With a little preparation, you can joyfully celebrate in a way that works for you.

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There is a chill in the air, Mariah Carey is on the radio, and Starbucks holiday cups are out in full force. The holidays are upon us and many people are celebrating together for the first time in a while.

I can feel the excitement in the air, with a lingering sense of hesitation over gathering in large groups while the COVID-19 pandemic is still present.

Whether it’s avoiding trigger foods or dealing with fatigue, having inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) makes it tricky enough to navigate social environments, like holiday parties. Add in pandemic-induced social anxiety, and we have a very challenging situation on our hands.

Maybe it’s the eternal optimist in me, or the little kid in me who absolutely loves Christmas, but I believe that you can still have an amazing time celebrating the holidays with your loved ones — with just a little preparation.

Eating a meal before you attend a holiday party is a great idea for two reasons:

  • It gives you reassurance that you won’t go hungry in case you can’t eat the food provided due to your dietary restrictions.
  • You won’t be tempted to consume food you shouldn’t because you won’t show up hungry.

If it turns out the host does have food that you are able to eat, it’s a pleasant surprise.

This is another fantastic way to navigate holiday party food. Why not offer to bring a dish that you know you are able to eat?

I do this every holiday season, and I always feel so comfortable knowing that I have at least one or two treats that are safe for me.

Plus, I am sure the host will be grateful for your help preparing food.

Reach out to the host and ask any questions you have about the party. For example: Will everyone there be vaccinated? What kind of foods are you serving? Will we be indoors or outdoors?

This is a wonderful way to kindly ask for any accommodations you may need in order to feel at ease at the event.

Write down a list of questions before your call so you don’t forget anything in the moment.

This is a big one! Make sure you rest for at least a few hours before the event.

If you experience fatigue, this is important so that you can have enough energy to enjoy the party.

If you’re attending the event with someone else, decide on a time to leave the event before you enter the party.

Creating an exit plan sets the expectation for how long you intend to stay.

The holidays are a prime time for lots of questions from well-meaning loved ones.

To avoid frustration or not knowing what to say, I recommend predicting the health-related questions you will be asked by friends and relatives. Then, prepare a short and succinct answer to each one.

This way, your loved ones get a peek into what’s going on in your life, and you don’t have to spend your energy explaining your medical history.

This seems like a no-brainer, but don’t discount the power of feeling amazing. When getting dressed for a holiday party, I recommend choosing an outfit that makes you feel both comfortable and like a million bucks.

You will always be more at ease at a social gathering when you feel as comfortable as possible.

Above all, be present during the holiday party. These parties only happen once a year, so have fun with it! Meet someone new, listen to stories from your relatives, laugh at your friends’ jokes, open a present or two.

It has been a while since we’ve been able to enjoy the holidays with loved ones, so I encourage you to do just that.

Navigating holiday party season with IBD can feel stressful, but it doesn’t have to be. With a little preparation, you can joyfully celebrate in a way that works for you.

Holly Fowler is a Certified Health Coach and personal trainer in Los Angeles. She loves hiking, spending time at the beach, trying the latest gluten-free hot spot in town, and working out as much as her ulcerative colitis allows. When she isn’t seeking out gluten-free vegan dessert, you can find her working behind the scenes of her website and Instagram, or curled up on the couch bingeing the latest true-crime documentary on Netflix.