I always found it difficult around Thanksgiving and Christmas to enjoy all the good food when my gut was at its worst. The anxiety before hand, the discomfort while sitting at the table for an hour (and possibly getting up to use the bathroom), the uncertainty over whether certain foods were ok or not, it was all quite overwhelming. I’ve been lucky to have amazing family and friends who were always supportive of whichever weird diet I was implementing. But, I was still more prone to have digestive issues around the holidays. Over the years I learned a lot of what works and what doesn’t with a bad gut. The following are my survival tools:
1. Eat All Day
It might sound counter-intuitive, but eating more during the day will help. I found the worst thing I could do was not eat enough during the day leading up to a big dinner. As soon as I would start eating dinner, my gut would rev up and it would be uncomfortable. If I ate my favorite foods all day, my stomach was always more settled for dinner. No matter what, I would always end up eating the same amount at dinner anyway, so eating less to save room for the big meal really never worked.
2. Talk it out
Tell your family, in-laws, friends, or anyone you will be celebrating the holidays with about your diet. You’d be surprised just how many people are having digestive problems themselves, know someone close who is on a restrictive diet, or generally want to help you have a comfortable time. Just showing up and then saying no to certain dishes might seem rude, but letting them know about dietary restrictions is enough of an explanation why you aren’t digging in to absolutely everything on the table. Talk to them before the holidays, or tell yourself you will explain your diet once you arrive, so that you take some pressure off yourself anxiously wondering how you are going to deal with it. Here are some great tips for defending your diet from Well Fed Homestead.
Don’t expect someone to cater everything to you, it’s a time of traditions and likely that will rule. But, showing interest in the dishes you can eat sends a clear message that you appreciate the chef’s hard work! I usually ask to be served first to avoid cross-contamination with gluten dishes, which can seem rude but if you explain yourself, and are salivating over the food it can be a real compliment.
3. Activated Charcoal
If I was ever having an upset stomach the day of, I would take activated charcoal with my lunch or before the dinner. If I’m having something I know will upset my stomach at dinner, I will take another one then too. Activated charcoal works by binding with toxins and undigested particles to safely pass them along the gut. This works for people who are prone to diarrhea and is not recommended for people with constipation.
Note that you should never take activated charcoal at the same time as medications (as it can bind with the medication and will lower the effect) and you shouldn’t take it for a long period of time. It will bind to nutrients and you won’t absorb enough vitamins and minerals from your food.
You can usually find it in capsule or loose form in most health food stores and pharmacies. I had trouble finding some in my home town though and ordered it online. This is always good to have on hand at home to help with food poisoning too. Make sure to drink plenty of water with it!
4. Cut back on iron pills
If you’re taking iron pills, or any other vitamin supplement that causes digestive upset, consider backing off for a few days. A couple days should be ok if you’re just taking supplements as a bonus to your diet. If you’re on specific supplements for a condition, discuss with your doctor first. I found iron pills were always the worst (I think I have taken about 3 rounds before) and backing off those for a few days helped a lot.
5. Don’t change medication
The holidays are not the time to be changing up your medication or making drastic changes in diet. Just keep things going as you usually do unless your doctor has prescribed a change.
6. Bring your favorite food
Offer to bring a dish and make it something you are comfortable eating a lot of. You can focus on filling your plate with it to give your meal a good base. If anyone is offended, just let them know bringing your safe bland dish will help you stomach handle the more flavourful foods and you’ll be able to enjoy more of the meal.
Extra sleep during the holidays can help reduce stress, calm the stomach and give you enough energy to deal with all the questions you’ll be asking and have asked of you. Get as much rest as you can!
Those are my survival tools. I’d be interested to hear if anyone else has ideas!