Eating Tips To Get You Through The Holidays


by Georgianna Reilly, LMSW

While the holiday season is more than gathering for meals and exchanging gifts, food often plays a major role in our holiday traditions. Everyone seems to have a traditional or favorite food to celebrate the holidays and with so many options, it can be hard to navigate what you can and cannot eat if living with inflammatory bowel disease (IBD). As a result, you might feel hesitant or uncomfortable about accepting party or dinner invitations. However, with a little bit of patience, common sense, and diligence you can take control and stop IBD from taking the pleasure out of holiday eating.

It is important to remember that while there is no particular diet plan recommendation for individuals with IBD there are a few tips that can help manage some common IBD symptoms, such as cramping and diarrhea. These tips should be considered every day, but can be incredibly helpful in making your holiday eating more pleasurable:


• Eat Smaller Meals: With so much food around it is inevitable that many individuals, with IBD or otherwise, will consider eating until they feel ill. Rather than stuffing yourself all at one time, try eating smaller meals at more frequent intervals. For example, try eating smaller “fist-sized” portions every three to four hours. Using an appetizer sized plate could help you reduce the size of the portions you eat. Snacking can also help space out your food intake. Doing so can help decrease abdominal pain from over eating, and, in general, decrease cramping because there won’t be too much food in your system at one time.

• Reduce your intake of fried and greasy foods: Butters, margarines, oils, pork, and creams can cause symptoms, such as diarrhea and gas as a result of fat malabsorption. This is especially true for individuals who have had large amounts of small bowel (particularly ileum) removed. Some simple moderations to traditional foods can assist with decreasing these foods. For example, choose lean or non-pork brisket over fatty pork cuts or try baking latkes rather than frying them. Not only could these alterations help your IBD symptoms, but they are healthier for everyone in general.


• Limit high-fiber foods: It may be helpful to restrict your intake of nuts, seeds, skins, leafy-greens and other high-fiber foods. These foods can cause cramping and intestinal contractions, especially if an individual has a stricture (or narrowing) of the bowel. In addition, because they are not digested entirely in the small intestine, these foods can cause diarrhea or stool that might be “scratchy” or irritating in nature.To help limit these foods, try skinning and deseeding any fruits of vegetables you use in your cooking or dishes. If making mashed potatoes, remove the skins before mashing. In addition, choose a slice of fruit pie over a nut pie, such as a pecan pie, at dessert time. It can also be helpful to choose cooked vegetable and fruit dishes rather than fresh, as cooking makes these items easier to digest. For instance, rather than a salad, have some of your grandmother’s green bean casserole. She, and likely your gut, will thank you. CCFA has a few recipes which keep these tips in mind, and might be helpful for the holiday season.

• Say Cheers, in moderation: If you are over 21, alcohol might be a part of your holiday gatherings. It is important to remember that even moderate alcohol intake can be associated with an IBD flare in some individuals, and drinking can potentially cause complications if you are on particular medications. Alcohol consumption is an individual decision, and through trial and error as well as open discussion with your physician, you can learn your limits and still enjoy the holidays.

 Know yourself, but treat yourself: Ultimately, on these special occasions it is important not to forget your experiences and your understanding of your own body. You are your best judge of what you can tolerate. For instance, if you have a food intolerance or allergy, get information about the ingredients before you eat. But remember, this doesn’t mean you need to avoid trying new foods in moderation. Keep track of the food you eat during the holiday season and any resulting symptoms using our new interactive tracker GI Buddy (or download a writeable food journal). With this you can look back on what you ate, and know what you were able to tolerate for future occasions. Don’t be afraid to expand your diet choices, and remember that even some junk foods have nutritional value if you partake in them sensibly.

• Be prepared: The main thing to remember is to always be prepared by knowing the tips above, and by thinking ahead. If going someplace for a meal or party bring a dish with you that you know you can eat, and that you can share with others. If nothing else, always have a snack on hand. Try eating before hand to limit what you might eat elsewhere or to decrease your temptation to try things which you know might not sit well with you. Finally, while talking about your IBD might be uncomfortable, it is important to be open and honest about your dietary needs in a way that makes you comfortable while acknowledging your needs with your hosts and guests as necessary. Simply explaining that you follow a medical diet, and having a bit of patience with the level of understanding others have, can go a long way. Your happiness and pleasure during the holiday season shouldn’t come down to what you can and cannot eat. After all, diet and nutrition are only part of the picture in managing your IBD symptoms. These tips can allow you to focus on what really matters: your health and the good company which surrounds you.

Happy Holidays!


If you have further questions, please email CCFA or call our toll-free number at 1.888.MY.GUT.PAIN (1.888.694.8872), Monday through Friday 9am-5pm EST to speak with an information specialist.



For further information, call CCFA at our Information Resource Center: 888.MY.GUT.PAIN (888.694.8872).

The Crohn’s & Colitis Foundation of America provides information for educational purposes only. We encourage you to review this educational material with your health care professional. The Foundation does not provide medical or other health care opinions or services. The inclusion of another organization’s resources or referral to another organization does not represent an endorsement of a particular individual, group, company or product.

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Published: November 30, 2012