Holidays can be packed with fun activities, time with family, and special meals. And it’s common to unknowingly stumble upon, or knowingly indulge in, foods that are FODMAP “bombs”. For someone with IBS, this could mean having to pay the consequences and suffering from bloating, cramps, diarrhea, or constipation. However, it doesn’t have to be this way! Here are my best tips to enjoy the holidays without risking an IBS flare.
5 Tips to Enjoy the Holidays when you have IBS
1. Plan your meals and snacks ahead
To begin with, make sure to set aside some time for prepping and cooking your favorite low-FODMAP meals and snacks even during this busy time of the year. Indeed, planning ahead and having low-FODMAP foods and snacks available will make it less likely that you will end up eating something that may cause a bout of symptoms while you are out shopping or at a holiday party.
2. Bring a low FODMAP dish
If you are hosting the Christmas dinner you can plan the menu so that everyone is pleased and pay attention to FODMAPs at the same time. And you can include any family traditions that may be high in FODMAPs (your grandma’s apple pie?), but balance them out with low FODMAP versions of other dishes. For example, you can make fabulous mashed potatoes without garlic, or stuffing using sourdough bread.
On the other hand, if you are going to someone else’s house, you can bring one dish you know you can enjoy without risking an IBS flare. For instance, try my Rainbow Roasted Root Vegetables below: they are sure to please anyone.
3. Decide what high-FODMAP food to “splurge” on
By all means, Christmas only comes once a year and you are really looking forward to your grandma’s apple pie (which contains wheat, in the crust, and fructose plus sorbitol in the apples – triple whammy). Decide ahead of time what favorite dish you can’t do without at the Christmas dinner, and eat a small portion of it. For example, having apple pie after an otherwise low FODMAP meal is better than having it after eating more than one FODMAP-laden course (garlic mashed potatoes, gravy, or stuffing made with onions… you get the idea).
4. Beware of greasy foods, alcohol, and caffeine
Research is still trying to figure out whether these foods may be definite triggers of IBS symptoms. Nonetheless, many people report having bouts of symptoms when consuming fatty meals, or too much alcohol or caffeine. If you know one of these may trigger your symptoms, be mindful of portion sizes. You probably don’t need to avoid them altogether, just make sure you don’t get carried away.
5. Find time to relax and…don’t forget to (deep) breathe
It is well known that stress can trigger gastrointestinal symptoms. Holidays can be stressful for many people, and it is important to find the time to manage stress in the middle of the holiday rush. Therefore, find an activity that relaxes you – whether it’s walking in the woods or by the beach, taking a yoga or qi-gong class, or doing your favorite type of exercise.
One of the most evidence-based stress management techniques is diaphragmatic breathing. It is also known as abdominal or deep breathing and consists of expanding your belly instead of your chest in the act of breathing. Indeed, try it any time you feel stressed but also just before your meals. It will switch your nervous system from the “flight or fight” response to the “rest and digest” mode and allow you to better digest your meal. As a result, you will be less like to experience gut symptoms.
In summary, you can enjoy the holidays without having to suffer uncomfortable gut symptoms. Planning your meals, being careful about portion sizes, avoiding too much alcohol or caffeine, and managing your stress can help you navigate the holidays without experiencing an IBS flare.
Roasted Rainbow Root Vegetables
1 lb. parsnips
1 ½ lb. rainbow carrots (or regular carrots)
½ lbs. fingerling or baby potatoes (mix of yellow and red)
1 Tablespoon thyme leaves
2 Tablespoons avocado or sunflower seed oil
a few grinds of salt and pepper
- Preheat the oven to 425º F.
- After washing and drying the vegetables, peel the parsnips and brush the carrots with a vegetable brush. Cut the parsnips and carrots into 2 ½-inch sticks, about ¼-inch thick. Don’t worry about being perfect, as the vegetables are uneven in size. Do the best you can so that they will cook evenly. Cut the potatoes in half.
- Line two baking sheets with parchment paper. Toss the vegetables with thyme, oil, and a few grinds of salt and pepper and lay them evenly on the baking sheets. Add 1 tablespoon water to each sheet and cover with aluminum foil.
- Bake the vegetables for 15 minutes, then take off the foil. Continue baking until they are tender and slightly browned (be sure to check early so they don’t burn), for another 10-15 minutes.
Yield: 4 servings
Storage: Store in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 2 days.
Author: Antonella Dewell, Registered Dietitian Nutritionist & Chef
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Published December 8, 2020. Updated December 13, 2022.