November and December are probably the most notorious months for food. From family dinners and parties with friends to work gatherings and church potlucks, food is in abundance throughout the holiday season. Figuring out what to eat and what to avoid for your IC bladder can be challenging, especially if it’s your first holiday season managing IC. But, IC doesn’t mean that you have to miss out; you may just have to get a bit creative!
Do your research ahead of time.
Knowing what you can eat and what you can’t is always important, but it’s even more so during the holiday food season. This isn’t the time to be guessing at what might trigger you or taking risks on foods you aren’t sure about. Be familiar with the IC food list, which tells you what foods are typically least and most bothersome. Be sure to check for foods that are your typical holiday favorites to see if they are typically safe. The good news is that many traditional holiday foods, like roast turkey, mashed potatoes, corn, sweet potatoes, pumpkin pie, yeast rolls and more are usually safe for IC patients!
Even better, plan well ahead of time and do an elimination diet to discern which foods trigger your IC symptoms. If you’ve been an IC patient for years but are suddenly having more flares and can’t figure out why, consider doing an elimination diet again. Sometimes your triggers can shift. Being as prepared as possible is best!
Talk with the host if possible.
Some events don’t lend themselves well to talking with the host ahead of time, like work events or church potlucks, but some do. If you can talk with the host ahead of time about what foods bother you and ask them about food preparation and recipes, do so. Be prepared to explain why you have dietary concerns if they don’t know, and share what foods bother you and what don’t.
Make sure that you remain gracious in your discussion and communicate well. Offer alternatives that would work for you when possible. For example, if your aunt is trying a new barbeque turkey recipe, ask if you can get some plain turkey cut off before the sauce is applied.(1) Approach the dinner with a team mentality of working together.
Consider hosting dinner yourself.
Holiday dinners are steeped in tradition and often that tradition is where they take place. Hosting the dinner yourself may not be an option your family will go for, but you can at least ask, especially if the alternative also includes you having to travel in pain. Hosting the dinner yourself allows you to prepare dishes how you can eat them. However, be careful to not push yourself too hard and cause a flare from overactivity. Consider asking your family to each pitch in and bring something so it doesn’t all fall on you.
Bring along a dish (or a few) to share.
If you’re not hosting, consider bringing along a dish or a few dishes to share. That way you will know there will at least be something that you can eat. If it is not a potluck situation, be sure to talk with the host ahead of time to explain you’d like to bring dishes since you have special dietary considerations and you’d love to bring enough to share. Talk with them about what and how much of the item you are bringing so they can plan accordingly.
Fortunately, making food that is IC friendly doesn’t mean you have to lose flavor. You can find some great IC friendly recipes and resources online!
- Creating an IC Friendly Thanksgiving
- The IC Diet Project: Holidays
- Holiday Foods and Parties
- The IC Chef Cookbook (available to purchase)
- Confident Choices: A Cookbook for IC and OAB (available to purchase)
Talk about changing some traditions.
If your family has a tradition revolving around food that includes nothing you can eat, talk about changing it up. See if instead of Christmas Eve lasagna, they’ll go for chicken fettuccine Alfredo. If your family isn’t receptive to change, then make your own meal to bring along or eat ahead of time so you can still participate and be with your family but not eat or drink something that will make you flare.
Decide how you are going to handle conversations about your health and diet.
Because many holiday gatherings revolve around food, chances are pretty good that someone is going to ask you about what you are or aren’t eating, especially if the IC diet is newer to you. Think about what you want to say ahead of time. It is your decision how much information to share or not share. You don’t owe anyone and explanation, but decide ahead of time how you will respond to questions.
While you don’t want to be defensive or aggressive, it is OK to speak up for and explain yourself to those who matter to you; just don’t get stuck there and make the whole dinnertime conversation about you and IC.
Say no to guilt.
Of course, you want your family and friends to respect your IC diet. Return the same courtesy to them and respect that they can eat and drink things you cannot. Instead of making them feel guilty with comments like, “I wish I could still have that,” focus on what you can have and be glad you are able to be there.(2) In the end, the most important part of holidays and events is getting to spend time with people you care about.
Along the same lines, also don’t let anyone guilt you into eating something you know you can’t have, especially if you have already communicated your dietary needs. Start with a polite “No, thank you.” If the person won’t take “no” for an answer, be prepared with something to say like, “I appreciate what you’ve made. But this just isn’t something I can eat/drink and still feel well enough to visit with you. And spending time with you is important to me.”
Don’t forget to not put guilt on yourself for asking for what you need and taking care of yourself during the holidays and holiday dinners!
Have the right attitude about your diet.
Having the right attitude about the IC diet will help you manage better throughout the holiday season. It’s easy to feel left out when everyone else is eating or drinking something you really like but can no longer have. This is even more true when it’s a long-standing family tradition. But, remind yourself that you are choosing not to consume food or drinks you know will make you miserable. Saying no to a trigger food now means you can spend more time with your friends and family later, and that’s what is most important.
That said, though, also understand that it’s OK to grieve about what you have lost. Spend time ahead of time or afterward acknowledging that you feel sad or angry about what you can’t have or do. Get your feelings out in a healthy way by writing about them, talking with a trusted friend or loved one or sharing in a support group. Then determine to move forward and enjoy your life in spite of IC!
Don’t forget your medications.
The holidays can sometimes change our schedules around. While we may have a usual routine that helps keep us on top of taking our medications, the holidays can interrupt that. Try setting a reminder on your phone that dings when it’s time to take your medicine so you don’t forget. If you are going to be away from home, make sure you remember to pack them and maybe even put extra doses in your purse in case you end up being away from home longer than expected.
Be sure to also keep flare medications on hand as well as supplements that can be helpful. Prelief, for example, can reduce acid in foods and help reduce the chance of a food bothering your bladder. Tums can sometimes help as well.
Avoid troublesome drinks.
Beverages can be incredibly problematic for IC patients. Avoid things like soda, tea, coffee and wine. If you are looking for something different than plain water, consider a sparkling mineral water, peppermint tea or chamomile tea. IC Network President and Founder, Jill Osborne, recommends mixing pear or apple juice 2:1 with water and mulling it with cinnamon for a fragrant and delicious cold weather beverage.
- Lopez AS. 4 Tips to Gracefully Survive the Holidays with Foods Sensitivities. HuffPost Contributor. Nov. 23, 2016.
- Ede G. Dealing with Dietary Differences During the Holidays. Psychology Today. Nov. 23, 2016.