Two amateur cooks explore the world of cooking for a Crohn's and Colitis diet


Holidays are challenging for everyone, whether you have IBD or not.  There is constant chatter on blogs, websites, news sources and magazines about how to avoid the holiday weight gain.  Let’s face it. Thanksgiving, while it is about being thankful for the season’s harvest, it has been turned into a holiday governed by food. Thanksgiving is about turkey, stuffing, cranberry sauce, sweet potatoes, pumpkin pie. As a Crohnie (someone with Crohn’s Disease), Thanksgiving is a recipe (pun intended!) for disaster.

Every year at Thanksgiving, I promise myself that I will not overeat. Somehow, once I sit down to dinner, I am insatiable. The food is too good to eat in moderation.  Besides, I have to make the most of Thanksgiving, right?

The day after Thanksgiving is almost always a day of rice cakes, water, apple sauce and maybe some turkey around 5 pm if I am up to it.  I eat almost nothing and struggle to nurse my body back to health.  Is getting sick really worth overeating at Thanksgiving? Obviously not.

Over the past eight years that I have had Crohn’s, I have found ways of “prepping” for Thanksgiving.  I always make sure to take my medication on time and do not stray from my normal diet and normal routine. While I do this throughout the year, I work even harder to follow my routine during the weeks before the holiday. I also will take probiotics twice a day during the week leading up to Thanksgiving. I don’t know if this actually makes a difference, but if nothing else, it functions as a placebo. Somehow I am able to convince myself that I am coating my intestines with good bacteria so that if I run into eating problems during the holiday I already have established an “extra defense system” in my gut.

Thanks to I Be a foodie, this year, I am publicly challenging myself not to overeat at Thanksgiving. I will be aware of what I am putting into my mouth and stop when I am full. I will not wake up on Friday morning with a food hangover.  Next week, I will be posting an update on whether or not I accomplished my goal.  Stay tuned.

Below are two guides to surviving Thanksgiving for the IBD and the IBD free! We also have a special guide for how to survive Thanksgiving if you have an ostomy (read more below).

  • Make sure to follow your medication regimen. Do not skip out on taking a dose of medicine!
  • If you are attending someone else’s Thanksgiving meal, bring a dish that you know you can eat. Pass on dishes where you are unsure of the ingredients (or ask the host)
  • DO NOT eat something that you know you shouldn’t. Don’t give in to temptation!
  • Maintain a food diary for holiday meals so you have a record of which foods you are able to enjoy.
  • Know your limits. Listen to your body. Stop eating when your body says ‘enough!’ and take a break from holiday planning to avoid stress (a trigger for IBD symptoms). Drink lots of water with your Thanksgiving meal. It will insure that you are hydrated and you will feel fuller and will therefore eat less.
  • Once you are finished with your meal, try to occupy yourself with non-food related activities such as taking a walk with a relative or a friend, or striking up a conversation with someone at the party with whom you are unfamiliar.  This way, you will give your GI tract time to tell your brain that you are full, and you will also not be tempted to snack on the leftover pie!

Before providing our tips on surviving Thanksgiving with an ostomy, we would like to give a brief introduction to the world of ostomies for those who are not familiar with this IBD type of management and lifestyle.

Some individuals with IBD require surgery to repair or bypass a part of their GI tract that is inflamed/diseased (the part that is impairing normal intestinal function).  One of the most common surgeries is a colostomy, where an opening is made from the colon to the outside of the abdomen.  The surgeon often involves removing a segment of the colon, and one end of the colon is passed through a small hole in the abdominal wall.[1]  This section of intestine allows for waste to leave the body directly from the colon.  After the colostomy, waste is collected on the outside of the body with an ostomy bag.  In other words, people with ostomies cannot pass bowel movements like everyone else does.  Instead, they are required to empty their bags numerous times during the day (and sometimes during the night as well). Ostomy care is slightly different for each individual.

There are many different kinds of ostomies that are named differently for the organ involved.  For example, in addition to colostomy, another common surgery is an ileostomy, where the doctors connect the ileal part of the small intestine to the abdominal wall.[1]  Again, an ostomy bag is used to collect waste for disposal.

An ostomy is easily hidden beneath clothing, and chances are that you have met people with an ostomy without realizing it.

Seth and I volunteer at an annual sleep-away camp for children with IBD (Camp Oasis), and while a portion of the children have ostomies, you would never know!  The children with ostomies are almost impossible to separate from the children without ostomies, and they do not seem limited in their daily activities. Regardless, having an ostomy can be extremely traumatic no matter how old you are.  It can have both social and mental repercussions (especially when living with an ostomy at a young age). Two years ago, I had a 14-year-old camper with an ostomy. For privacy reasons, let’s call her Sarah.  Sarah claimed that she didn’t remember life without an ostomy (she had the surgery to create it when she was five).  I knew that Sarah’s ostomy set her apart from the rest of the campers.  In an effort to make her more comfortable and to educate the campers on ostomies, I suggested that the bunk decorate Sarah’s ostomy bags with permanent markers. Needless to say, the activity was a hit. Here is a picture of some of the creations.

Decorated Ostomy Bags

Sarah continues to be an inspiration to me. Living with her for a week was the closest I ever was to an ostomy.  While having an ostomy is never a preferred choice of IBD management, it does work for many people.  Individuals with ostomies like Sarah swim, go to school, run races, achieve, live life to its fullest, and even celebrate Thanksgiving.  Just like me, they have a lot to be thankful for.

Here is how to survive Thanksgiving if you have an ostomy:

  • Eat in moderation. You know that if you overeat, it won’t be pretty!
  • Eat something small before the meal so that you aren’t tempted to overeat.
  • Identify foods on the table that you can eat and pass on the foods that you know you cannot eat.
  • There will most likely be lots of socializing at the dinner table – this will make it difficult to focus on eating. Regardless, make sure to eat slowly and chew your food really well.
  • Don’t worry about having to empty your pouch and creating an odor in the bathroom. The other attendees will be feasting and using the bathroom as well and your odor will not cause any additional air pollution.
  • If you are concerned about leakage, bring a change of clothes with you. Thanksgiving also provides even more opportunities for food spillage.
  • Make sure to bring all of the ostomy changing supplies you may need. If you are travelling for the holiday, bring double the amount you normally use. Better to be safe than sorry.
  • Be careful with mushrooms. If you do choose to eat them, make sure to cut them into pieces and chew them well. They are a vegetable sponge – they absorb water and become a dangerous blockage culprit.

While I am not hosting Thanksgiving, I will be partaking in a delicious meal. My mother will be doing the cooking and my father will be doing the driving as we schlep all of the food (and my family members!) up to Philadelphia to spend the holiday with my grandmother and some of my cousins.  As you may or may not know, I love to cake decorate. While I am not yet a pro, I am incredibly proud of my work and love to make cakes to make other people happy. While my family will not be enjoying a cake as elaborate as last year’s which took over eight hours to create (see picture above), the holiday will not go by without a Marnina creation.  I will be straying somewhat from the traditional Thanksgiving desserts as the majority of the family I will be catering to falls into the classification of severe chocoholics.  This year’s cake will be chocolate mint! The cake is dairy free and can be made vegan by substituting a few ingredients.  If you are interested in the recipe, feel free to contact us.

Chocolate mint cake with chocolate mint glaze

Wishing everyone a happy and healthy Thanksgiving.  Drop us a comment and let us know how your Thanksgiving is/was and how you survived!

As our friend Damion from the food blog My Cranky Gut recently said, have a great holiday filled with comfy guts!!!!

We also made last minute turkey can never have enough baked goods!


Comments on: "Thanksgiving Survival Guide & CAKE!" (2)

  1. Excellent advice here. Moderation is so crucial to effective Crohnie management! As for the cake… sounds delish! I hope you enjoyed some for us grain-free folks!

  2. wow! great ostomy advice! I guess you learn something new everyday!

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