Thanksgiving can be a particularly difficult time of year for those of us with digestive disorders. While all holidays certainly include their fair share of tempting treats, Thanksgiving centers around food and feasting like no other. Rather than a day of “giving thanks,” this day too often becomes one which almost entirely revolves around the meal itself, and because of this, those of us with limited dietary options are seemingly constantly reminded of that which we have lost. If we allow ourselves, we can easily sink into a state of depression and despair.
So, how are we to manage? Well, I cannot promise you that this will be the most delightful time of year. It is not pleasant to give up the foods that we enjoyed prior to diagnosis. There will no doubt be moments where sadness sets in, where we mourn our old lives, and where we wish we could curl up and hide from the world. But, though challenging, there are many approaches and tips that might help us better cope with these struggles and make the best of a trying situation:
*To begin with, it is perfectly acceptable and polite to make others aware of your condition. Do not be shy about your needs. You can be honest and open about your requirements and wishes while still presenting them in a respectful and non-demanding manner.
*Rest up before and after the big event. The more energy you have, the better you will be able to cope with the physical requirements and stress the day brings.
*If the holiday event is local, one option is to skip it completely and, instead, ask friends and family to stop by your residence for a few minutes before leaving the area. This way, you can remain in the comfort of your own home and still enjoy a brief visit with loved ones.
*Another option is, of course, to omit the food entirely from your celebration. Yes, I know it sounds radical, but it is possible to have a Thanksgiving party without the feast. Now, since this will likely not be a popular option, perhaps, as an alternative, the party might include food, but be centered around something other than the dinner – playing games, watching a movie, engaging in conversation, etc. Use this occasion to catch up with family members and friends with whom you have not visited for some time. The meal may have to be offered, but all can agree that it does not have to be the focus of the day.
*Ask the host if you may arrive late or leave early. Maybe you can skip the dinner portion of the meal entirely. But in any case, limiting your time there will help with fatigue.
*Bring your own safe foods/nutrition or “eat” before arriving at the event. This will likely reduce your cravings and lessen temptations. You can speak with the host beforehand to clear this, or perhaps the host might even offer to make a few dishes you generally find tolerable.
*Talk about restroom arrangements in advance. You will wish to have unfettered access should you feel ill, and perhaps you can arrange to have a restroom reserved for you alone should the need arise. Bring a change of clothes in case of accidents.
*Are there places away from the crowd where you can rest or be alone if you are feeling particularly unwell or tired? Might you leave the room or go for a walk if sitting at the table during the meal is not something you wish to do?
*Encourage a “gratitude” discussion. What are you all thankful for? Such a conversation will give you a chance to reflect on the blessings you still have while perhaps stirring the rest of the family to consider all their good fortunes as well. This may lead to greater awareness and empathy and might give you and your loved ones much-needed perspective about the day.
*If all goes awry, and you find that you have consumed far more than you perhaps set out to, forgive yourself and shift your attention to getting through the aftermath. Sometimes we do what we know is not best physically because it lifts us emotionally for a time, or simply because it is difficult to constantly resist temptation. These are difficult choices, and we are not perfect human beings.
Thanksgiving can be a harsh reminder of our former lives. We have much to be thankful for, but we cannot help but notice, at times, that we have also lost much. Despite all efforts and best intentions, you may find yourself dealing with feelings of guilt, sorrow, and loss. Acknowledge the feelings, as some of this is likely unavoidable – but also be kind to yourself. Surviving the holidays intact is a lofty goal for those of us with digestive disorders, one that we can meet, to varying degrees, with a little care and understanding from ourselves and others.