The weeks leading up to the holidays are filled with shop ‘til you drop days, nights driving around to see light displays, and afternoons curled up on the couch watching Elf for the fifth time in a row (okay, maybe that last one is just me). But for many of us with gastroparesis, when the actual day comes we’re stuck in a weird headspace of joyful holiday cheer and painful grief. We want to enjoy the holiday, but there’s no denying it’s not the same when you can’t partake in one of the biggest parts of the season: eating.
I’ve come up with a little survival guide for any GP warrior struggling to get through Christmas, Hanukah, Kwanza, or any other day they may celebrate this time of year.
- Volunteer to watch the little ones in your family. If your family is anything like mine, there are plenty of children who need watching during meal time. Offer to look after the kids while the parents eat. You’ll be the hero of the day, plus you avoid sitting at the table which may be uncomfortable for you if there’s nothing you can eat.
- Play with the cat or dog in the household if there is one. There is no greater distraction than bonding time with a four-legged friend. Seek out the furry pet in the house and give them a little extra holiday love. Nothing cheers you up more than kisses from a cute puppy or kitty!
- Ask to help prepare the meal or volunteer for clean up duty (if you can tolerate this…it may be mentally hard for some to be in contact with food). This one took me many years to get to, but eventually I started to cook and bake again. Most time the host will be more than willing to take you up on your gracious offer of help in the kitchen. If you participate in the meal somehow, sometimes it makes you feel a part of the celebration, even if you’re not eating.
- Have talking points for meal time so you’re not left out of the fun. This is the best way to prep for a holiday get together. If you’re family is sitting down to eat, it can be hard when you’re the only one without a plate. But if you’re busy engaged in conversation, you can trick your brain into forgetting about GP for just a little while. Ask your cousin about their new job, ask your grandma to tell you an interesting story from her youth, or ask your aunt what’s new in her life.
- Bring crafts to keep busy. Crafts are festive and entertaining. Others may even want to join you. Coloring books are a fan favorite that’s easy to transport and share.
- Organize a game! From board games to card games, there’s tons of different ways to bring the family together in a way that doesn’t involve food. I highly recommend Banana Grams, Apples to Apples, and Pictionary, if you’re looking for ideas. If you really want to be in the holiday spirit and have some time to plan before hand, organize the Present Game. This game is simple: ask everyone in your family to bring a present worth $5 and wrap it in a way that disguises what it is. Everyone picks numbers out of a hat and starting with number 1, pick a present out of the bunch and open it. Number 2 can now steal number 1’s present or pick their own. The game continues until the last present is picked!
- Bring a tummy safe food if you have one. This is probably a no-brainer, but if you’re not sure if there will be anything you can eat (if you can tolerate anything orally to begin with) make sure to pack your safe food with you. Even better, make a dish you can tolerate and bring enough to share with the whole family!
- Ask your family to fore-go the traditional sit-down dinner and set the meal up buffet style instead. If everyone is eating in various places and engaged in different conversations, it’s much easier for you to feel a little more included. Plus, you don’t have to stare at the food while everyone eats around the table for a solid hour. My family personally adopted this tip when I was diagnosed with gastroparesis and it has helped a ton.
- Suggest your family spends the holiday handing out cards and toys to those stuck in the hospital. What better way to celebrate than to bring joy to others? You know how terrible it feels to be in the hospital and if you’re not admitted during the holidays make it a point to cheer up those who aren’t as lucky. If this is a little too outside the box for your family, maybe ask to do this after the family get together. You can spend meal time writing out cards or wrapping toys in preparation. It’ll bring the true meaning of the holiday not only to you, but to those you’re visiting.
Happy Holidays! May it be filled with love, peace, and good (ish) health.