feast that is typically enjoyed on this holiday, it can also be a difficult time for those people who suffer from inflammatory bowel disease. Between the food and the family gatherings, it can often make someone with Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis feel badly about themselves, or left out in a way.

Food on Thanksgiving

For starters, given eating is often hard to navigate with IBD as it is, having a holiday centered around food can be anxiety provoking. There is the unknown of what exactly will be served, the ingredients in certain dishes, the seating arrangements, the bathroom situation, and the unpredictability of how you will be feeling/ how your body will react on that day are just some of the things that can cause a person who suffers from inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) to feel stressed during this time.

Gathering with friends or family

The part of the holiday where everyone is catching up and chit-chatting can also make someone who suffers from Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis a little hesitant to be in the mix with this holiday. Oftentimes, the only “new” things that are going on in our lives are health-related – which no one really wants to hear about in depth.

For many, having a job or career is impossible which can make a person feel badly about themselves. Romantic relationships are harder with a chronic illness so if you are single, that can also cause additional pressure and self esteem issues depending on the company you are in and what they expect.

Being around other families and kids can be hard for many if IBD has put a damper on that aspect of a person’s life. People are also often upbeat and in a celebratory mood and if you aren’t in that frame of mind, it might be harder to put on a phony face and smile (although most of us are masters at that).

Friendships and familial relationships can be severed because of a chronic illness... Which can either mean an IBDer is spending the holiday all alone OR with people who they aren’t comfortable with.

Some thoughts about Thanksgiving with Crohn's or UC

I know the things I mentioned are only SOME of the challenges people who suffer from a form of inflammatory bowel disease face during the holiday season. Some things that have made Thanksgiving a little easier for me (we all know everyone is different) are:

  • I make sure the person whose house I am going to knows that I have a disease that impacts my ability to eat. It isn’t personal, it is just how my health is. The more people understand, the less likely they are to have a wondering mind.
  • I personally don’t like when people make a fuss over me. I don’t want anyone making special dishes for me or going out of their way so I am sure to say that emphatically, while expressing gratitude. I know others may feel differently and I completely understand the other side. If a host knows they can make you something you can enjoy, they might also feel better about the situation. AND, you are able to enjoy the meal with everyone. If you are one of those people who feels that way and the host offers, I would speak up. Maybe not make it anything too crazy hard to make but be as honest as you can with what you will feel comfortable eating or drinking.
  • I am sure to wear clothes that I feel comfortable eating and drinking in. For example, since I have an ostomy and when I eat, the bag fills up, I make sure I am wearing a shirt that is a little longer so it doesn’t stick out. For those of you who feel bloated after eating, focusing on that might be a good idea, and make it a little easier to enjoy the festivities if you choose. Maybe leggings or a skirt/dress if you are a female. Or for men, pants that are a bit loose with a nice shirt or sweater.
  • I am not afraid to do what is best for me. I have had Thanksgivings when I have enjoyed the entrees that I could have and call it a day. I have had Thanksgivings where I only ate the dessert. I have had Thanksgivings where I said "screw it" and ate whatever I wanted. And I have had Thanksgivings where I flat out did not eat anything. Do what works for you. Learn from the past and focus on how things will make you feel. Sometimes it is SO WORTH IT to just enjoy, while other times it is not. Think about what may be doing on the following day and try to adjust accordingly.

Remember this holiday is about spending time with family and friends. While the focus is unfortunately on food, the company is what is most important. If someone is making you uncomfortable or asking questions where the responses may make you feel badly, simply say "I have been dealing with a lot of health issues and it has taken over most of my life. If you don’t mind, I would prefer not to discuss it and just enjoy the holiday." Maybe follow up with a question about them – people do love to talk about themselves.

I would love to hear some of your thoughts on how you handle Thanksgiving. Please share in the comments below!

By providing your email address, you are agreeing to our privacy policy. We never sell or share your email address.

More on this topic

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.

Join the conversation

or create an account to comment.