Celebrate – with food
Holiday celebrations are very much centered around food. Hence, it’s easy to feel isolated when you have an intolerance to FODMAPs that requires avoiding certain foods. Some people decide to be as vigilant as possible and end up missing out on partaking of dishes at family gatherings or holiday parties for fear they might trigger symptoms. Others may go the opposite way and just eat anything and everything that is presented to them, but then have to pay the consequences.
There can be a happy medium between completely depriving yourself of holiday treats and going all off only to suffer later. While it is understandable you may want to manage symptoms as much as possible, it is ok to indulge in a few treats and participate in celebrations.
As the effect of FODMAPs is cumulative, the best strategy is to keep your “tank” as empty of FODMAPs as possible before a holiday meal. This way, even if you have a serving or two of high-FODMAP foods, the repercussions on your GI system will be minimized. I also like to remind my clients that going “off” their schedule or diet plan won’t undo what they have done so far. There is no “starting over” just “picking up where you left off”. If you eat your trigger foods and have a flare of symptoms, just go back to eating low-FODMAP for a few days until you feel better. This “washout” period will ensure there are no cumulative effects once you restart the reintroduction process or go back to your usual diet.
Celebrate – with friends and family
Although food is an important and enjoyable part of celebrating the holidays, it’s not the only way. Holidays are also a time we reserve to enjoy the company of family and friends. Try to focus on the activities that give you joy at this time of the year. For example, do you look forward to going to the ice-skating ring with your nephews and nieces? Decorating your house to feel the holiday spirit? Wrapping up presents and writing greeting cards with messages of thankfulness and love? The list could go on but you get the idea.
In addition, this is a time when most of us take some time off work and may have more time to ourselves. If that’s true, you can take advantage of this time and indulge in some rest and relaxation. Do you enjoy cuddling up with a cup of hot cocoa (see my Spiced Hot Cocoa recipe below) and a good book in front of a fireplace? Does watching classic holiday movies put you in a good mood? Or taking an extra-long restorative yoga class? Bundling up for a long walk by the beach on a sunny winter day? Sleeping in more?
And don’t forget to…Exercise and Sleep
It is well known that exercise and adequate sleep relieve stress and improve mood. The holidays can be stressful and busy and, you may find yourself skipping your regular exercise or staying up later than usual and getting less sleep. Stress can worsen IBS symptoms even when you are not eating anything that might trigger them.
Be mindful of this and try to find ways to get in a 10-minute exercise session here and there. There is no need for a full hour at the gym if you don’t have the time for it. You can split your exercise up into small increments and make adjustments to your schedule so you can get some extra sleep.
In conclusion, even if you have a FODMAP intolerance, you can find ways to celebrate the holidays without missing out on your favorite foods and activities. In fact, by taking time for yourself and focusing on rest and stress relief, you may find you can eat a variety of foods without experiencing gut symptoms.
Spiced Hot Cocoa
2 cups lactose-free milk or almond milk
1 teaspoon cornstarch, dissolved in 1 tablespoon cold water
2 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder (14 g)
1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon sugar
½ teaspoon vanilla extract
¼ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon freshly ground cardamom
1/8 to ¼ teaspoon cinnamon, according to taste
A smidge of cayenne pepper (optional, if you like it and tolerate it)
1. In a small saucepan, warm up the milk over medium-low heat.
2. Add the cornstarch, cocoa powder, sugar, vanilla, salt, and spices.
3. Whisk until well blended and continue to heat for 2-3 minutes, or until the mixture starts to thicken.
4. While the cocoa is heating, pour boiling water into 2 cups to warm them up. When the cocoa is ready, empty the cups and pour the hot cocoa. Enjoy!
Yield: 2 (8-oz) servings
Variation: you can omit the spices for traditional hot cocoa.