How to Prevent Unhealthy Eating Habits and Stress That Cause Digestive Discomfort During the Holidays
Individuals with digestive problems, such as irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), ulcers, and other gastrointestinal problems often find that stress and routine changes during the holidays can worsen their symptoms.
The holiday season is usually a festive time for most. However, for those with digestive conditions, it can be the most difficult season of all. It’s supposed to be the time to relax, have fun, and enjoy spending time with loved ones. Unfortunately, people also experience higher levels of stress along with significant changes to their diet that can put a lot of pressure on the digestive system.
Read on to discover how eating excessive amounts of unhealthy holiday foods, experiencing overcrowded airports and roads, and dealing with stress during the holidays can negatively affect your digestive system. We’ll also provide 5 ways to ease the stress, so you can enjoy the holiday season again.
What Causes Digestive Issues During the Holidays?
Overeating during the holidays will likely lead to gastrointestinal flare-ups and discomfort. However, there are additional components that initiate stomach and digestive problems.
Digestive issues during the holidays are caused by a range of factors, including:
- Binging on your favorite foods can lead to bloating, constipation, or diarrhea
- Excessive carbohydrates, fat, and sugar are more difficult to digest
- Consuming foods that your digestive system cannot process easily or that you are sensitive to
- Drinking liquids containing carbonation or alcohol can create discomfort and digestive flare-ups
- Experimenting with new meals or consuming foods that you don’t regularly eat
- Conditions like IBS and IBD can arise if you eat foods that you are sensitive to—especially when eating while traveling or cheating on your diet due to the holiday season
- High levels of emotional stress due to holiday traveling
- Increased emotional stress over the holidays can cause you to overeat or change your regular eating habits
5 Easy Ways to Avoid Holiday GI Flare-Ups
Every individual has different triggers for their IBS, IBD, ulcer, or GI symptoms, including:
- Emotional stress
- Specific foods
- Lifestyle choices
If you haven’t done so already, talk to your physician to identify your personal triggers and devise a plan to avoid them throughout the holidays.
Many people with IBD and IBS report that stress makes their symptoms worse. Relaxation techniques and mind/body exercises, such as yoga, tai chi, and meditation may help, particularly when combined with other forms of treatment.
If shopping at the mall drives you crazy, avoid weekends or shop online. If the stress of travel sometimes overwhelms you, plan out your holiday and pack well for peace of mind. Consider your destination and determine what you need to remain comfortable. Do you need to plan out bathroom locations in advance? Will you be on a lengthy flight? Perhaps you
should pack gut-friendly snacks in your carry-on bag.
When traveling and staying at a hotel, pack health-conscious snacks and beverages to relieve stress and lessen the chances of digestive symptoms.
2. Don’t Forget Your Medicine
While the holidays are an exciting time of year, it’s vital that you don’t forget to take your medications to minimize your symptoms. Set up alerts on your phone or in a pocket calendar, so that you don’t forget to take them during the commotion of the holidays.
Getting a good night’s rest can minimize holiday stress and keep your digestive system working properly. Don’t sacrifice shut-eye, no matter how tempted you are to check off every item on your to-do list — from wrapping to baking to decorating.
3. Foods to Avoid
It can be easy to give in to temptation during a festive holiday meal. But by staying disciplined, you’ll be more likely to keep your GI issues at bay and enjoy your time with friends and loved ones.
Meals that are high in fat, greasy, or fried may incite abdominal cramps and diarrhea that can aggravate IBS and IBD symptoms. Foods and beverages containing caffeine, spicy ingredients, and certain sugars that are not absorbed by the bowel may result in cramping or diarrhea. These sugars include :
- Sorbitol, commonly used as a sweetener in many dietetic foods, candies, and gums
- Fructose, also used as a sweetener and found naturally in honey as well as some fruits
Overeating gas-producing food may cause increased gaseousness. This is particularly true with IBS since it can be associated with bloating and retention of gas. Gas producing foods include:
- Cabbage, cauliflower, and broccoli
- Legumes (like peas, peanuts, soybeans)
In addition, milk and dairy-based foods like ice cream can also cause problems, as some people are unable to digest significant amounts of milk or milk products (lactose intolerance). They may experience symptoms similar to IBS when they eat or drink milk products. Lactase pills may offer relief in some cases.
4. Adjust Your Lifestyle
The following lifestyle changes have been shown to reduce the symptoms of IBS, IBD, and other GI issues over time:
- Eliminating caffeine
- Adding fiber to your diet with fresh fruits, vegetables, and whole grains
- Drinking about one liter of water each day
- Quitting smoking
- Including fun and relaxation in your daily schedule
- Getting enough sleep
5. Get Physically Active
Exercise plays an important role in lowering and preventing the effects of stress. After overindulging in a holiday meal, it is easy to take a long nap or lounge around. But, this can negatively affect your digestive system. Sitting for an excessive amount of time can bring about heartburn, acid reflux, and gastrointestinal issues.
To avoid stomach problems after eating, stand up and walk around. Physical activity is shown to improve GI symptoms in people with IBS. A brisk walk around the block may be just what the doctor ordered — and the exercise can alleviate any holiday stress that could be brewing.
If you would like to learn more about how to reduce or prevent common symptoms of IBS, IBD, or other GI disorders, please feel free to contact us.