Going into a holiday that is pretty much solely revolved around food can feel like a real nightmare for someone who has IBD. The Thanksgiving table is an uncharted war zone full of things that could potentially set your digestive system into full SOS mode, not to mention the exhaustion of having to actually speak to humans all day, oh and did I mention a limited number of shared bathrooms. Yikes.
My family is always extremely accommodating and supportive of my dietary needs and medical situation which is a relief but even so, I still experience a variety of road blocks throughout Turkey Day. I figured if I am running into these issues, I cannot be alone in my struggle. We are getting it all out here on the table (no pun intended)… all of the annoying things about this food focused holiday. Actually feel free to share this with your family/relatives so they know what you are going through. Never fear though, I will also supply you with some tips on how I get through the day and actually end up having a pretty enjoyable time.
The first issue with Thanksgiving, or really eating at anyone’s house where you did not prepare the food, is how are you supposed to know the actual ingredients of what you are eating? Grandma might say that her dish is gluten free until she realizes that whoops there were bread crumbs in there, do those have gluten? and BOOM your whole day goes to shit. Literally. Or there are the other types of people who know what is in their dish but INSIST you try it anyway. Like I get that your corn pudding was pinned 700 times on Pinterest but that STILL does not change the fact that me and corn are not friends. I don’t see you asking the person with a shellfish allergy to “just taste” your crab dip because its “that good”. Just because my reaction doesn’t involved an epi-pen doesn’t mean it doesn’t count. And to be honest, I still may also end up in the hospital. Re: the last time I though quinoa was a good idea.
As I mentioned before, my family is really good about being accommodating with dietary restrictions. Even still, I can’t always predict that the dishes that on paper meet all of my requirements still won’t make me sick. It could be a spice or an oil that I sets me off, or maybe a specific vegetable that I don’t normally eat. Or honestly it could be anything under the sun that my body just decides to hate that day. Either way, you can try as hard as you want to avoid things that will make you sick but at the end of the day there are no guarantees.
At that point you are stuck out of your house, utilizing a common bathroom, and still having to speak to people despite feeling horrible. Not a great situation. Side note here really quick: this is all assuming you are going elsewhere to celebrate Thanksgiving. If you are hosting it at your house, damn girl, good for you. I can barely figure out how to make my Sunbasket deliveries so I am not with you there but like I said, good for you. So back to the situation where you are sick and have one bathroom and have to talk to people. Sneaking away for a 20 minute bathroom break can be a good excuse to get some downtime from the fam but I also would rather spend that hiatus hiding in a closet somewhere, strolling around the backyard, or literally anywhere but one of the common bathrooms.
Even if you make it through the day without any digestive melt downs it can just be a really exhausting day. Between prepping food, catching up with family, and having little to no time for yourself, it can take a toll on you even if you love being around your family and are having a great time. Over exerting yourself around the holidays can be hard to avoid because you are just really so excited to spend time with your loved ones and celebrate.
So now you’re reading this, nodding your head, and wishing someone had a magic pill to make your Thanksgiving digestive drama go away. Well I don’t have that (because TBH science isn’t my strong suit) but I do have some suggestions based on what I incorporate into my own life and a whole lot of research (aka years of trial and error).
I try and set aside “downtime” every holiday… including Thanksgiving. I usually do this by creating a tradition out of it. No one messes with traditions. For example, on Thanksgiving morning instead of jumping right into big groups and festivities I watch the parades with my mom and my sister. This gives us all time to relax and ease into our day. It allows us to spend time with each other but also not be “on” having to really socialize. We are all on the same page with this one. Maybe you make a new tradition for yourself that revolves around being home at 6pm and getting a start on Christmas movie watching. Relaxing, festive, and still fun.
Next up… Bring your own food if you are concerned. To be full disclosure, I’ve heard mixed reviews on this. Some hosts says its super rude to bring your own meal. Some say THANK YOU because they don’t have to deal with your dietary restrictions and risk being the one that sends you into a shit storm. I personally think this is totally fine and you are actually doing your host a favor. As long as you are messaging it properly that you are doing this because you value spending time with everyone so much and want to make sure you are feeling your best to do so, then I think its perfectly appropriate. Bring a nice bottle of wine to share with everyone and one as a host gift and you should be good to go.
In addition to bringing your own meal, or instead of if the thought of rolling into dinner with your own lunchbox is giving you anxiety, at least bring a dish to share that you know you can eat. By doing this you are sharing the love and contributing to the dinner but you are also hedging your bets because you know there is at least one thing YOU made and YOU can eat. This is also a fun opportunity to show your family that your “weird” diet can still yield some really delicious recipes. And hey, if no one else is into your gluten free stuffing, you will get all the leftovers to yourself. Win, win.
Last piece of advice, and actually my favorite, is to make the holiday not about the food. I know this sounds absurd and impossible especially when we are talking about Thanksgiving. It is doable though. Think about what are the other things you can enjoy and celebrate about the holiday. Thanksgiving… you are (most likely) off of work, you are spending time with people you love, you get to wear a cute outfit, this is a perfect excuse to force your significant other to take corny Instagram photos with you… or dress your dogs up in turkey costumes… maybe that is just me. What I am trying to say is there are plenty of things to look forward to about the day that are non food related. Parades, football, getting ready to Black Friday shop, or literally just celebrating you have a day to not be at work. I don’t care what it is but there has to be something that gets you excited that has nothing to do with turkey.
I know all of this is way easier said than done and the holidays can be a tricky time. Try and hang in there, enjoy what you can, and accept when it’s time to tap out early to binge watch Hallmark Christmas movies. There is NOTHING wrong with that.
Blonde babe. Maryland native. Crohn's crushing puppy mother to two sweet rescues.
Welcome to my unfiltered commentary on crushing chronic illness in your 20's and everything that goes along with that.