How To Tackle Christmas Festivities When You Have IBS

So many heavy dinners...

How To Tackle Christmas Festivities When You Have IBS

With Christmas fast approaching, heavy dinners and celebratory work functions are fast filling the calendar.

And while a merry lunch or two may sound like heaven for some, those suffering from IBS have a different experience when it comes to festive dining.

Irritable Bowel Syndrome, or IBS, is a condition of the gastrointestinal system that is often referred to as a 'functional gut disorder'.

Symptoms of IBS include bloating, constipation, cramping, stomach discomfort and diahorrea, which make the condition potentially quite embarrassing for sufferers.

Chloe McLeod, an accredited practicing dietician and director of the FODMAP Challenge, told Hit that in order to properly manage IBS, it is crucial that individual triggers are identified.

"It's really important for people to actually go to the doctor and be diagnosed with IBS, because a lot of the symptoms of IBS are symptoms of other conditions that are much more serious, such as bowel cancer or inflammatory bowel disease," McLeod said.

Management of IBS takes several forms, spanning diet and exercise, as well as mental health.

Chiefly, observance of a low-FODMAP diet is key.

FODMAPs are foods which cause bacteria to thrive, and are mostly sugars.

FODMAP stands for:

  • Fermentable 
  • Oligosaccharides
  • Disaccharides (lactose)
  • Monosaccharides (fructose)
  • Polyols 

"These are different types of carbohydrates that are found in a variety of foods that either don't digest properly or ferment in the gut - and then they can cause some of the symptoms of IBS," McLeod said.

"Other non-dietary management strategies include stress management, incorporating physical activity, and there are some medications that people can take, however often diet and stress management are enough to really manage the condition quite well."

While lactose is a part of the FODMAP list, it is possible to be lactose intolerant and not have IBS.

"Sometimes people will only be lactose intolerant, sometimes they might be lactose intolerant and intolerant to some of the other FODMAPs as well, and sometimes people might have IBS but not be lactose intolerant at all.

"It's really important to determine what your triggers are because you might think that it's dairy but it might not be dairy it might be that whenever you have milk, you have it on your breakfast cereal which has got wheat in it."

Largely, the causes of IBS can stem from either a food intolerance or stress.

"Sometimes it's a bit like the chicken and the egg when it comes to stress and IBS," McLeod said.

"With some of my clients their symptoms totally subside when they go away on holiday, so they don't need to worry about which FODMAPs they're including or not including because their stress levels are well managed.

"Sometimes it really is nothing to do with the food and purely to do with stress. Stress can be such a big trigger of symptoms and so looking at ways of managing stress is absolutely essential.

"Given the type of things that can happen, like getting stuck on public transport and needing to go to the bathroom or needing to pass wind in a work meeting, it's really embarrassing and I think that can add to the stress and anxiety that people feel.

In terms of facing upcoming Christmas meals and events, McLeod suggested the following tips for those suffering from IBS:

  • Call a restaurant ahead of the meal to organise some food options appropriate for your triggers;
  • When you arrive at the restaurant, make the waitstaff aware that you were the person who called ahead in order to avoid any embarrassment in front of colleagues;
  • If there are no options available, pack a snack to eat before the meal;
  • Try to avoid drinking excessively, as this can exacerbate symptoms;
  • Drink plenty of water so everything is being flushed through;
  • Continue to eat plenty of fresh fruits, vegetables and wholegrains - but avoid the foods that may trigger symptoms;
  • Have plenty of fibre and probiotic foods; and
  • If you do overindulge on alcohol, give yourself a few days of sobriety afterwards to allow your gut to recover.