The holidays, while full of the fun of parties and the glow of children’s eyes as they open presents under the tree, can also be very stressful. The last thing anyone wants during this time is to feel poorly. Here are a few tips to maintain GI health while you enjoy this joyous time of year:
- Make time to get plenty of sleep.
The holidays seem to be when people skimp on their zzz’s. While getting a solid eight hours is important for anyone’s health, it is especially important for people with autoimmune disorders, like Crohn’s disease or autoimmune hepatitis. The combination of stress and lack of sleep can precipitate a flare in symptoms, which can ruin anyone’s holiday fun.
- Follow safe food preparation guidelines in the kitchen.
Family and traditional recipes are an important part of any good holiday celebration. No one wants to get a GI bug from badly prepared food. The CDC recommends following these four steps:
- Clean: Wash your hands and food preparation surfaces often.
- Separate: Keep raw meats and poultry separate from other foods, such as the raw veggies that go with the dipping sauce Grandma is famous for! This includes making sure surfaces such as cutting boards and countertops are thoroughly cleaned before reuse.
- Cook: use a meat thermometer to ensure your meat is cooked to the correct temperature throughout.
- Chill: refrigerate leftovers promptly. Germs can start growing on food left out in as little as two hours.
- Remember your liver.
Alcohol is often consumed as part of holiday celebrations. The current recommendations are no more than one drink per day for women and two drinks per day for men (Dietary Guidelines, health.gov). Binge drinking, defined as more than four drinks in one sitting for women and more than five drinks in one sitting for men, is also harmful, as it shocks the liver. If you will be drinking, it is important for your safety and the safety of others that you have a designated driver.
- Start a new holiday tradition.
If you have special dietary needs, such as a gluten-free or lactose-free diet, it can sometimes be hard to enjoy parties where the food is full of ingredients you can’t eat. So bring your favorite dish with you, with enough to share. Your recipe might be the one everyone wants next year!
- Take your probiotic.
Probiotics help maintain the balance of bacteria in your gut, which are there to help you digest your food. Most people eat special foods during the holidays, which they might only eat once a year. Best to keep your gut in tiptop shape so it’s able to digest everything in time for seconds!
- Stave off the extra weight with a little exercise.
Instead of sitting around on the couch after your indulgent holiday meal, bundle up, grab a warm cup of tea, and take a walk around the neighborhood instead. This is a great time to chat with family and friends, play in the snow (if you’re lucky enough to have some!), and look at lights. Or, if you’re a musical bunch, consider going door to door spreading the cheer with carols.
- Stay regular with fiber.
Many holiday favorites are heavy on the starches and carbs, but low on fiber. Make a conscious effort to include fiber in your holiday celebration by visiting the veggie tray or bringing a fruit salad to the party. Include plenty of fiber in meals other than the big holiday meal. Or take a fiber supplement (there are several available over the counter at most local supermarkets or drug stores). Remember, you may have increased flatulence for the first week after starting a new fiber supplement while your body gets used to it. This will eventually go away. Drinking plenty of water will help the fiber maintain bowel regularity.
Following these tips should help get your holiday off to a healthy start. From all of us here at GastroIntestinal Healthcare, we hope you and your family have a wonderful holiday!