For some time now I have been supporting the nutritional and health needs of ostomates, firstly via consultations in my local area in Melbourne, Australia, and then through travelling to...
Christmas can be a wonderful time with lots of fun, festivities and joy. It can be an opportunity to spend time with family, catch up with friends you haven’t seen for a while, and enjoy all the special activities on offer at this time of the year. Christmas can also be a hectic time with added pressure and stress that can be both physical and mental. It may be a period when you are engaging in more social outings than usual, consuming foods that are not part of your ‘normal’ diet, and you are out of your habitual routine. As an ostomate, it is therefore important that you are aware of the extra demands and needs of your body during this time, and take extra care to look after yourself so that you can avoid any potential pitfalls and fully enjoy all the special opportunities that are available.
Many people have stomal surgery and return to full health and capability, which is a blessing. Others, however, may have ongoing issues that result in lower energy levels and a reduced capacity to cope with normal daily activities. The increased number of social opportunities and tasks to attend to during the lead up to Christmas can create added physical pressure that can be taxing for individuals who function at a sub-optimal level on a normal day. It is therefore important to manage these commitments so as not to create too much added physical strain.
Christmas shopping can be enjoyable or daunting, depending on individual circumstances. Parking can be an issue, so there may be a need to walk longer distances than usual to access shops, and there may be a need to visit multiple retail outlets to purchase all the desired items. Shopping centres can be dry, distracting environments in which you can forget your physical state and that you haven’t eaten or drunk anything for hours. Long spells of Christmas shopping can lead to dehydration and exhaustion, so schedule rest stops and breaks whilst buying your gifts, and make sure you have adequate snacks and drinks on hand to keep you fuelled up and hydrated. You may be surprised at how much more easily you cope with the hustle and bustle of Christmas shopping when you are adequately rested and refreshed with food and fluid. Online shopping can also be a viable alternative to consider if physical capacity is limited as it is much less debilitating.
The increased number of social invitations can quickly fill up the diary at Christmas time, but be mindful of not overcommitting as this can make social outings taxing and unpleasant rather than festive and enjoyable. There will be some scheduled gatherings that you will have no control over, but for others that you are arranging with friends and family, make an effort to spread them out so that you are as refreshed as possible for each occasion. If the weeks leading up to Christmas are becoming too frantic and you feel you cannot manage another outing, then suggest catching up after all the festivities are over when you will have more time and energy. Keeping to your normal routine and getting a good night’s sleep as often as possible can be very beneficial and help you cope with the stress of all the extra activity.
In Australia the Christmas period occurs during Summer, a season that can create its own challenges for ostomates due to the hot climate. I have previously written about the importance of hydration for ostomates, especially during warmer weather, and this issue can be compounded when combined with lots of Christmas cheer. The festive occasions that occur around Christmas may or may not include alcohol, but if they do it is important to remember that alcohol is a potent diuretic and as such can be dehydrating. Fluid is lost from the body with each alcoholic beverage and therefore must be replaced frequently and adequately with water or other hydrating fluids to reduce the risk of lingering consequences. This factor is important for urostomates to consider as well as ileostomates and colostomates, as those with a urostomy need adequate fluid to reduce the risk of urinary tract infections (UTIs). Alternating each alcoholic beverage with a glass of water can help to replace fluids and prevent dehydration.
There is no doubt that there is an amazing array of tasty, enticing food on offer at Christmas time. Whilst being an opportunity to indulge in delectable treats not always on offer at other times of the year, there can be some issues with festive foods that are important to consider. Many Christmas treats contain nuts, dried fruit and coconut. Whilst the combination of these foods tastes great, it may lead to an increased risk of a blockage for ileostomates and colostomates, especially if eaten all together and in large quantities. If choosing to indulge in these treats, my advice is to eat only a small amount and chew the food really well. Drinking adequate fluids also helps to reduce the level of risk.
There can be a tendency to consume a lot more sugary foods than normal at Christmas, which may lead to unwanted weight gain for many ostomates. Increased sugar intake may also create an additional risk of urinary tract infections (UTIs) in urostomates with diabetic complications in particular. Christmas without sweet treats can be rather miserable, so my advice is to eat any sweet foods slowly and savour the taste so you are happy with a small quantity and don’t feel that you are missing out.
Many Christmas foods also contain a higher level of fat, and this may also cause concern for some ostomates. The crackling on roast pork and the sauce on plum pudding, for example, may lead to higher output for ileostomates and colostomates in particular, especially if they are eaten in large quantities and fat malabsorption or lactose intolerance are an issue. Keeping portion sizes moderate can help to reduce potential problems.
There is no doubt that Christmas can be a time of great joy and happiness. It can also be a time of frantic activity and extra challenges. Make every effort to look after your health during this special time so you can enjoy all the wonderful opportunities. Maintain your routine as much as possible, keep yourself hydrated, reduce portion sizes to avoid potential complications, and focus on the fun and fellowship that is around you at this time of year. And then when the New Year comes around, take some time to give yourself the gift of rest and relaxation to allow you to recuperate and regain your energy. You can then start the year with the best health possible.
Wishing you a wonderful Christmas and a healthy and happy New Year!