What to do on Thanksgiving if you have IBS, because no one wants to miss out on green bean casserole

Thanksgiving can be stressful enough without having to worry about exactly what you’re eating the whole time. Between travel and family, dealing with stomach issues on the day of the Big Meal is just one more reason your anxiety might be at an all time high during the holiday. Luckily, there are a few things people with IBS can do on Thanksgiving to make the day, and the day after, go a whole lot smoother. In every sense of the word.

If you have IBS, or irritable bowel syndrome, and diagnosed it with a doctor, you likely already have some strategies for big eating holidays. However, IBS is a really confusing and often unpredictable condition. Tamar Samuels, MS, RDN, CHWC, and founder of All Great Nutrition tells HelloGiggles that IBS is one of the “most common, yet poorly understood gastrointestinal (GI) disorders.” She adds, “IBS is diagnosis of exclusion, meaning it is diagnosed after ruling out more serious GI disorders like inflammatory bowel disease, diverticulitis, and celiac disease. IBS is actually a collection of signs and symptoms that include recurrent abdominal pain or discomfort, gas, bloating, constipation and diarrhea.”

So Thanksgiving is different for everyone with IBS, since it can be caused by a few things, like bacterial imbalance in the intestines, a gluten or other food allergy, and even chronic stress or a generally poor diet, among other things, Samuels tells HG.

An optimal Turkey Day will look different for everyone with IBS, but here are a few things you can try to make the day as enjoyable as possible. And still dig in to all the delicious food your family and friends put together.

1Go into the day fully relaxed.

Okay, being totally relaxed is just not possible for some people on Thanksgiving, but you really need to try your very best if you have IBS. It all comes down to science, Samuels explains.

"The digestive system is both directly and indirectly connected to the brain via the nervous system and the endocrine and immune systems. Stress can cause changes in intestinal motility resulting in constipation, diarrhea or both. Stress can also cause intestinal permeability (which leads to leaky gut), increased gut sensitivity (which leads to GI pain) and disruption of the microbiome (which leads to IBS)!

So make sure you get a full night’s sleep ahead of time and practice mindfulness before, during, and after dinner. You know that longstanding tradition of staying out too late with your hometown friends on the Wednesday night before Thanksgiving? You might want to hit up a yoga class together or Netflix and chill instead to prevent any tummy problems over the weekend.

2Don’t “save up” your calories.

Lindsey Janeiro, a registered dietician nutritionist and founder of Nutrition To Fit, reminds HG that people with IBS (and everyone else, really) shouldn’t try to “save up” room for the big meal. “This isn’t a healthy practice for anyone, but for individuals with IBS eating too much in one sitting can be more than their digestive tract can handle. Start your day with breakfast and eat smaller amounts more frequently throughout the day,” she says. Don’t be afraid to pick at the snacks and appetizers, like whole grain crackers or fresh veggies.

3Know your low FODMAP alternatives.

If you’re not already into the low FODMAP diet to manage IBS, definitely get on that after the holiday, since it can be a lifesaver for your stomach. Samuels explains:

"FODMAPS are fermentable oligo-, di-, mono-saccharides, and polyols. They are a group of short-chain carbohydrates that are poorly absorbed by humans, resulting in gas, bloating and diarrhea when ingested. Some great low FODMAP Thanksgiving alternatives include choosing regular potatoes over sweet potatoes and having green beans instead of Brussels sprouts."

Making sure that dishes are onion and garlic-free is also a good idea, though not always possible when someone else is cooking. Luckily, turkey is low FODMAP, so you can load up on the staple.

4Don’t be afraid to ask questions!

You probably know your food sensitivities, so don’t be shy about asking grandma if the casserole has onions or whatever ingredient you really need to stay away from. Janiero recommends chipping in with something delicious of your own. “I personally always love to bring a side dish that doesn’t contain any of my food allergies or sensitivities, and that my family will enjoy, too,” she says.

5Pace yourself, lady.

Digesting food is not easy, so slowing down throughout the meal is essential. “If you have IBS, then your ability to break down food is almost always impaired,” Samuels says. She recommends putting your fork down completely in between bites and chewing it as much as possible, since saliva has enzymes that help break all the food down and prevent indigestion. Crazily enough, water and other fluids actually dilute those helpful saliva enzymes, according to Samuels. So try not to drink and eat at the very same time. Again, it’s all about pacing and going slow.

And remember, that it takes 20 minutes for our brains to take a hint and realize that our stomachs are full, Samuels says. “Be sure to give yourself at least 20 minutes before finishing your plate and heading for seconds or dessert. Digestion is an energetically taxing process and the more you eat, the more your gut has to work to break that food down,” she advises.

6Watch your gassy and fatty foods.

Samuels recommends avoiding carbonated beverages during the meal to cut down on bloating and gas afterwards. You know best what gives you gas, but sticking to smaller portions of veggies like Brussels sprouts or cabbage and going for a crunchy, leafy salad are good places to start.

Janiero also reminds us that high fat foods can be triggering for those with IBS. “Opt for turkey breast and go easy on the gravy. Offer to bring a lower-fat side dish, like a harvest salad, roasted green beans, whole grain rolls, or maple-roasted sweet potatoes instead of a higher fat alternative like sweet potato casserole,” she says.

7Follow up with a digestive.

After you hit the pumpkin pie and load up the dishwasher, change into some comfy sweatpants and curl up on the couch with a cup of ginger tea. “Ginger is my favorite digestive support food,” Samuels says. You can grate up some fresh ginger and add it to hot water with lemon and honey, Samuels says, or even just chew it raw if you’re into it.

As long as you’re mindful and take things easy on Thanksgiving, IBS doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy the big holiday.

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