Certain times of the year are more challenging than others when you're vegan and have a chronic digestive disorder. Holidays in particular can be difficult because not only do we typically have high hopes and expectations (often followed by disappointment), but we also may be surrounded by an abundance of food that doesn't meet our dietary needs. Most people want to please their hosts, friends, family, and coworkers and avoid disagreements, especially at holiday gatherings and celebrations, but vegans with IBS face more hurdles than others in accomplishing this.
Here are some tips (using the word "VEGAN" as an acronym) for you to keep in mind to help you minimize your stress and maximize your enjoyment of the holiday season:
V = Vocalize
E = Exercise
G = Giggle
A = Abstain
N = Nap
Speak up about what you can or can't have if someone asks. This is especially important if a host is preparing food and wants to know in advance about your dietary restrictions. While you probably don't want to share the intimate details of your condition, letting a host know what's vegan that you can tolerate will help you enjoy the get-together and feel welcome. If the event is at a restaurant, call ahead of time to see what will be served and inquire about whether they can accommodate your special needs. Finally, when you aren't feeling well, don't feel obligated to attend an event or gathering. Don't hesitate to speak up or vocalize your concerns when it's appropriate to do so. Often people pleasantly surprise us with their compassion and understanding.
When food is abundant, it's difficult not to overeat. Exercise, even if it's just a brisk walk after a particularly large meal, will help keep the digestive track chugging along smoothly. Exercise also increases the production of endorphins, the feel-good chemicals that trigger a sense of well-being and naturally fight pain and stress -- exactly what is needed during this time of high anxiety!
Laughter can help get us through even the most difficult, painful, or stressful circumstances, and it's good for the whole body. Laughing boosts the immune system, triggers the release of endorphins, relaxes the muscles and reduces physical tension and stress. As a bonus, it also burns calories, lightens the heavy load of anger or disappointment, and decreases pain. In addition, laughter imparts courage and strength that can help get you through even in the most difficult times. A laugh––or simply even a smile––can go a long way toward making you feel better in a tough situation. Plus, laughter is contagious. It also helps shift the brain's perspective, making threatening situations seem less overwhelming and defusing conflict. Look for the humor in an unpleasant situation and laugh at the irony and absurdity of life. Try to avoid negative people and don’t watch, read, or dwell on depressing news stories or conversations that make you sad or unhappy. Many things in life are beyond your control—particularly the behavior of other people. Surround yourself with upbeat people and reminders to lighten up. And, above all, learn to laugh at yourself.
Remember that no one can force you to eat something you don't want to or that will make you sick. Just as you're selective in choosing only vegan foods, be equally selective in choosing items that also won't exacerbate your digestive problems. Skip the alcohol or spiked punch, if alcoholic beverages trigger your symptoms, and stay away from high-FODMAP foods that are problematic for you. While holiday fare can be tempting, if you want to indulge, be prepared to face your gut's revenge later. Pack some safe foods to tide you over if you're afraid there will be nothing for you to eat, or eat a small meal in advance of a gathering to be on the safe side. That way, you can nibble on the items you know you can tolerate and still feel part of the festivities. If you're still hungry afterward, prepare something tasty and safe when you get home.
Holidays can be exhausting, mentally, emotionally, and physically. Although it can be hard to escape the responsibilities or commitments you have, naps, especially short power naps of twenty to thirty minutes, can rejuvenate and revive you, helping you feel more refreshed and cognitively alert. Some studies have shown that even a ten-minute nap or simply lying in the prone position for a brief period can also be beneficial for staving off sleepiness and fatigue and improving mood, performance, and energy.
What tips do YOU have for surviving the holiday season? I love hearing from you! Please post your thoughts in the comment section below!