Managing IBS during the festive season
The festive season can be an exciting and enjoyable time for many of us. However, if you suffer from IBS, you might be worried about symptoms flaring up and ruining your festive plans. Here, I'll explain my 7 simple tips to manage IBS:
- Limit alcohol
- Be wary of trigger foods
- Don't overindulge
- Get enough sleep
- Plan ahead
- Manage stress
- Stay active
Let's take a look at these simple tips to help you manage IBS symptoms and enjoy your winter holiday.
1. Limit your alcohol intake
The festive season is notorious for work parties, end of year celebrations and copious amounts of booze. Don't overdo it and provoke your IBS by drinking too much alcohol. If you do have a tipple, make sure you:
- Pace yourself
- Drink plenty of water in between drinks
- Avoid ordering double drinks or pitchers of alcohol.
You may find that certain forms of alcohol are better tolerated by your gut than others, for instance some people find yeasty beers tricky, whilst others need to go for wine without sulfites in them. Organic alcoholic drinks may trigger fewer symptoms for some people.
If you suffer from an irritable bowel, it usually means that your liver is already under pressure. If you drink alcohol in excess, this will give your liver more to do when it's already overwhelmed with toxins which haven't been removed by your body, and you risk making your symptoms worse.
Watch out for products bragging about their alcohol-free content, though. These are often pumped full of chemicals which won't do your body good either. If you're the designated driver, or you simply don't fancy alcohol, you're better off opting for water or fresh fruit juice as an alternative. Pineapple juice can actually support better digestion in some people.
2. Be wary of trigger foods
Like alcohol, food plays a huge role during the winter months and the holiday season in particular. Most of your social plans will end up factoring in food, whether it's a buffet at a work event or a sit-down meal with the family members you only see once a year.
It's important that you are still able to enjoy yourself and relax during these occasions, so focus on eating the right foods and avoiding those which might trigger your symptoms.
For a start, avoid chocolate and other dairy-filled 'treats' which are in abundance during this time of year, as they can wreak havoc on your gut and leave you feeling the worse for wear. These foods can irritate the gut and give rise to bloating, stomach pain and flatulence.
FODMAPs are another food group to look out for if these tend to trigger symptoms for you. Brussels sprouts, plums and dried fruits fall into various FODMAP groups and are particularly popular around this time of year. Choose your meal options carefully when ordering food or choosing from a set menu, and don't be afraid to mention these dietary requirements when ordering. Speaking to a venue before your visit can help ensure that they will have options that will suit you.
Keep in mind which foods tend to trigger your symptoms and, if your host isn't offering any foods that you can easily manage, offer to contribute to the spread and bring a couple of safe options along so you can take part in the celebrations without having to worry about suffering later.
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3. Don't overindulge
Firstly, whatever you're eating, make sure to eat it slowly and chew, chew, chew! This allows your digestive enzymes to prepare for digestion and signals to your stomach that food will be arriving soon.
What's more, as tempting as it may be during this time of year, it's important not to let yourself go and overindulge – even if you're eating foods which haven't triggered symptoms before. Symptoms such as indigestion, bloating, flatulence and acid reflux are all known to flare up when you eat a large lunch or dinner because you are putting pressure on your stomach and gut.
4. Get enough sleep
Sleep is an important factor for IBS and, unfortunately, one which tends to be forgotten around this time of year. Late nights shopping, eating and drinking can all have a knock-on effect on your body.
Sleep is critical for our bodies to repair and restore so losing sleep can also be detrimental to our digestive health, especially if an underlying issue like IBS exists. Sleep deprivation can make you more vulnerable to inflammation, which we know can play an important role in causing IBS symptoms.
Not getting enough sleep can also cause you to crave sugary foods (which are difficult to avoid during this time!) and we know that refined and processed foods like these are hard on the digestive system.
5. Plan ahead
Now, while you might not always be in control of what food is being served and when, you can always make sure that you're prepared. As I've suggested, bringing along a dish or two to your friend's dinner party can be helpful for both you and them, and packing some IBS-friendly snacks can help if you're out and about.
You can also bring along some emergency supplies in your handbag or rucksack. Keep on hand:
- Perfume or body spray (to hide any embarrassing odours)
- A spare pair of underwear
- Tissues and wipes.
You might also like to keep some medication or herbal remedies close (like Silicol gel, which can reduce irritation and help to calm diarrhoea), just in case a trigger food slips by your eagle eye!
6. Manage stress
Stress can also be a major obstacle during this time of year. Shopping for gifts and stretching yourself too thin trying to attend various parties and events (not to mention sales!) can really frazzle your nerves and take all the fun out of your winter holidays.
As well as being prepared for emergency situations, planning ahead can also help to manage stress when it comes to organising your social calendar or making sure you haven't forgotten to buy a gift for your third cousin, twice removed on your husband's side.
Deep breathing and mindfulness are good tools to tackle stress, which we know is a large factor for many people's IBS symptoms. You might also like to try herbal remedies such as Stress Relief Daytime to help your mind relax and avoid any anxiety-related issues cropping up and getting your gut in a twist.
Try downloading or printing off a calendar, or set reminders on your phone to make sure you take some time out for yourself every once in a while. Your festive plans won't be ruined just because you took 10 minutes to put your feet up and enjoy some quiet time. In fact, you might just enjoy yourself that little bit more once you're feeling relaxed and grounded!
7. Stay active
Finally, although it might be tempting to curl up and hibernate on the couch when the weather is cold outside, it's important to stay active and not become sedentary. The right kind of exercise can reduce stress on the body and help you to relax.
There are some exercises which I wouldn't recommend for sufferers of IBS (like intense circuit classes or stressful, competitive ball sports) but a relaxing stretching session or a fun dance class can be good for the mind and body.
Some activities can even help with IBS symptoms – brisk walking, for instance, can help to massage the digestive tract and could be a good way of relieving constipation. So, wrap up warm and head outdoors!