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The 12 Ways of Christmas… for a happier festive gut

With Christmas being a time for celebration, we often find ourselves surrounded with indulgent and delicious foods… but for those who suffer from a gut condition, it can be a time of worry and stress. Sasha Watkins, Registered Dietitian and Co-Founder of Field Doctor, has shared her top 12 tips on navigating festive eating, to help manage gut symptoms such as bloating, reflux and IBS.


Plan ahead

 

Arriving for a Christmas lunch, only to find there is nothing you can eat without suffering excruciating stomach pain, is a common occurrence for many people. Planning can be your biggest ally to help you enjoy meals with your friends and family. Find out what meals are being planned and perhaps bring some side dishes with you that don’t contain any of your trigger foods. If you are eating out, look at menus online beforehand or call the restaurant to see what you can eat.

Tell your host

 

Be honest and don’t feel obligated to eat something that will make you feel unwell. Many of us don’t want to upset our hosts or give them extra work tailoring meals to our specific needs but having an open discussion can really help. You can offer to help with some of the meal prep (very few people will refuse help in the kitchen!) or bring some foods with you, that you can add into the mix.

Focus on what you can eat (rather than what you can’t)

 

Turn your dietary limitations into something positive and have fun looking up new recipes with ingredients you can enjoy without triggering any symptoms. Make meal planning, or meal prep, part of the day’s activities and have fun altogether in the kitchen.

Make your Christmas low FODMAP

 

For those following the low FODMAP diet, there are a lot of festive foods you can enjoy. The low FODMAP diet is a special type of diet that avoids foods high in FODMAPs (Fermentable Oligosaccharides, Disaccharides, Monosaccharides and Polyols) and shown to be effective in reducing common IBS symptoms, such as bloating and abdominal discomfort. FODMAPS are found in a wide range of foods, such as fruits, vegetables, bread, cereals, nuts, legumes, and food additives.

 

For those following the low FODMAP diet, there are a lot of festive foods you can enjoy! Try smoked salmon with gluten free crackers as a starter, for example.
Seasonal meats and fish with no coatings or breadcrumbs and common sides, such as carrots, parsnips and potatoes, are also low in FODMAPs. Modify gravies and sauces so they are onion, garlic and wheat free. Enjoy a selection of hard cheeses with gluten free crackers and grapes or try low lactose ice cream with a dark chocolate sauce for dessert – and of course, for those who need a break from cooking, try one of Field Doctor’s low FODMAP meals, with over 16 meals to choose from.

Should you be taking supplements too or can you get all you need from food?

 

Ideally you Cater for trigger free treats
Everyone needs some foods they can enjoy over the holidays. Snacks such as peanuts and olives or treats such as dark chocolate, clementine’s, and berries, are generally non-trigger foods for many people with IBS – and they’re delicious too!

Keep an eye out for rich food

 

Christmas specialties often include fatty foods such as cream, ice cream and sauces which may cause heartburn or other gut symptoms. They take longer to digest and so delay the stomach emptying, which is known to increase the likelihood of acid reflux. We also tend to overeat at Christmas. Try to avoid fatty foods if this is a trigger for you or limit yourself to smaller portions.

Mindful drinking

 

Alcohol is a common gut irritant and linked with heart burn and other gut symptoms. Have a mindful approach with alcohol and enjoy it with food, rather than on an empty stomach. Try to drink a glass of water in between each alcoholic beverage and choose a smaller glass, as a large glass may lead to you drinking more.

Avoid the stress

 

There seems to be so much pressure and stress around Christmas – all the planning, present buying and catering needed to ensure the perfect day where everyone is blissfully happy. Stress can easily affect the gut, as the brain and gut are linked, so plan some down time and don’t over commit. Be kind to yourself, try some breathing exercises and don’t strive for perfection.

Have a plan B

 

Even if you do it all right, there is always the risk of an IBS flare up happening. Prepare for it by packing a care package for yourself to include medication you may use (it may be hard to find a pharmacy if you are not at home). Plan some outfits that don’t have tight waist bands and if you get a flare up find some time to rest.

Don’t forget fibre and fluid

 

Ordinarily most of us in the UK don’t eat enough fibre for good gut health or drink enough fluids on a daily basis leading to constipation. This is even less likely to happen at Christmas when routines get turned on their heads. Incorporate gut friendly vegetable sides at all meals and aim for 6-8 glasses of non-carbonated, non- sweetened drinks.

Get moving

 

A lot of the festive holiday may be spent sitting for long periods of time. Try to incorporate a 30 minute walk each day after a meal and try to plan some family games outside.

Remember to enjoy yourself

 

The festive season is about seeing friends and family and spending time with loved ones. And after the last 2 years, this is something that should be relished.

Sasha Watkins

Registered dietitian and co-founder of Field Doctor

IG: @sashadietitian

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