As we head into the holidays, learn how to confidently enjoy the food and the company while healing your gut.
Sponsored by and developed in part with support from Ferring Pharmaceuticals.
How to Enjoy the Holidays While Healing Your Gut
It’s that time of year when we gather around tables and in kitchens to socialize and connect with friends and relatives. The next several months have a strong focus on food, drinks, and togetherness.
We can all agree, togetherness is great and an essential part of what makes the holiday season so magical. However, the food and the drinks may be a big source of stress and cause for isolation for people who suffer from C. difficile infection, or C. diff, and an overall unhealthy gut.
This post is about diarrhea, especially diarrhea caused by C. diff. If you know me, you know no topic is too sensitive or uncomfortable for me to talk about. I am a firm believer that shared experiences break down the barriers of stigma and loneliness. No one should suffer in silence, especially not with something as isolating as the uncertainty of diarrhea and C. diff.
But it’s not just diarrhea that can be isolating and cause depression. Any medical conditions, especially ones that are still “uncontrolled” and make you feel completely powerless are stressful and hard to manage, especially during the holidays.
Together, let’s learn how to enjoy the holidays while healing your gut from C. diff.
What is C. diff?
- C. diff is named after the bacteria that causes the infection, “Clostridioides difficile”.
- It is an intestinal infection caused by an overgrowth of C. diff bacteria. In other words, it’s an infection that can take hold in your gut microbiome if it’s not balanced, where the unhealthy bacteria has taken a stronghold, pushing out the healthy bacteria.
- Symptoms include: watery diarrhea, stomach pains, cramps, nausea, and foul-smelling stool. Severe cases may include blood or mucus in the stool, fever, kidney failure, and dehydration.
- Causes: C. diff IS contagious and may be spread via direct touch, indirect touch, or contaminated surfaces. However, C. diff often starts after the patient has taken antibiotics, killing the healthy bacteria in the stomach and giving C. diff bacteria a chance to flourish. Once treated, C. diff may recur anywhere between two to eight weeks after the first infection.
- Treatment: Believe it or not, the treatment for C. diff is antibiotics, which sometimes feels counter-intuitive, but the right antibiotics can get you on the path to healing your gut. Treatments that help rebalance the microbiome, including fecal transplants, may also be an option. If you have recurring C. diff, consider discussing all available treatment options with your medical professional.
- When should you see the doctor? After two days of having a watery stool more than three times a day, a new fever, unexplained stomach pain, and cramps and blood or mucus in your stool.
- Which doctor/specialist should you consult? Start with your trusted primary care physician. They may order a stool sample to confirm the diagnosis of C. diff. You can also see a gastroenterologist. But if you have acute symptoms, see the first available of those two physicians. They can both order the necessary tests.
- Where can I get more information on C. diff? Check out the Ferring Microbiome website. This is a safe and trusted source on the latest advancements and treatments of C. diff.
My experience with C. diff:
It all started with a new chicken dinner recipe. Thankfully, in hindsight, the meal itself was a raging FLOP, as none of our kids, nor my husband embraced the symphony of spices.
Stubborn as I am, I ate my fair share and then some, in an effort to prove to everyone just how delicious my home-cooked meal was. Fast forward to that evening as my stomach started to rumble, bubble, and make noises never-before-heard from a human body.
For the sake of preserving whatever tiny shred of human dignity I have left, let’s just say that the next several days were spent mostly in the bathroom. I finally went to the doctor, discussed my symptoms and I realized that I had eaten grossly undercooked chicken the night I tried a new recipe.
After several weeks, two rounds of strong antibiotics, a trip to the ER, a CT scan, and countless rolls of toilet paper later, I had the salmonella infection under control… only to develop C. diff from taking so many strong antibiotics.
Needless to say, my poor gut was in need of an overhaul to get healthy again.
By this time, I was 10 days away from a trip to Denmark to visit my mom. The trip had been planned for a while and as it turned out, it was the last time I was able to see her before she succumbed to lung cancer a few months later.
Flying overseas with a temperamental stomach was a scary thought. At this point, the unpredictable nature of C. diff and its accompanying diarrhea had completely changed my diet and also my demeanor, as it commonly happens with patients.
Leaving the house was downright scary and stressful. What IF my stomach acted up while I was away from the house?! I started eating less, doing less, stressing more – none of which was helpful in healing my gut.
After consulting a nutritionist and my gastroenterologist, I started a regimen of increased fluid intake, drinking teas, adding fiber to my meals, eating a bland diet, and carrying anti-diarrheal medication with me wherever I went.
Every remedy and supplement was added to my treatment after careful discussion with my medical professional. I never left home without my little “emergency kit.”
My doctor was also able to give me a realistic timeframe of when I could expect my gut to be relatively healed, which reassured me mentally that this was going to be a long-term process, but not one without an end in sight.
I was able to go visit my mom, bringing along an ample supply of my “emergency kit.” As hard as it was to travel with an unhealthy gut and recover from C. diff, it was possible and gave me the mental and physical strength to tackle the grief of losing my mom a few months later.
If you are reading this, chances are you found this post because you too are struggling with C. diff or simply an unhealthy gut, leaving you with many of the same symptoms, such as uncontrolled/ unpredictable diarrhea and stomach cramps.
These are my best tips to help you confidently enjoy the Holiday season.
Tips to enjoy the holidays while healing your gut:
- Print this “Health and Symptom Tracker” right away. This free printable includes the following pages:
- Symptom Tracker
- Treatment Tracker
- Pain Tracker
- Food Tracker
- Wellness Planner
- Start tracking your symptoms, treatments, and diet.
- This printable will help you keep track of how you feel and which treatments are working.
- You will quickly see a trend of which foods are well tolerated and which ones cause gastrointestinal upset.
- Schedule an appointment with your trusted medical professional to discuss your findings.
- Talk about your symptoms, which foods cause flares, and which treatments help, even if it’s only temporary relief.
- Together, you and your physician can come up with a long-term plan of how to heal your gut and which treatments you should continue or discontinue.
- Remember to discuss all medications, supplements, fibers, teas, and vitamins you take. Everything can affect your gut health.
- Create an “emergency kit” of the things you need to comfortably leave the house with confidence. Always keep it with you and fully stocked.
- Stay hydrated, every day, all the time.
- You do not want to deal with dehydration on top of everything else.
- Water is your best friend for hydration.
- Once you are no longer contagious, start to slowly see friends and socialize.
- Schedule get-togethers with good friends at a location where you feel comfortable with the “bathroom location” and make sure there are relatively bland menu items available.
- Getting out to see your friends will help your mental health, increase your confidence and hopefully lower your stress, which all ties back together with your overall health.
- Do something for yourself every day. It doesn’t have to be big or expensive, but treat yourself every day.
- Take half an hour to read a good book.
- Go for a walk while listening to your favorite podcast.
- Self-care is an important part of your health, healing, and happiness.
I recently put together this printable “Health and Symptom Tracker” self-advocacy package, full of charts and ways for you to keep track of which medications, treatments, and diets work for you and your particular diagnosis.
When you are going through a medical struggle, you THINK you will remember all the dates and details. But after a few weeks of struggling with debilitating and painful symptoms, your days blend together. You no longer remember what it feels like NOT to be sick or in pain. Writing down all the details is helpful and keeps the information in one easy-to-find location.
Personally, I have used the “Health and Symptom Tracker” to start a conversation with my medical professionals. Keeping a written record of what food is well-tolerated and which medications work, has been a powerful way to show my care team that I am an active participant in my own health and healing.
I hope these tips and the “Health and Symptom Tracker” will help you on your way to a healthier gut and a happy holiday season.