Avoiding Holiday Hassles With IBD

Crohn's and colitis patients holiday traveling and eating tips

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD

(RxWiki News) The holidays can be challenging – traveling is a hassle and big meals can bring diet anxieties. But the season is even more of a landmine for people with an inflammatory bowel disease (IBD).

People with an IBD like Crohn's disease and ulcerative colitis may experience some worry when it comes to Thanksgiving and Christmas. Long lines at the airport and shopping malls can cause anxiety around controlling painful symptoms, and a table full of rich foods might exacerbate flare-ups.

Fortunately, the Crohn's and Colitis Foundation of America (CCFA) has tips on ways to make holiday traveling and eating easier.

"Plan in advance to manage your diet."

Over 1.4 million Americans have inflammatory bowel disease. IBD is an umbrella term that describes chronic conditions characterized by inflammation of the gastrointestinal tract. The most common are Crohn's and ulcerative colitis.

During periods when the disease is active, or flaring up, the inflammation brings pain. Stomach cramps and pain, diarrhea, and the urgent need to go to the bathroom are just a few of the symptoms that can make traveling – whether by car or plane - a nightmare.

Obviously, those symptoms can make it harder to enjoy a good meal. But even for people in periods of remission, when they're not experiencing symptoms, a holiday table laid with traditional rich foods can be triggers.

The CCFA has many useful tips for holiday travelers with IBD on their website, www.ccfa.org. First, navigating the airport:

  • Pack medications in a separate, clear, sealable bag.
  • Pack your own toilet paper, soothing wipes, ointments, changes of underwear and extra clothes. Keep hand sanitizer in small bottles that can go through airport security.
  • Make sure you bring more medications and if applicable, ostomy supplies than you think you need.
  • Transportation Security Administration (TSA) CANNOT ask you to show your ostomy bag, nor can they ask you to remove it any time. You can ask for a disposable drape at any time during a body pat down.
  • Arrive at the airport 2-3 hours before your flight.

You might need to explain your condition to TSA, especially if you have an ostomy bag. CCFA has an “I Can't Wait” card that will give you talking points to explain to workers and flight attendants clearly and simply why you have special needs.

At the holiday table or parties, you might already have a good idea of which foods you should avoid. Eating a smaller meal will also help you steer clear of flare-ups.

  • Eat a light, nutritious meal of foods you know you can tolerate before going out to a party. This will help prevent you from overindulging or being tempted by foods that you don’t tolerate well or are uncertain about.
  • Eat smaller portions. Appetizer and half-size portions are a good option. 
  • Plan your diet around foods that you know nourish your body well. 
  • Try to stay away from “super-size” portions that may make you flare. 
  • Don’t be afraid to make special request — whether dining out or going to your next holiday party. Most restaurants are willing to make changes to their menu to accommodate special diet needs. If you are at a party, call the host ahead of time to see if you can bring your own dish.

Remember, the holidays aren't just about hassle and food. Take time to enjoy your family and a well-deserved vacation.

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
November 19, 2012
Last Updated:
April 25, 2013