IBS Symptoms: Surviving Holiday Parties with Irritable Bowel Syndrome
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How to Manage your IBS Symptoms Over the Holidays

The holidays are here. While many people look forward to the seasonal food, festive parties and getting together with loved ones, for those with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) it can mean more symptoms (and more anxiety about symptoms).

surviving holiday parties with IBS - dietitian tips for IBS sympoms

If you struggle with IBS there are a few things you can do to minimize your digestive woes, including:

Keep a regular meal schedule – don’t skip meals.

People are tempted to skip meals in preparation for big holiday parties. If you are planning on skipping out on breakfast or lunch before a party so you can enjoy all the seasonal treats, I caution you against this. Skipping meals almost inevitably results in overeating causing us to be in a place of uncomfortable fullness. If your digestive system is already on the sensitive side, overeating can trigger symptoms. In addition, long bouts without food can worsen IBS symptoms. So, while you may think skipping meals before a party is a good strategy, it will likely backfire on you.

Be kind to your gut, feed yourself regularly, according to your usual meal schedule. This way, your bowels don’t get thrown off (as sensitive bowels can do so easily) and you’ll be less tempted to overeat at the party, which may again trigger IBS symptoms.

Be conscious of your food triggers

Food is a major part of most holidays, and it can be a challenge to avoid events where food plays a central role (and nor should you avoid events because of the food!). For those with known food triggers, be mindful of avoiding whatever food it is that sets off your symptoms, whether it’s a specific FODMAP, or perhaps, spicy or high fat meals.

If you know that it’s going to be hard to avoid specific food triggers at a holiday event, I recommend sticking to foods that you know you tolerate well in the meals leading up to the event. Sometimes, it’s not simply the presence of the food trigger that can lead to IBS symptoms but the amount. Being cautious with your meal ingredients beforehand can sometimes allow you to eat small amounts of those foods that trigger your symptoms, if you simply can’t (or don’t want to) avoid them.

Ask about ingredients

Don’t be afraid to ask your host or event staff about specific ingredients to give you an idea of which foods are a better choice for you. It can also reduce any anxiety that may build throughout the party, if you are left wondering if the foods you are eating are going to cause you digestive woes later on in the evening. We know stress and anxiety can amplify or trigger IBS symptoms, so getting some clarity about ingredients is a good way to decrease symptoms and food anxiety. Asking about ingredients can give you a peace of mind that may help you take the focus off your IBS and on what really matters, enjoying time with your friends and family.

Offer to bring food

If you are heading to a home-based party, offer to bring some food. This does two things – first, it makes you look super considerate offering to help the host out, and second, you can ensure that whatever you bring is something you can eat. By bringing some food to share, you can guarantee that you have at least one food that won’t make your insides feel terrible later on.

Be mindful of alcohol

The holidays are often associated with alcohol. Rum and eggnog, mulled wine, coffee with a splash of Bailey’s – it seems these (and other) alcoholic drinks are everywhere during the month of December. For many with IBS, alcohol is a trigger, as it is a known gut irritant. In addition, some alcoholic beverages contain FODMAPS, which trigger symptoms. To reduce or avoid any digestive repercussions, it’s really best to set some limits around consuming alcoholic drinks (for more than just not wanting to embarrass yourself at the company Christmas party!).

Limit yourself to 1 glass of wine or beer. You may be able to tolerate more if you’ve had a meal or it’s a long party – so that’s something for you to decide. Overall, 1 glass of beer or wine is generally tolerated. Hard alcohols like vodka, gin and whiskey are better choices than rum but whatever your hard alcohol of choice it, choose your mixer wisely. Large amounts of fruit juice, pop made with high fructose corn syrup, or other carbonated beverages may lead to more symptoms.

Plan events without food

If you really don’t have an awareness of which foods set your IBS off (but it seems something you eat does trigger uncomfortable and disruptive symptoms), trying planning some holiday events that don’t revolve around food. Or at the very least, intersperse your food events with non-food (or minimal food) events. Stuck thinking of non-food event ideas? How about skating, winter walks admiring Christmas lights, carolling, or attending craft fairs?


Relax…that’s easy to say, right? The holidays are notorious for being a stressful season but it’s important to find ways to reduce this seasonal stress. Try not to let the various aspects of the holiday season cause you too much stress and anxiety. It’s well documented that stress and anxiety provokes IBS symptoms. So, whatever you can do to reduce your holiday stress, do it! Perhaps this means not overbooking yourself, saying ‘no’ to parties that you really don’t want to go to, getting some physical activity, avoiding the malls by shopping online, or planning out meals so that you’re not eating on the run.

The most important thing about the holidays is to enjoy them. You don’t have to let your IBS symptoms stop you from celebrating the things you love with the people you love. With a little planning and self care, it is possible to make the most of this festive season.

Looking for more nutrition support for managing IBS symptoms?

Check out this previous article on Travel Constipation: How to Keep Your Bowels Regular While Travellng

Contact us to book an appointment with our Digestive Health Dietitian who can help you manage your IBS symptoms at home and on the go.  For more information check out our nutrition counseling program options here Nutrition Counseling for IBS symptoms

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