How to enjoy festive food and parties if you have Crohn’s or colitis

Some of the best things about the festive season are all the parties, socialising and lovely food you get to guzzle – if your digestive system and energy levels can handle it, that is.

And sadly for people with Crohn’s disease, colitis or any other inflammatory bowel diseases (IBDs), their digestive tract can react badly to rich Christmas fare, and their condition may make them feel tired and unwell, meaning they have to be ultra-careful about attending energy-sapping parties, and about what passes their lips at seasonal celebrations.

Crohn’s and Colitis Australia estimates there is a total of about 100,000 people living with either Crohns or colitis in this country.

Crohn’s and Colitis UK (CCUK) is asking people to find the right words over the holidays to tell people about what it’s like to live with the inflammatory bowel disease (IBD).

“The festive season is a busy time, full of parties, catching up with loved ones and eating delicious food, and while all of that is wonderful, it can be very stressful for people with Crohn’s or colitis who are managing unpredictable symptoms including pain and fatigue,” says CCUK chief executive Sarah Sleet.

Lifelong condition

Ms Sleet says Crohn’s and colitis, which occur when the immune system starts attacking the body, are lifelong conditions that cause inflammation and ulcers in the gut.

Symptoms include diarrhoea, needing to go to the toilet frequently and urgently, tummy pain, bloating, wind and fatigue, she says, explaining that having an IBD doesn’t mean you feel ill all the time, as symptoms come and go. There’s currently no cure, although there are treatments including medication and surgery.

There no clear evidence that specific foods cause or cure the conditions, but Ms Sleet advises sufferers to try to eat a nutritious and balanced diet, and drink enough fluids to prevent dehydration.

But that’s easier said than done at Christmas time, so here are her tips for people navigating the festive season with Crohn’s or colitis.

1.  Watch what you eat

There’s no specific advice on what foods to avoid if you’ve got an inflammatory bowel disease, as different foods affect different people. But Ms Sleet warns: “If you have Crohn’s or colitis, what you eat may affect your symptoms, but it’s different for everybody – there’s no one-size-fits-all advice on diet.

“You know yourself better than anyone, so if you’re going out to eat, for example, check out the menu before you set off. Make sure there’s going to be something you can eat, or ask for adjustments to the menu. And if you’re visiting someone’s house over the festive season, don’t feel bad about turning down food they’ve made. Family and friends will understand your wellbeing is the priority.”

2.  Don’t overdo it

One of the major symptoms of Crohn’s and colitis is fatigue, which is most common when the person with the condition is having a flare-up, but can affect them at other times too.

CCUK says as well as symptoms like pain and diarrhoea leading to fatigue, chemicals released from inflammation may affect the brain and muscles, leading to weakness, tiredness, and lack of motivation.

In addition, an inflamed gut may not absorb nutrients properly, meaning lower levels of certain vitamins and minerals, which can lead to associated conditions including iron deficiency anaemia, which can cause fatigue.

Ms Sleet says: “It’s important not to feel pressured into doing things you don’t have the energy for, whether it’s Christmas or not. Factor in lots of time for rest and relaxation, and be honest with loved ones about how you’re feeling and don’t push yourself if you’re fatigued.”

3.  Make sure you have enough medication

As the big day approaches, it’s important for people with Crohn’s or colitis to be sure they have enough medication to last them over the festive period. “Doctors and pharmacies may have reduced opening hours during the holiday season – being prepared will save a last-minute panic,” Ms Sleet points out.

4.  Be realistic

It’s important to know your limitations when you have an inflammatory bowel disease, and be realistic about what you’ll be able to do over the festive period. You really don’t have to accept all the party invitations – or any of them, if you’re having a flare-up.

“If you’re not feeling up to it, then keep your plans simple,” Ms Sleet advises. “Your loved ones will understand and will want you to enjoy the holiday period as much as possible.”

Do you suffer from IBD? What precautions do you take? Why not share your experience in the comments section below?

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