While holiday dinners are a time to celebrate, they can also be challenging. You might have a mix of feelings when thinking about the holidays, and living with ulcerative colitis (UC) can make things even more complicated.

Food is not the cause of UC, but it can play a part in managing or causing a flare. And in group settings that involve shared meals, it can be tough to figure out what to eat. Some holiday dishes may cause or worsen digestive troubles.

There’s no one way to eat that works for everyone, but some foods are more likely to cause digestive symptoms for someone with UC, and other foods can be easier to digest and tolerate.

There’s no single diet for everyone with UC. What you eat during a flare will be very different than the way you eat during remission.

If you’re having a flare, consider being cautious with the following:

  • raw fruits and vegetables, especially those with tough skin or seeds
  • vegetables that are tough or stringy even when cooked, such as bamboo, celery, asparagus, and corn
  • dried fruit
  • high fiber grain products
  • beans, lentils, nuts, and seeds
  • processed meats with skin or casing such as hot dogs or sausages
  • alcohol
  • caffeinated drinks

It’s important to eat slowly and chew your food well. Digestion starts in your mouth, so the better you chew your food, the easier it will be on the rest of your digestive system.

If you’re in remission, you may find that you’re able to eat a variety of foods and don’t need to avoid anything.

The foods that you tolerate are personal to you, too.

If you’re in a flare, you may want to focus on eating foods that are easier to digest. Foods that are low in fiber with softer textures are less work for your digestive system to break down. This may help prevent or reduce symptoms.

Foods that are usually well-tolerated include:

  • turkey, chicken, fish, and seafood
  • eggs
  • tofu, soy beverages
  • smooth nut butters (such as peanut butter, cashew butter, or almond butter)
  • soft, cooked vegetables with the skin and seeds removed
  • soft fruits with the skin and seeds removed
  • low fiber grain products made with refined flour

If you’re not able to eat enough, consider using nutritional supplement drinks. They can add more nutrients and calories to your diet.

Everyone has their own food traditions and favorite foods during the holiday season. In many cases, dishes can be modified to make them more UC-friendly.

Here are some foods and drinks that are more likely to be easier on your digestive system:

  • steamed, roasted, or boiled vegetables instead of salads or raw vegetables
  • meat, turkey, chicken, or fish that’s cooked until soft and easy to chew
  • gravies and sauces on the side, so you can choose the amount that works best for you
  • mashed potatoes or rice-based dishes
  • white bread or rolls, instead of whole wheat or whole grain
  • pureed or broth-based soups without beans or spices
  • cooked fruit or soft fruit, such as melon or bananas
  • nonalcoholic drinks and decaffeinated teas

Holiday meals can be tough to navigate when you don’t have control over meal times or what’s served.

Depending on who’s hosting, you might feel comfortable asking about the menu ahead of time. This way, you’ll know whether there are foods that you’ll be able to enjoy. If the event is with close family members or friends, they should be happy to accommodate you.

Talk with the host ahead of time to discuss your needs, and consider bringing a dish or two to share. It can reduce stress to know there will be some safe options for you, especially if you don’t know the host well or don’t have an understanding of what they typically serve.

Many people with UC feel better with small, frequent meals rather than a few large meals. If this works for you, make sure to eat enough earlier in the day to avoid showing up to the event super-hungry. Pack a small snack in your bag, just in case the meal is delayed.

If the event is somewhere you’ve never been before, take some time to scope things out. Find out where the bathrooms are in case you need one quickly.

If you find holiday events stressful, you’re not alone. You may find that you are more likely to have symptoms when you’re feeling stressed or anxious. Consider learning some strategies to help you cope. Practice deep breathing or grounding techniques. Find a quiet place you can escape to if you’re feeling overwhelmed.

If you’re traveling, make sure to bring extra medications or supplies you may need to manage your UC.

If you’re feeling unsure about the event, the foods being served, or the setting, it’s OK to say no. You can also consider just attending for part of it or skipping the meal.

The holidays can be a busy time. It’s important to prioritize your health and energy and only attend the events that matter to you.

Despite your best efforts, you may end up with symptoms. It’s not your fault. UC can be challenging and unpredictable.

Here are some steps you can take:

  • Have a trusted friend or family member who knows about your UC and is available to help you if needed.
  • Talk with your doctor ahead of time about medications you can take. Antidiarrheal or anti-inflammatory meds can be helpful to keep with you in case you need them.
  • Do your best to drink enough fluids. You’ll feel even worse if you’re dehydrated, which can happen if you’re having a lot of diarrhea.
  • Consider packing extra underwear or pants in case you need them.
  • Keep moist towelettes or wipes with you to use instead of toilet paper, which can be more irritating.

Holiday dinners and events can be tricky to navigate, especially if you have UC. While there’s no single diet for someone with UC, some foods tend to be well-tolerated, while other foods may worsen symptoms.

It may feel daunting to think about going to a holiday dinner when you’re trying to manage your symptoms, but with some planning ahead and communication, it’s still possible to enjoy the celebrations.

Pack some extra supplies and bring a dish to share, if you can. If you feel comfortable, you may want to talk with the host ahead of time about your needs. These steps can help to reduce your stress and enjoy the holiday season.