Is the thought of a Christmas feast stressing you out? Well here are a few tips and tricks to help you through the party season.

There are many challenges to be faced during this festive season from catching up with work colleagues and friends for celebratory drinks, nibbling on finger food and frantically running all over town to find the perfect gifts.

MCN XMAS TreeThis all makes for a month of and following a normal diet can feel almost impossible.

Reaching for takeaway and the munchies becomes increasingly easier but can leave many with symptoms and zero energy for meeting deadlines and enjoying this time of year.

This inevitably leads to the “I’ll be good after Christmas” and the New Year’s resolutions to be “healthier”.

The best way to avoid the symptoms, adding weight and/or need for resolutions is to form some habits that will not only help you through the holiday period but will set you up for a better start to 2017.

You can start now by following these top 5 tips for maintaining a healthier festive period.


You may have heard the saying that breakfast is the most important meal of the day however from a number of published research articles the breakfast meal itself may not be what’s important but rather the behaviours that breakfast encourages.

When skipping breakfast people tent to get hungry quicker in the day and may then compensate for this missed meal by eating a larger meal for lunch or increases the likelihood of snacking which may then lead to the creeping up of weight or even worst IBS symptoms due to eating the first thing your hands can reach.

salad or vegetable MCN

Studies have shown that having breakfast can kick start your metabolism with the body burning 10% of the energy that you consume and if your breakfast includes a protein this goes up to 15%.

This diet induced thermogenesis (DIT) slows down throughout the day so you can make the most of it at breakfast time.

Another breakfast bonus is that studies have shown that those people who regularly eat breakfast also tends to be more active in the morning and therefore could burn more energy. Now that’s just what you want during this busy time.


This may be a daunting thought for some people with IBS but carbohydrates play a very important role in providing energy and fibre to your diet. Having said that, choose your carbohydrates very carefully.

Try opting for a “healthier carbohydrate” option when choosing your bread, grains, seeds or pasta. The grainier you can go the better to sustain your energy level for longer. Go for something with a low GI (glycaemic index).

The more refined a food is (eg. biscuits, cakes, chips or white bread) the quicker you will get an energy spike followed by a quick crash leaving you hungry and reaching for a quick fix snack.

Some examples of low GI foods include:

  • Grainy bread (aim for low FODMAP options),
  • Basmati or brown rice
  • Pasta (try the Good Gut Pasta if you haven’t already)
  • Oats, muesli or wholegrain oat cereal biscuits (mix this in with a smoothie, yoghurt or eat with your milk of choice)
  • Mixed non-starchy vegetables Small serve of starchy vegetables (eg. ½ small sweet potato, 1 small potato, ½ cob sweet corn)
  • Small serves of fruit
  • Legumes (small serves tend to be well tolerated and are the perfect accompaniment to bulk up your salad or mixed vegetables)
  • Low-fat dairy foods
  • Meats (non-processed and fat trimmed)

Include these throughout your day to help you maintain momentum through the Christmas mayhem.


When rushing from one task to the next it is easy to get stuck for time to prepare a meal with take away the easy option. Add a variety of foods to your shopping list to make sure low FODMAP options are always at hand:

  • Eggs, canned tuna, lentils or beans
  • Frozen fruits and vegetables, canned tomatoes or pasta sauce
  • Microwavable rice or gluten-free or quinoa pasta 
  • Rice crackers

When you do manage to prepare a meal make extra so you can stick some in the freezer and know that when you get pressured for time at least you have a meal waiting in the fridge ready to go.

Stress and anxiety can increase symptoms and unfortunately symptoms increase stress. It’s a vicious cycle.


If you’re invited to join family and/or friends for a Christmas at their place then offer to bring a salad or a vegetable mix that you know you would enjoy and work for you. Get creative with the flavours and bulk it up with all your favourite ingredients.

This way if this salad or vegetable side is the only thing on the table to suit your tolerance levels then you can be sure there is a tasty meal there for you. Also, I’m sure your host wouldn’t mind the extra help.


Christmas time may make wish yod had an unlimited caffeine supply available, but for many, this can contribute to digestive symptoms.

You may also be a victim or the energy spike and early in the day and feeling the caffeine jitters that can make you feel even worse in the evening with restless night sleep and the vicious cycle continues. If that is you swap your afternoon coffee fix for an afternoon herbal tea.


Caffeine can cause symptoms for some people so avoid the urge to have more than you know your body can tolerate.

This also goes for alcohol which can increase symptoms and further contribute to the stress of Christmas.

Since alcohol is a gut irritant try to indulge in alcohol at alternate events, enjoying alcoholic beverages at one event and drinking sparkling water with lemon or lime at the next.

Alternating your alcoholic drinks with water during the evening you do drink and maintain a slow intake to give your digestive system time to process the alcohol.

As always drink plenty of water to stay hydrated and to help those of you with constipation as the main symptom to maintain your regular bowel habits keeping things moving through and helping you enjoy the festivities.

Eat when you drink. Food in your stomach can help protect it from irritation. Of course, choose your food wisely, avoiding foods that trigger your IBS symptoms.


Stress and anxiety can trigger IBS symptoms. Don’t over commit yourself this festive season and do schedule some early nights at home.

On these nights, eat a well balanced low FODMAP meal, drink lots of water, have no alcohol and limit screen time to promote a good night’s sleep.


What are FODMAPs?

FODMAPs are a group of sugars that are not completely digested or absorbed in our intestines. When FODMAPs reach the small intestine, they move slowly, attracting water. When they pass into the large intestine, FODMAPs are fermented by gut bacteria, producing gas as a result.

The extra gas and water cause the intestinal wall to stretch and expand. Because people with IBS have a highly sensitive gut, ‘stretching’ the intestinal wall causes exaggerated sensations of pain and discomfort.

Put simply, FODMAPs are a collection of short-chain carbohydrates (sugars) that aren’t absorbed properly in the gut, which can trigger symptoms in people with IBS. FODMAPs are found naturally in many foods and food additives.

What happens when you eat FODMAPs?

FODMAPs are found in a wide range of foods, and most people eat high FODMAP foods every day without issue. When FODMAPs are eaten, they move slowly through the small intestine attracting water. When they reach the large intestine, gut bacteria use the FODMAPs as a fuel source to survive. The bacteria rapidly ferment FODMAPs, producing gas as a result. These events occur in all people (i.e. people with and without IBS).

The difference is that people with IBS can have problems with motility (the speed at which contents move through the intestines) and/or a highly sensitive gut wall. The extra water and gas in the intestines, causes the intestinal wall to stretch and expand and results in common IBS symptoms such as pain, excessive wind, bloating, distension and altered bowel habit (diarrhoea, constipation or both).

Where are FODMAPs found?

FODMAPs are found in a wide range of foods, such as fruits, vegetables, bread, cereals, nuts, legumes and confectionery. It is impossible to guess the FODMAP content of a food. Instead, careful laboratory analysis is needed to understand the FODMAP content of food.

Monash University are experts at measuring the FODMAP content of foods, which can be accessed through their mobile phone app, the Monash University FODMAP Diet App. The app uses a simple traffic light rating system to indicate whether foods are low, moderate or high in FODMAPs.

Below is a quick start sheet to see you through the festive period.

High FODMAP foodsLow FODMAP alternatives
VegetablesArtichoke, asparagus, cauliflower, garlic, green peas, mushrooms, onion, sugar snap peasAubergine/eggplant, beans (green), bok choy, capsicum (bell pepper), carrot, cucumber, lettuce, potato, tomato, zucchini
FruitsApples, apple juice, cherries, dried fruit, mango, nectarines, peaches, pears, plums, watermelonCantaloupe, grapes, kiwi fruit (green), mandarin, orange, pineapple, strawberries
Dairy & alternativesCow’s milk, custard, evaporated milk, ice cream, soy milk (made from whole soybeans), sweetened condensed milk, yoghurtAlmond milk, brie/camembert cheese, feta cheese, hard cheeses, lactose-free milk, soy milk (made from soy protein)
Protein sourcesMost legumes/pulses, some marinated meats/poultry/seafood, some processed meatsEggs, firm tofu, plain cooked meats/poultry/seafood, tempeh
Bread & cerealsWheat/rye/barley based breads, breakfast cereals, biscuits and snack productsCorn flakes, oats, quinoa flakes, quinoa/rice/corn pasta, rice cakes (plain), sourdough spelt bread, wheat/rye/barley free breads
Sugars & sweetsHigh fructose corn syrup, honey, sugar free confectioneryDark chocolate, maple syrup, rice malt
syrup, table sugar
Nuts & seedsCashews, pistachiosMacadamias, peanuts, pumpkin seeds/pepitas, walnuts

Martin is a fully qualified, BANT and CNHC Registered Nutritional Therapist with practices in Central Manchester and Wilmslow, Cheshire. His passion for getting people back to feeling their best comes from a comprehensive understanding of the gastrointestinal system, what can impact it and what can support its healing. Whether it’s to resolve niggling complaints or to support long standing or more severe gut related issues Martin works to bring about lasting change and help you regain your health.

In addition to consulting, he is the nutritional therapist at the Maggie’s Cancer Centre in Manchester and runs regular workshops to support those dealing with cancer and the dietary challenges that often come with a diagnosis and treatment. Other events include frequent workshops on food fermentation techniques which take place at a number of locations around the North West of England.

You can follow Martin on social media to be kept updated with gut healthy tips and upcoming events.