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How To Stop Ulcerative Colitis Flare-Ups Ruining Your Holiday (And Life!)

Having a morning drink while on holiday
Going on holiday with your mother-in-law is enough to send 98.9% of people in this ulcerative colitis crowd into an almighty flare…
But I’m one of the lucky ones who actually gets on well with the old dear.
There is still one slight issue though: the ridiculous amount of junk food my missus Susan and her mum bring every time we go away for a wee holiday to the caravan.
Anyone with an inflammatory bowel disorder (IBD) like colitis or Crohn’s knows that it’s a special operation when it comes to your food to keep your super sensitive belly in check…
And prevent a volcanic eruption in your intestines.
There are foods that we used to love, but need to avoid to keep things calm.
You know, generally all the best tasting stuff like pizzas, garlic bread with mozzarella, full English breakfasts.
So, in this article, I’m going to cover how to stop ulcerative colitis flare-ups ruining your holiday.

I'll share what works for me, and:
#1 How you can still relax your diet a little bit without worrying about a flare-up. #2 Why starting your morning the right way is super important. #3 Gut inflammation foods to avoid (or at least reduce). #4 Three key nutritional tools that will help prevent any inflammatory gut episodes.

Strike The Balance And Keep Gut Inflammation Levels Low

I’ve found that preventing ulcerative colitis flare-ups is all about striking balance.
Yes, it IS entirely possible for you and me to enjoy ourselves on holiday without stressing about our guts going rogue.
It IS possible to eat good food, drink some alcohol, have the dessert you wouldn’t normally have at home…
Without being curled up in bed afterwards with stabbing stomach pains.
I’ve found that I can relax my diet as long as I remain mindful of what types of foods and drinks are inflammatory, and take some proactive steps to bring that inflammation back down.

My Worst-Ever Colitis Flare-Up

The worst flare I’ve ever experienced was on holiday in Canada in September 2018.
I didn’t have my mesalazine medication with me (super smart move, eh).
Because my digestive health had been in good shape for about nine months beforehand, and I was feeling stress-free on holiday, I thought I’d get away with it.
My cousin would bring in these massive ‘double-double’ coffees from Tim Horton’s every morning. Double cream. Double sugar.
“It’s cool for now, I’m on holiday, …” I told myself each time I drank the super sweet coffee or sank my teeth into a donut.
I’d still be going to the gym most days, but afterwards I’d be eating peanut butter protein bars which were loaded with sugar and who-knows-what-else.
“It’s cool gym-bro, we’re on holiday…” I’d be saying to myself.
We’d have a barbecue dinner most nights, and my cousin would hand me a bottle of beer or two while he was cooking up the burgers and ribs.
I rarely drink alcohol, but I had this really good excuse… “I’m on my holidayssssssss!”

I now know the importance of not going bananas on holiday, and striking that balance between letting your hair down and actually giving your digestive system some TLC daily too.

On day 10 of that two-week trip to Canada I had the flare-up to end all flare-ups. Worst I’ve ever had in my life.

The Bleeding Was Back

Sharp stabbing pains in my stomach, coming in waves.
Holding my face in my palms as I’m sitting on the toilet pan and blood is appearing in the bowl.
Feeling so annoyed with myself that I got so complacent and bombarded my body with so much garbage – just because I’d been in remission for nine months and was “on holiday”.
VERY harsh lesson learned.
I’ve now been in remission for over five years and, thanks to many lifestyle changes and natural health methods. I’ve also been medication free that whole time.
But I now know the importance of not going bananas on holiday, and striking that balance between letting your hair down and actually giving your digestive system some TLC daily too.
If you do this, you can have the best of both worlds: an enjoyable holiday – and zero flare-ups.

Start Your Morning Right Each Day

The first step in my flare-up free approach is to start your morning the right way each day. And there are two parts to this:

#1 Cleansing your digestive tract.

I believe it’s crucial to begin each day by cleansing your intestinal tract.
Just like you shower, brush your teeth, and keep yourself fresh on the outside, same goes for the internal environment.
People with ulcerative colitis have a harder time digesting certain foods compared to the average person.
There can often be undigested food particles, rotting proteins, or rancid fats in the digestive tract from the previous day’s meals.
By drinking a pint of lemon water at the start of each day, you can effectively cleanse the digestive tract.
Lemons have anti-bacterial and anti-viral properties, which can help mop up bugs and cleanse your gut.
It also has a flushing effect to kickstart a bowel movement, as well as vitamin C, which supports the immune system (and also helps in the repair of damaged gut lining).
And of course, we’re usually dehydrated in the morning (especially if you’ve had a drink or three on holiday the night before), therefore this pint of lemon water will rehydrate your system.
It’s this simple: a pint of water (preferably filtered or bottled spring water, NOT tap water) + the juice of half a lemon (or a full lemon if you prefer a stronger taste).

#2 Giving your gut some extra breathing space.

This means delaying your breakfast an extra 2-3 hours so that your gut can have some additional time to rest and recalibrate.
Too often – especially on holiday – we get stuck into a heavy breakfast at like 8am or 9am.
Things like crispy bacon, eggs, and sausages early in the day give your digestive system so much work to do…and fire up inflammation before you’ve even reached midday.
Here’s a very effective approach that works so well for me: delaying your first meal until around 10am or 11am, and also making it lighter than your other meals later in the day.
Firstly, your body has been working hard through the night to repair and restore cells throughout the body, including the digestive system. This process naturally brings down inflammation.
But you can build upon this – and bring down inflammation even further in the gut – by being kind to your belly and giving it some additional time off.
Eat your first meal of the day later. Make it something light like a healthy smoothie, or something like oats with blueberries and honey.
Save the heavier foods, such as meats, till lunchtime and dinner time. Your gut will thank you for it.

Gut Inflammation Foods To Avoid (Or At Least Reduce)

I’ve heard quite a few people with gut issues, including ulcerative colitis, say that their symptoms unexpectedly ease off when they’re on holiday.

I think this is entirely down to the gut/brain connection.

We’re far more relaxed when we’re out of the country, when we don’t have to stress about work, or deal with any daily chores we normally deal with.
This means better digestion and a bit of leeway when it comes to your diet.
However, based on my previous experience in Canada, I still try to be sensible and rein it in when it comes to foods that can trigger an ulcerative colitis flare-up (if you go overboard with them on consecutive days).
So, here are the gut inflammation foods that I try to reduce as much as possible:

The ‘bready’ stuff

White bread, brown bread, baguettes, rolls – all of these products are made with wheat flour; and therefore loaded with gluten.
If you can pack gluten-free options with you, or find some on holiday, then you’re all good.
I’ll give you the perfect example, when I eat things that contain gluten, such as garlic bread or pizza, I’ll always find afterwards is that it’s not just gut issues that I experience.

The ‘sugary’ stuff

Fizzy drinks like Coke, lemonade, Fanta…all of these so acidic, loaded with sugar or sweeteners, and are bad news for your gut and overall health.
There’s always a better option like fresh orange juice, freshly-squeezed apple or tropical juice drinks, or good old H20.
Others may experience a sore throat, or develop skin issues hours or a day after eating foods containing gluten.

The ‘boozy’ stuff

Now I’m not saying that people with ulcerative colitis shouldn’t have a drink or three on holiday…no need for a mini stroke! Of course, you’re there to enjoy yourself.
BUT…I personally always limit how much I drink and usually have some booze every second day.
This is a tactic which works well for me in keeping the gut happy.

How To Prevent Colitis Flare-Ups: Three Key Nutritional Tools That Help

I’ve heard it said numerous times that it doesn’t matter what food you eat when you have an inflammatory bowel disorder.
There’s this idea that you can stockpile in any old garbage and you’ll be fine – as long as you’re taking your medication.
This advice sometimes comes from medical professionals too…and it’s utter nonsense.
You might live for your warm hit of caffeine in the morning.
The food we eat on a daily basis affects us in so many ways, from our mood and our energy levels to our concentration levels and how well your immune system functions.
There are three super healthy, nutritional drinks that I love to guzzle when I’m on holidays:

#1 Lemon Water

Every morning. Without fail.
As we covered earlier, lemon water is cleansing, gets you well hydrated, and has added vitamins and minerals to give your system a boost.

#2 Pint Of Celery Juice

Yep, I drink a pint of celery juice – not for my whole trip – but maybe for the half the duration of my holiday.
Celery juice is alkaline, so it helps combat the acidity of alcohol and other things like desserts you might have indulged in the night before.
It also has antiviral and antibacterial properties to fight against bugs and keep your belly in check.
Additionally, It’s really soothing to inflamed intestines.
I could be here all day talking about the benefits of celery juice, but I go into much more detail about it in my book, ‘More Than A Gut Feeling’.
It’s pretty much impossible to find celery juice anywhere on holiday, so I actually pack my juicer in case and just buy fresh packs of celery from the supermarket.

#3 Kefir Probiotics Drink

Consuming probiotics is a smart move for anyone with ulcerative colitis as it’ll help to balance the gut microbiome and contribute to health digestion.
There are various options such as kombucha, probiotic capsules, and even things like unflavoured Greek yoghurt.
For me personally, goat’s milk kefir is the top dog. This previous article delves into the many amazing reasons why should drink the stuff.
Word of warning: go easy on goat’s milk kefir because it’s strong.
Even just 100ml, or a couple of tablespoons worth, will do the job in adding more good gut bacteria to your system and crowding out the bad guys which can often proliferate due to things like stress and poor diet.
Okay, time to wrap up.
If I don’t get a postcard from you on your next holiday, we’re going to be having some serious words!
Marc McLean

Marc McLean

Marc McLean is a 41-year-old health coach, journalist, and author based in Dumbarton, Scotland. He is the founder of Mission: Colitis Remission, is host of the podcast by the same name, and has been in clinical remission of ulcerative colitis since 2018.

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