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Strategies for Managing Your Ostomy During the Holidays

Strategies for Managing Your Ostomy During the Holidays
Christine Kijek, RN, BSN, WON

The holiday season is approaching fast and if you are an ostomate, you might find some challenges with management while navigating the holidays. Let’s be real. We all indulge in rich foods, party snacks, and those special traditional family recipes that are available only at Thanksgiving or Christmas. The weather has turned cool and we take advantage of covering up with cozy sweaters and relaxing while visiting with friends and family.

This closeness can create some anxiety or fear about your ostomy. Fears of uncontrolled noises, pouch ballooning, leakage, how to dress so your pouch is not visible or odor while emptying your pouch. These are real concerns but don’t let them get in the way of having fun and enjoying the season.

Tips for a winning holiday

  • Take advantage of the big cozy sweaters during the winter months. Pair the sweater with a lighter tank under the sweater and a pair of leggings that go over your pouch. This will help hide your pouch and also help muffle noises.
  • Always carry an extra set of ostomy supplies for that occasion when your pouch leaks while you’re out and about. You can store the supplies in a bag that can be used to dispose of your used pouch. Don’t forget to pack wipes for washing up.
  • Keep a backpack in the car with a change of clothing just in case
  • Consider a larger pouch such as a high-output pouch. Eating larger amounts of food will increase your output.
  • Use in-pouch deodorants to manage odor when emptying your pouch. Try Devrom, an internal deodorant to minimize odor. Carry a small bottle of biologic odor eliminator spray with you to use as an air freshener once your pouch is emptied.
  • Foods that increase odor include:
    • Asparagus, beans, cabbage, Brussel sprouts
    • Onion, garlic
    • Cheese, eggs
    • Fish
    • Coffee, beer

Foods that reduce odor:

  • Apples
  • Parsley, green leafy vegetables
  • Buttermilk, live yogurt
  • Charcoal tablets

Expelling gas from the stoma can be embarrassing. Since there is no sphincter muscle, there is no control to hold gas in. It escapes at the least opportune time. As mentioned previously, layering clothing can help muffle the noise. Stealth Belt offers a muffler that can be placed in the stealth belt to minimize noise. Avoid foods that are known to increase gas. These include:

  • Beer, carbonated beverages, milk products
  • Broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, corn, peas
  • Cucumber, melons, onion, beans
  • Chewing gum

Savor the flavor of your food. You’re less likely to overeat. Chew it well and drink plenty of liquids to stay hydrated. Consider eating small portions of your favorite foods and bring some home to enjoy later. In fact, I always bring my own container for leftovers!

Many ostomates will stick to eating foods they know won’t cause issues. If you plan on indulging, try using Gas-X, Beano, or Phazyme to help with gas-producing foods. If you plan on eating sweets, drinking alcohol, or eating foods known to loosen ostomy output, you can ask your doctor about using Imodium or adding fiber such as Metamucil or Benefiber.

Some ostomates enjoy fewer restrictions in the diet than prior to surgery but keep in mind, certain foods are more likely to cause an obstruction/blockage. It does not mean you cannot have these foods but eating them in small amounts and chewing well will help. These foods include:

  • Seeds, nuts, popcorn
  • Beansprouts, stir fry veggies or Chinese food, corn, tomatoes, mushrooms
  • Dried fruit, apple skins, potato skins, pineapple, and citrus fruits

Celebrating the season with friends/family often includes drinking alcohol. This can cause dehydration. While this is an issue for everyone, it is crucial for those with ostomies. Try to alternate your cocktails with a glass of water or electrolyte beverage to replenish what’s lost.

Traveling for the holiday

The best advice is “to be prepared.” If traveling by car, train, or bus, be sure to pack a small bag with the items needed for pouch changes, clothing, and accessories. If traveling by plane, here are a few tips.

  • Always carry your ostomy supplies on the plane. This way, if your luggage is lost, you still have your supplies.
  • If traveling with a companion, consider placing some supplies in their carry-on just in case.
  • Any liquids such as odor eliminator sprays and drops should be placed in a Ziplock bag. Check with the airline for the amount of liquid you can carry on board. Many of these products are available in travel sizes.
  • Pack extra supplies, barriers, pouches, and accessories. If possible, pack 2-3 times more than what you would usually need. This way, you’ll worry less about running out.
  • If possible, pre-cut the barrier. In the US, TSA allows ostomy scissors in with carry-on ostomy supplies. The cutting edge is very small and they do not see this as hazardous. If flying internationally, be sure to check with your airline.
  • When in line at the TSA screening, tell the agent prior to the screening process that you have an ostomy and where it is located. If you have a TSA notification card, you can give it to them rather than providing a verbal notification. You can find these on the United Ostomy Association (UOAA) website.
  • If you need to empty the pouch during the flight, place some toilet paper in the bowl first. This way, when flushing, the stool with flush along with the paper. You can also use a travel-sized bottle of Poo-Pouri. It is oil-based and will help with the flushing of pouch contents and odor as well.
  • Choose an aisle seat if possible. This way, you won’t have to bother anyone if you need to make more than 1 trip to the restroom during the flight.

Preparing for the holidays

How prepared are you with supplies on hand? Now is the perfect time to order supplies. With all the staffing shortages at every business out there, combined with delivery delays across the globe, getting your supplies can be a challenge. The increase in delivery needs as the Christmas season draws near will compound the problem. Do not wait until you are very low on supplies to order. Order before it becomes an issue, order extra if possible.

Festive food recipes

There may be things you don’t eat because of how they affect your ostomy output. Many of your favorite dishes can be altered by substituting a few ingredients.

  • If a recipe calls for tomatoes - Swap them for canned stewed tomatoes. These have no skin.
  • Onions - Consider cutting them into rings or keeping them long. This way you can easily pick them out or avoid eating them. If you need to chop onions, finely chop them. Consider onion powder as a seasoning.
  • Celery - Finley chop for stuffing recipes. You can try celery seed.
  • Green or red pepper - Cut them larger and partially cook. You can remove the skin easily.
  • Fruit with skin - Peel them before eating or cooking. Instead of eating fresh apples, bake them in individual ramekins with cinnamon. Clementines are popular during the holidays. Consider canned mandarin oranges instead.
  • Pineapple - Use canned rather than fresh
  • Nuts - If you need chopped nuts, finely chop them. This way they are less likely to cause an obstruction. Or consider not using them in the recipe
  • Cucumber - Buy English cucumbers, they have minimal amounts of seeds and thin skin. You can peel them as well.

The holiday season is a time to reflect on the past year. Find the things you are grateful for and don’t be shy about expressing your gratitude to those who support you.

Be thankful for your health, whether you are in transition as a new ostomate or a seasoned one. We have much to be thankful for!


Author Profile: Christine Kijek, Registered Colorectal Nurse

Christine Kijek

Christine Kijek is a colorectal nurse at Danbury Hospital in Danbury, CT. She has a wealth of knowledge in this field as well as personal experience. HPFY is thrilled that she has been an active participant in the Ostomy Support Group. She has experience working as a coordinator for cancer patients, post-operative care, and home health care for disabled children and adults. And guess what! Christine is also the recipient of the Nurse Exemplar Award. Christine lives in Bethel, CT with her husband Ed. Her children are married and live nearby. She has 4 grandchildren and is known as GiGi. Christine enjoys riding motorcycles and spends many hours gardening. She can often be found onboard a Carnival Cruise ship lounging by the pool.



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HPFY Christine Kijek, RN, BSN, WON

Christine Kijek, RN, BSN, WON

LinkedIn Profile Christine Kijek is a registered nurse with a Bachelor of Science degree in Nursing. She has completed courses for wound and ostomy specialty and has 20 years of experience. She has ...

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