Nutrition and Wellness Blog

Notes from a Gut Health Nutritionist

Nutrition and Wellness Blog

Notes from a Gut Health Nutritionist

3 tips to avoid a holiday IBS flare up and instead find more JOY

Dec 19, 2023 | Health & Wellness, The Nourished & Thriving Show

I’m going to share three tips with you today to avoid a holiday IBS flare up, so you can instead fully embrace the holiday season without overwhelming yourself. We’ll achieve this by being intentional about how we celebrate and what we choose to enjoy.

*This is a modified transcript of an episode from my podcast, The Nourished & Thriving show. This episode is titled “3 Tips to Soak up the JOY This Holiday Season” (published December 2022), which you can find on your favorite listening platform here.

*This is not medical advice.

First things first, I’m a registered dietitian on a mission to help you increase your impact and legacy on the world while healing your gut and reducing your IBS symptoms. My goal is to inspire you to live vibrantly and provide valuable resources and information that empowers you to take bold action towards your health goals.

At this time, we are right in the midst of the holiday season. After Thanksgiving, I heard from some people who felt a sense of regret or like they were “outside looking in” during their family get-togethers due to gut issues. I talked to many who couldn’t fully participate in the “most wonderful time of the year”.

I’m a middle-of-the-road person in many aspects of life. Sometimes making decisions is challenging because I see both sides. I know many with symptoms like chronic fatigue and bloat who will want to step back from the holidays and seclude themselves so they don’t feel so much FOMO (fear of missing out). I know others with a hot mess gut who just want to throw all caution to the wind and fully enjoy themselves, because they feel horrible already… But then they end up battling an even more intense holiday-induced IBS flare up come January. This leaves us with two extremes: the one’s who are not participating at all and the ones who are disregarding their current needs.

A woman wearing a festive headband takes a bite of dessert at a holiday office party, IBS flare up

Whether you’re holding back or going all-in, I don’t want either extreme for you. I want you to live vibrantly and fully. Finding a balance to fully enjoy the holidays without wrecking yourself or kicking off the New Year with an IBS flare up is crucial. So here are three tips to help you achieve that.

Let me preface these tips by reminding you not to compare yourself to others. It can be easy to think it’s effortless for others to enjoy themselves fully and for other’s to not worry about the food or exercise or lifestyle choices during this time of year. What you don’t see are the thoughts going through other’s heads—the intention behind their choices and what they’re doing behind-the-scenes to take care of themselves.

3 tips to avoid a holiday IBS flare up and instead find more JOY this holiday season

Tip 1: Enjoy only the treats you absolutely love.

How many times have you found yourself eating a candy, a cookie, or a meal that you don’t really care about, but you put it on your plate or popped it in your mouth, because it was in front of you?! When you walk past the holiday cookie tray at the office this year or your offered a cocktail at a holiday party, it’s okay to not indulge. What I recommend instead is to pause and consider if that treat is something you actually want in that moment.

Don’t waste energy on treats that don’t bring you joy. Make a list of your top three holiday treats and savor them. Choose quality over quantity and fully appreciate each bite.

A slice of apple pie with a dollop of vanilla ice cream on top, holiday IBS flare up

The cool thing about this tip is that it might remind you of what you love and encourage you to participate in the holiday season with baking or cooking something special to you. For example, I LOVE apple pie, but no one in my family makes apple pie for the holiday season… That means it has now become MY tradition to make that special treat for myself. I then enjoy it fully—each and every bite.

Bonus: Don’t forget about good digestion tips when enjoying your special treats:

  • Chew your food to an applesauce consistency before swallowing.
  • Think about the deliciousness of the food you’re about to consume to stimulate the digestive process and prepare your stomach to receive the meal. (Yes, this is a real thing! Google “the cephalic phase of gastric secretion” or read this article to learn more about it.)
  • Take some deep breaths before eating.
  • Finally, take your time when eating. Like really take your time, chewing each bite, enjoying it, thinking about all of the delicious flavors… This will help with digestion AND you’re going to enjoy it even more than if you had just eaten it without thinking about how delicious it was.

Tip 2: Stay hydrated.

In the midst of the holiday rush, it’s easy to neglect hydration. During this season, I have so much going on—from volunteering at my kids’ schools, family gatherings, and hosting a local Christmas market—and I know you’re busy too. Be sure to drink water throughout the day, especially when consuming sugar, processed foods, or holiday spirits to help combat the potential of a holiday IBS flare up. If you’re struggling with hydration, a larger cup, like a 24 or 32-ounce cup, can help you stay on track, since you won’t have to refill as often. In addition to that, feel free to add any flavoring to your water that you’d enjoy. Some suggestions are lime, lemon or grapefruit juice. You can also make it a goal to drink more water and gradually increase your consumption.

A glass of water with lemon in it next to a carafe of ice water

Bonus: Does coffee, caffeinated tea, or alcohol count as hydration?

I drink a cup of coffee a day. I enjoy coffee. I’m sure you enjoy your caffeinated drinks too if you’re reading this section. Here’s the reality: Drinking these liquids can hinder hydration. If you are drinking caffeinated coffee, tea or alcohol, then increase your water intake to make up for any diuretic or other effects.

Tip 3: Savor each moment and choose joy over stress.

You are in control of your thoughts and feelings. You are not in control of others’ thoughts and feelings. You may not control circumstances or others, but you can choose how you show up. Take deep breaths, enjoy the season, and focus on joy rather than stress. This act will take INTENTION. You must recognize where you are at internally (stressed, tired, frazzled, irritated) and then ask yourself, “Is this how I want to show up? For my family? For myself?” Choose joy instead!

How does choosing joy and reducing stress help you avoid hot mess gut symptoms or an IBS flare up?!

A woman in athletic clothing in a sunny room with her hands to her chest in a prayer pose, holiday IBS flare up

I’ve talked about this before on my podcast and my blog, but there’s this interesting phenomenon called the “Gut-Brain Connection“, wherein your gut can respond to the mental state you’re in and vice versa. This is due to the fact that your gut and brain are literally connected through a large nerve called the vagus nerve. This means that if your head isn’t in a good space, you might feel those bad effects happen to your gut too. This is why managing stress is so crucial to reducing IBS symptoms.

These tips will help you find a balance between enjoying the holiday season and taking care of your well-being. If you want personalized help, reach out as I’m taking new clients for January and February. Let’s start those conversations now for a vibrant and healthy 2024, because these sorts of changes take time and consistency.


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