Often with many social events in December, it can be a worrying time for those of us with IBS who have to watch our intake of FODMAPs. Hopefully the tips below will support you to feel your best at this time, while allowing you to feel like you can still go out and have fun.
My tips for an easy Low FODMAPs Christmas
1. Avoid letting yourself get too hungry
When we’re that hungry that we feel the need to eat what ever we next get our hands on, it makes it hard to resist the foods that will make us feel unwell and seek out those that won’t. Don’t underestimate the value of snacks with protein and healthy fats like a few nuts (or nut butter) with a piece of fruit, a couple of home-made protein balls or a pack of Mini Munch nut snacks. These types of foods can also be taken to a social event in your bag.
2. Consider your mindset in advance
If you are willing to eat high-FODMAP foods and deal with any potential consequences later on, then please just enjoy yourself. But if you do want to avoid your symptoms, rather than just rely on ‘will-power’ when problematic foods are offered to you, remind yourself of the reasons for you making your choices before you enter the room. Set yourself a goal e.g. to limit certain foods to a specific amount and avoid other specific foods. Think of strategies to help yourself out too.
3. Avoid all-or-nothing thinking
When we follow a temporary restrictive diet (or generally have to cut out certain problematic foods), it can be hard not to feel deprived at times. When we then allow ourselves to indulge, some of us fall into the trap of all-or-nothing thinking – “Stuff it, I’ve blown it now so I may as well just enjoy myself and go crazy because I’ll probably suffer regardless.” I urge you to challenge this type of thinking, and consider a more mindful approach to eating – do you really feel like eating more of that food? Connect with how it will physically make you feel and ask yourself whether it’s worth it and if there is something else more suitable that you will enjoy just as much.
4. Take a platter of low FODMAPs Christmas nibbles to your event
If possible, take a platter of low FODMAPs Christmas nibbles to your event that are suitable for you to eat eg.
- nuts, seeds and trail mix (small amount of cranberries or currants are suitable – 1Tblspn). Avoid pistachios/cashews and limit almonds (<10 nuts)
- low FODMAPs sliced fruits e.g. kiwi, strawberries, raspberries, blueberries, orange, pineapple etc.
- olives, roast capsicum, gherkins
- FODMAP friendly dips – these are hard to find in the shops so you will likely need to make your own. Try with ingredients like pumpkin, capsicum, carrot. Get additional flavour from spices like cumin, nutmeg, ginger and paprika and citrus juices like lemon and lime. Tofu or lactose-free yoghurt are perfect base ingredients e.g. tofu + pumpkin or roast capsicum, or yoghurt with lemon juice, salt, pepper, olive oil, dill and grated cucumber (tzatziki alternative).
- home-made garlic-free hummus (remember to keep to 2-3 Tblspn limit though, which is equivalent to the ¼ cup daily chickpea limit)
- vegie sticks (good for dips) like carrot, cucumber, capsicum. Cherry tomatoes are also great to nibble on.
- cucumber slices with a dollop of suitable dip or olive tapenade on each
- plain rice crackers (avoid seasonings likely to contain garlic and onion). Avoid wheat-based crackers like Jatz or water crackers.
- suitable fruit and nut or seedy bites e.g. Munch bites by Thinkfood (pumpkin seed and products only – and in small amounts)
- protein balls – will likely need to be home made to avoid dates and most dried fruits. Make with peanut butter, oats, ground walnuts, cacao, dried blueberries or small amount currants or cranberries, vanilla and maple syrup +/- desiccated coconut for rolling (or mix with other ingredients).
- hard cheeses, which are low-lactose
- BBQ chicken or sliced meat
- Dairy-free chocolate
- Devilled eggs
- Baked baby potatoes, halved and dolloped with home-made guacamole (no onion or garlic). Watch your portion of avocado though
- and don’t forget dessert! Here is my delicious Low FODMAPs, dairy free answer to a Christmas Pudding – Raspberry & Caramelised Nuts Ice Cream Pudding
5. Plan for your event or Christmas meal ahead of time
Most protein foods are suitable – just check for added onion / garlic. Any stuffing can be left off your plate. Most salads and vegetable sides can easily be made into low FODMAPs Christmas dishes. Looking for a yummy dessert recipe to make on Christmas day? See my blog for dairy-free caramel and raspberry ice-cream pudding!
If you’re eating out, can you give the restaurant a call ahead of time to ask for the menu and whether special dietary requests can be made (can they leave off garlic, onion, apple, pear etc). Can they make you a special sauce or gravy, or can you bring something they can heat and add to your meal? Cranberry sauce often goes well with Christmas meals and in small portions (e.g. 1Tblspn) should be suitable. Mustard is also a suitable option. Do they have any gluten and dairy-free dessert options they can offer that aren’t fruit based (e.g. flourless chocolate cake or pavlova)?
6. Avoid eating and drinking at the same time
Drinking while eating can affect digestion and make you feel bloated. Alcohol in general can also be a stomach irritant so consider how much you want to drink for enjoyment and avoid getting caught up in mindless drinking and perceived peer pressure. Some alcoholic drinks that may be most problematic include sticky/dessert wines, rum, Baileys, Kahlua, Midori and Malibu due to fructose or lactose content. Vodka, whiskey, gin, beer (unless gluten-intolerant), and red/white wine is best tolerated. Be careful with soda mixers at bars (e.g. cola, lemonade) as they can be high in fructose, so often soda water is the safest option. Also, remember your 200ml limit for fruit juice.
7. Practice mindfulness to watch portions and the amount of food eaten in a day
Christmas day in particular, often involves a lot of food throughout the day. But it doesn’t mean you have to pick at food or eat the sized portions that will give your gut grief. Practice mindful eating by considering whether you are actually hungry as you are reaching for the snacks and make a decision on whether you want to eat that food now or wait until you are hungry or until your next meal…. and having said that, if you’re not feeling hungry at your next ‘meal time’, don’t feel that you have to eat a meal! Perhaps a small snack will be enough, or consider skipping that meal if you don’t have any hunger….trust me you will be fine.
Also, enjoy what you eat! Chew it well (use those teeth of yours) and taste the flavours. We are less likely to go back for seconds or even feel like we need to finish what’s on our plate if we’re starting to feel full, if we have tuned into our senses and feel satisfied. It’s hard to feel satisfied and like we’ve eaten enough if we’ve inhaled the food. Eat and enjoy when others are talking and take a break when it’s your turn to talk.
What are your go-to tips to help you through the festive season?
I hope this helps. I wish you a wonderful fest of the year and a great start to the new one!
Amanda Moon, healthy gut and food intolerance dietitian