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Ep.5 Holidays with IBS – avoid the dreaded beach bloat
19 Jun, 2023

Episode Intro

Do you new dream of going on holiday without panicking about your IBS. Perhaps you've got memories of being stuck in a hotel bathroom just glued to the toilet, or you can just remember stressing out about what to eat when you're out and about that won't make you look pregnant. These things put people off going on holiday sometimes. Perhaps you need a break from your digestive discomfort, but it just comes with you wherever you travel. And it could be that you are too scared to go on holiday because you're so worried about the traveling aspect. Maybe you don't know how to tackle flying or long train journeys. In this episode of The Inside Knowledge, you will find out.

Podcast transcript

Traveling with IBS can make people really scared and going on holiday can also be quite stressful. So this week I’m gonna talk about what you can do to prepare before you go on holiday and what you can do when you’re there.

You’ll learn about

  • What to prepare before you go away on holiday
  • how to reduce the risk of bloating when you’re flying,
  • key things to take with you
  • How to keep regular bowel movements when you’re away
  • what kind of foods to choose when eating out in holiday restaurants

Preparing for a holiday with IBS

Let’s start with thinking about the traveling. There’s various ways we get on holiday. Sometimes it’s with a long car journey, sometimes you’re flying. And either one of those can be challenging for a number of different reasons.

One of the common things I would say is to try to take a stash of your own favorite IBS friendly foods.

So before you even go when you are packing, try and think about what works for you when you are in a flareup, and is it possible to take that on holiday with you? Now the other thing you can do when you are preparing to go, before you’ve even left the house is just thinking about what you will need to explain to people about your IBS.

Essential lingo

For example, do you need to know the word for toilet in the local language where you’re going? Maybe you need to be able to clearly explain that you cannot eat onions. Obviously nowadays we’ve got Google Translate and that’s so helpful. But maybe you want to just know the word for onion, because also maybe you don’t have internet access where you’re going. Or the reception’s really poor or something.

So particularly if things like onions and garlic are a real trigger for you. And you definitely don’t want to be exposed to them, just make sure you’ve looked it up. And just look at the typical cuisine in the place that you are going to.

Obviously, if they speak the same language as you, that is no problem at all, but I think there’s just no harm in being prepared.

Preparing to travel with IBS

Now let’s think about actually traveling. In the lead up to packing and all of that, getting ready to go, it can be quite stressful. I know, especially if you’ve got kids and you’ve got to pack, and remember everyone’s stuff. A pretty challenging time, and you feel like you definitely need a holiday by the time you get there.

But some of the things in terms of diet that I would suggest you do is maybe consider going onto a low FODMAP diet for one to two days before you travel.

This is particularly if you are someone who gets a lot of bloating a lot of diarrhoea and like fast reactions to foods. And if you are flying.

The reason for going into a low fermentable diet for a few days is just to try to reduce the amount of gas that will be in your digestive system when you get on that plane. Or when you sit in that car for six hours or whatever it is you’re doing to get to your destination. By reducing down some of the fermentable carbs, you are reducing down the amount of activity that your gut bacteria will be doing. So hopefully reducing down the amount of bloating. Particularly we are thinking about flying, that is really key.

The travelling bloating

And the reason is because as you travel, in the sky, you tend to expand with the air that’s inside you. That can lead you feeling really sensitive and really upset your digestion. For longer perhaps, than someone who doesn’t have IBS.

It can be really normal to feel bloated when you’re going flying. Most people do. But for people with IBS, the consequences of that could be longer lasting. And also, I think going back to episode four, which I did last week. You wanna think about what that cascade of thoughts is starting in your head when you feel, “oh, I’m getting an IBS flare up. It’s starting.” What is that doing inside your brain?

Pre-travel pep talk to your IBS

Are there some things that you can do to kind of calm, talk yourself down whilst you’re on the plane to really stay as calm as possible. And actually on the subject of stress. I would say, is there any way that you can try and build a little bit of calm into your day in the week leading up to your trip?

Maybe you can spend 10 to 15 minutes doing some relaxation, doing some yoga, doing something that just really helps to calm you down.

Because if you can access that kind of calm when you are traveling, it’s much easier to be resilient. It’s a practice it, you need to practice being calm. It’s not something that always comes naturally.

And I know a lot of people who have IBS have ongoing mental health challenges as well, like anxiety conditions and low mood.

These kind of worries can be particularly challenging really. What we want to try and do is to be able to access that calmness and we need to practice it in the run up to your holiday.

Pre-travelling with IBS checklist

Just to summarize this little section in terms of preparing to go, what you could do is

  • Aim to reduce as much stress as possible. Build in a little bit of calm, it’s part of your preparation for traveling. 
  • In terms of diet try to reduce down the fermentable carbohydrates. Now if you haven’t heard of the low FODMAP diet are in common things such as wheat, avocado, tomatoes, chickpeas, onions, and garlic fruits like apples. They’re in lots of healthy common foods that we eat all the time, like mushrooms, cauliflower. I’m not saying you should avoid these longer term, but just in the run up to your holiday. Perhaps you can find a way to reduce them down if you want any help with that, I have got a seven day recipe plan for ideas of how to eat on a low FODMAP map diet on my website.
  • Just lastly, in terms of diet you could also think about reducing down alcohol, caffeine, spicy foods, you know, those common gut irritants in the lead up to your holiday. So perhaps just before you go on holiday, don’t have a takeaway. Don’t go out for a meal and drink a bottle of wine, anything like that, because that can make things worse. And if you have to sit in the car for six hours, you don’t want a more sensitive digestion than you could you would’ve had before.

Supplements for IBS

Now I wanna talk a little bit about some supplements and some things that you can get from a pharmacy to support your journey. A couple of things you can get over the counter, which are easy to take and may help you to reduce bloating.

Peppermint capsules

One would be peppermint capsules. These need to be enterically coated, which means they have a special coating on the capsule and it doesn’t dissolve in your stomach. It is only meant to dissolve when it gets to a more alkaline environment in your small intestine that the stomach is very acidic and it shouldn’t release its essential oils into your stomach.

It should only do that in your intestines. And it can help with cramps and it can help with gas by just dispersing some of the big bubbles. It’s fine to take these ad hoc. I would say maybe think about taking them on holiday with you as well. I’m going to come to some other things generally to take on holiday, but peppermint oil capsules can be particularly helpful.

Saccharomyces Boullardii

There is also something called saccharomyces boullardii. It is a beneficial yeast. Sometimes it’s called a traveller’s probiotic. You can take it in a preventative way against getting stomach infections. Sometimes people will take it in advance of going to countries where they know the water could be contaminated with bugs and pathogens that may upset your stomach.

If you’re going to a country where you are not quite sure about the water and or whether there are any infections, it might be something that you could consider. Now, obviously, I don’t know you and your medical history and I don’t know whether it’s suitable for you. But saccharomyces boullardii may be an option.

Talk it through with a nutritionist or a doctor first.

Eating on the go with IBS

Whilst you are actually on the go, on the move I would suggest taking some snacks with you that you know are definitely safe foods that will keep you going. If you can’t see anything that you know that you’ll be able to eat. Perhaps if you are only relying on service stations by the side of the road or in an airport you may find it quite tricky to find suitable foods.

Things that are well tolerated would be certain fruits, like maybe you wanna take a little pot of berries with you, like blueberries. And things also like eggs or meat. So protein that can be useful when you’re traveling. Often the only things on sale would be like a sandwich, which may be quite a lot of wheat, which is rapidly fermentable, or maybe things like pastries and pasties.

And these can have higher concentration of fats, which could either slow down your gut transit time or potentially speed it up. And then the other things like crisps and chocolate bars and stuff. Which again, aren’t always great if you’re going to be sitting down traveling for a long time.

Stay well hydrated

You also really want to make sure that you are well hydrated making sure that you take some water with you. Definitely key. I know when you’re flying, sometimes you can’t take water through the gate. What I’d suggest is that you just take some tea bags and then ask for some hot water if you can when you get through the other side.

Or just refill your water bottle with cold water. But on that point, teas can sometimes help to ease the pain of IBS flareups in terms of bloating and gas ginger tea is really good and it’s really helpful if you also feel a bit sick. (Read more about tea for IBS)

Peppermint tea can be quite soothing and also can really help with gas and bloating, but also other teas like fennel can be useful for ibs.

Maybe thinking about whether you’ll have access to hot water and whether you can just take some tea bags with you.

Stay comfortable

The other like non-food related things that you can do whilst you’re traveling that can help you with your bloating would be to avoid wearing tight clothing. You probably already know that really tight waistbands or tight bras can sometimes restrict your digestion and cause an IBS flare up. It’s been documented that that is bad for IBS.

So definitely wear something comfy.

Use your breath to calm down whilst travelling

Also, you can think about breathing. If you are not the one doing the driving And I presume you’re not, not the one flying the plane, you’ll have a little bit of time to sit and do some breathing. Exhaling helps our body get out of a fight or flight mode, and it is super stressful sometimes traveling.

Think about where you can reduce feelings of anxiety through like that long, slow exhalation that I talked about in episode four. Try to move around as much as possible. If you’re on a long flight, get up, walk about wherever you can, see if you can sit by the aisle to make that a little bit easier so you can just at least stand up and get things moving.

Or if you are driving, like can you get out and have a little walk around as soon as the car stops? Like make sure you have a quick walk. 

Managing IBS on holiday

Whilst you are actually there now, we’ve done the traveling bit, what happens when you get on holiday? It can be really tempting to just really immerse yourself in where you’re going.

Eat all the foods, have lots of wine, you know, just really enjoy your holiday and to be fair, there’s no harm in doing that because with IBS. You’re not permanently damaging your digestion by getting an IBS flareup. It’s unlike something like coeliac disease where you really do have to be super careful about any exposure to gluten with IBS and your trigger foods.

Risking a flare up may be worth it

If you eat them, what will happen is you might feel a bit rubbish the next day. It’s not gonna permanently damage you. So to some extent you can choose to do that. You can choose to eat all the foods and feel a bit bloated. Or maybe have some diarrhoea the next day and it’s not gonna harm you.

However, it’s not very pleasant. And if you want to avoid those kind of flareups, let’s talk now about what to do whilst you are actually there. I think trying to keep as much of a routine as possible will really, really help.

Where you can like try to be as active as possible, try and make time for a walk every day, and actually getting out and doing a bit of movement and moving our body can help to get better sleep.

Sleep on holiday can affect IBS

Not everyone sleeps very well whilst they’re away from home, especially at the beginning, and so movement can be really helpful to tire your body out as well. A little bit of movement in order to get better sleep, try to take an eye mask with you and some earplugs. That might help you just to get a deeper sleep.

Depending on where you’re staying, it might be noisy and those different noises and temperature and everything can just really mess with your digestion.

And if you’re gonna be drinking (alcohol) on holiday which a lot of people do. Just maybe think about, can you have alternate days off just to help your body and your digestion recover?

Is there a way you can drink a bit less? To allow yourself to feel good the next day whilst you’re there as well, you may find you get more constipated.

Laxatives for holiday constipation

And I would suggest taking some laxatives that you know, work for you because there’s nothing worse than feeling like you want to go, but you can’t go and not having access to the things that you know work for you.

So I would say take some laxatives with you. And it could be a variety of different laxatives. Sometimes they are osmotic ones, which means they draw water into the gut. Sometimes it’s a stimulant laxative that is gonna encourage your bowels to contract and go. And the other type is a fiber contributing one.

So something that’s gonna add bulk to the stool. Choose the one that you know works for you and make sure you’ve got them with you.

Constipation may be worse in the heat

Actually constipation in itself can be a problem due to the heat. As you know, when we are really hot, we sweat a lot.

And this can make you lose a lot of water. And when we don’t have enough water in our digestive system, we just don’t produce enough stomach acid, digestive juices. But also your body is going to slow down digestion in order to absorb more water from the stool that’s sitting in your large intestine. So it could potentially cause some slower transit time, constipation if you’re not drinking enough water.

Could a holiday diet contribute to IBS symptoms? 

The other thing is we generally tend to change our diet when we are on holiday. Maybe you are eating different foods. This can sometimes lead to bloating by inadvertently eating foods that you wouldn’t normally eat at home. Which can be rapidly fermented by gut bacteria and cause bloating.

This might be higher levels of garlic. Could be eating more chips than you would normally eat, more saturated fats. These, or the change in your diet whilst you are in a hot country can sometimes affect the way your digestion works.

Keep moving on holiday to reduce IBS symptoms

Also, if you are lazing by the pool and relaxing on the beach, maybe you’re not doing your normal like 7,000 steps that you’d normally do. Or you’re not getting your trips to the gym in. You’re just generally more sedentary.

And this in itself can also lead to constipation. It can lead to a slowing down of your transit time or a build up of gas. Because as we are moving, often the gas is released. So you might find as you move more. This is why I said try and go for at least a little walk every day, if you can. Try and fit in some yoga in your room on holiday.

Just a little bit of movement can really help to reduce some of the buildup of these problems.

Don’t confuse holiday diarrhoea for heat stroke

If you are someone who gets a lot of diarrhoea when you are on holiday and it’s very hot weather, you need to be careful that the diarrhoea from your IBS isn’t being confused with heat exhaustion.

When you are very, very hot and you overheat sometimes you will vomit or have diarrhea, and this can be a sign of getting overly hot. So do make sure that it is, an IBS type of diarrhea rather than you’ve like ‘over-sunned’ yourself.

Other symptoms that you would look for would be things like aches and pains, maybe headaches, or excess sweating.

This would probably require medical attention just to make sure you get checked out and that you are okay.

Electrolytes on holiday

One of the other things that you might want to take with you is some electrolyte sachets, so something that is gonna provide electrolytes. If you do happen to get a bout of diarrhoea, and these can be really helpful. If you have drunk a little bit too much sangria on the beach just replenishing some of your electrolytes can help you to feel a little bit less hungover as well.

What to eat on holiday with IBS

So the very last section for today is just gonna talk about what kinds of foods to try and choose if you are eating out on holiday. Normally I say try to pick plain foods that are separate so you have a piece of meat and fish or something like that. Some chips or potatoes and some vegetables. This is easier to avoid high fermentable foods such as onion and garlic and maybe, we don’t know what’s in the sauces.

As I said at the beginning, if you choose to eat, a curry. Or a delicious tagine or something that’s got lots of different herbs and spices and all kinds of vegetables in it. It’s fine, not going to be a problem. It’s just that you may potentially get higher levels of bloating because of the different foods that you might be sensitive to.

If you don’t know what your triggers are, you could be encountering them, if you don’t know the full extent of your meal.

I will be doing a future episode on FODMAP diets and the different things to look out for included in that. Something I take my clients through is how to eat out when you’re on the low FODMAP diet.

Fingers crossed for safe travels

I hope that you go on holiday this summer and you get a break from your IBS.

When I asked on my Instagram account if anyone had any questions about going on holiday with IBS somebody said they actually find it helps them when they’re away. They feel better.

Although I’ve really concentrated on the negative consequences of traveling and being away from home, some people really find that their digestion gets a lot better when they are on holiday. That could be down to reduced stress levels. Maybe you are relaxing more and you’re just taking more time out rather than being completely on the go. Or you are relaxing around meal times and sitting, enjoying candle lit meals with your partner.

Whatever it is there could be. Try to think about what those changes might be.

If you get back from your holiday this summer and you feel like, “oh my God, that was a disaster. I do need some help.”

Then I’m starting a group course, and I would love to hear from you if you’re interested in taking part in it.

It’s mostly focused on people who’ve got IBS C (constipation predominant symptoms). It’s going to be everything that you get in my one-to-one sessions to work with me around your diet, your lifestyle changes. And I give you recipes. I’ll advise you on supplements. Also we’ll have lots of group coaching sessions where we really dig into looking at people’s diets. Answering your questions, making sure you’ve got everything you need to tackle your IBS.

There’s a link in the show notes if you wanna join the wait list because it doesn’t start till September, 2023. And it’s gonna be an ongoing enrollment so you can join at any time. That’s it for today then. So next topics coming up. We’ve got a couple of really good ones. I’m gonna be talking about tracking your IBS soon.

That’s coming up soon. Also gonna be focusing on vegetarian IBS diets and hormones, so periods menopause and IBS. But that’s it for today.

I will see you next week.

So do let me know if you want to be considered for that programme and you can sign up to join the waiting list. See the course – https://www.goodnessme-nutrition.com/group-course-ibsc/ 

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