This month we’re focused on holiday food — and how to navigate it if you’re on the low FODMAP diet, or another specialized or therapeutic diet. We’ve talked all things pumpkin. We broke down ways to safely splurge on some holiday treats (recipe links included). And we talked strategy and did a recipe roundup for Thanksgiving dinner.
But what if you’re traveling? Many people across the country, or even the world to meet up with family and friends for the holidays. Being on the road — and in someone else’s house — can add to both the stress and the challenge of sticking to your low FODMAP or otherwise specialized diet.
But don’t despair! It’s totally possible to travel for the holidays and still prioritize your health. And so today, I’m going to share some of my best tips.
When you’re traveling, for the holidays or otherwise, you will inevitably end up in situations where the available food isn’t ideal for you. Whether you’re looking for food on a road trip, or having dinner at a friend’s house, there will likely be times when you’ll need to have your own food stash available.
There are lots of low FODMAP-friendly packable snacks. Here are a few ideas:
There are loads of snack bars that can fit into a low FODMAP diet. They are portable, often high in protein, and easy to eat. Here’s an article from Fodmap Everyday that lists 100 low FODMAP snack bar options.
Mix some nuts, seeds, and low FODMAP cereal for a DIY trail mix. Just make sure to check in with your low FODMAP phone app to make sure you’re sticking within your limits and picking the best add-ins. You can find my favorite low FODMAP app in my free IBS Resource Guide.
Including some protein with your snack will help keep you fuller longer. And there are low FODMAP portable fruit options like kiwi and mandarin oranges. For nuts, stick with peanuts, macadamias, and walnuts.
Whether you’re eating at a restaurant or at someone’s home, there is nothing wrong with asking about ingredients. High FODMAP ingredients can sneak into dishes where you might not expect them. And when you explain that you need to know because of a medical issue, most people are pretty understanding.
Often restaurants will be able to customize your food by leaving out problematic ingredients. If this kind of conversation is uncomfortable for you, I have a resource that might help. You can download these free food avoidance cards, created by Kate Scarlata (a colleague of mine). Some cards are specifically for low FODMAP diets, but you can also add your own additions. Carrying one of these cards can save you from having to explain your situation every time you go out. Just hand the card to the waiter and they’ll have a printed list of the foods you can’t have.
But if you’re in a situation where you just need to eat from the menu as is, choose simple options like meat and vegetables. And skip the sauce. Lots of FODMAPs hide in sauces.
When you travel to a new city, it’s always a good idea to know what resources are available there for you. Once you know exactly where you’re staying, it’s not a bad idea to see which stores will be easily accessible to make sure you can get what you need while you’re there.
If you’ve got access to a refrigerator, you can add perishable items like lactose-free yogurt to your snack stash.
If you’re going to be eating out on your trip, try to find out where you’ll be going in advance. Many restaurants have online menus available. A few minutes of research can help you feel more comfortable and be prepared. When you know what to order in advance, it can take some of the stress out of eating out on a restrictive diet.
For many people with IBS, stress is a major trigger. And while holidays can be times of joy and relaxation, they can also be stressful. Traveling inherently adds some stress — planning, packing, airports, etc. But visiting family (even if you’ve got good relationships) often adds some stress to the equation.
It’s important to take some time for yourself while you’re away. Do things that help you ground, relax, and check-in with yourself. You can try things like:
✔ Spending some time outside
✔ Reading something you enjoy
✔ Taking a moment to do some belly breathing
If things are getting tense, it’s okay to step away. Protecting your health takes priority, even over other people’s feelings.
Things may not go perfectly while you’re on your trip. And if you end up in digestive distress, it’s important to have some of your go-to supplements on hand to mitigate the reactions.
One of my favorites is IBGard. IBgard is not a medication. It’s just peppermint oil, which is often effective at reducing spasms, cramping, and bloating in people with IBS. The peppermint oil in IBgard® is enteric-coated so it’s released in the small intestine where it’s needed.
You may also want to bring some ginger tea and any over-the-counter or herbal medications recommended by your practitioner.
You may end up eating some foods that you weren’t planning on — either by accident or intentionally. And that’s okay. Remember, stress only makes matters worse.
If you find yourself dealing with digestive symptoms on your trip, remember that they will pass. Make sure you’ve got that emergency kit of supplements and teas that can help you recover from your symptoms quickly.
Remind yourself that you’re doing the best you can. And sometimes things don’t go as planned. And remember, you can go back to your specialized diet quickly. So if you accidentally eat a high FODMAP food, you don’t have to just chuck it all. Get back to your food plan the best you can, and then when you get home where you can make your own food, you can get fully back on track.
I can give general advice here. But it’s your practitioner who knows you and your symptoms. It’s a good idea to check in with them before you leave town. They may have suggestions and ideas that you haven’t even thought of.
If you’re looking for a practitioner who understands the complex symptoms and underlying causes of IBS, I’m here for you. I’ve worked with over 1,000 IBS patients over the years and I know how to help.