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5 Tips for Making Halloween with IBD Spooky, But Not Scary

I extremely love Halloween. I was born in late October, and my mom always made a huge deal of spookily decorating and giving us “Halloween presents” as if it were Christmas. But the usual candy and seasonal baked goods trigger my gut issues, and this only got worse in the years leading up to and after my Crohn’s diagnosis. Nine Halloweens later, I’m still figuring a lot of this out, but I’ve come up with some general tips on how to stomach this chocolate-fueled, often liquor-infused holiday.

1. Smart costumes. If you choose to dress up, it’s imperative that your costume be easy to quickly use the bathroom in — no full-body Green Man suits or corseted, hoop-skirted Cinderella ballgowns. And keep in mind that a heavy or hard-to-breathe-in costume can induce or worsen nausea or indigestion, so keep your costume uncumbersome. (By the way, I have never followed any of this advice, but that’s why I know it’s so valid.)

And if you decide not to dress up, or to repeat a former year’s costume, because you’re flaring or it would make you lose sleep, don’t let anyone make you feel bad about it. I’ve had run-ins with IBD-free classmates who commented, “Well, I was really busy with school last Halloween, too, but I still managed to make a new costume.” You also probably managed not to be having 20 BMs a day, so … yeah.

2. Safer candy and treats: Look up recipes for peanut butter cups, pumpkin biscuits, and other treats that are made up of ingredients you generally know to be safer for you. I substitute gluten-free flour and full-fat coconut milk for wheat flour and cow butter. Sub carob for chocolate and honey for beet sugar and applesauce for eggs if need be. Everyone’s diet needs are different. For me, one of the biggest temptations is the big bowl of store-bought chocolate candy just sitting there at home and at work all month; last year, I ate about five Reese’s cups a day and made myself feel like complete crap. This year, I’m pondering making tiny candies and individually wrapping them in wax paper, for when candy envy strikes.

3. Safer drinking: Go with what has worked for you in the past. Can you drink hard cider but regular beer gives you gassy cramps? Can you drink clear liquor but not whiskey? Do you really know what’s in that “witch’s brew” punch? My advice: Don’t try out anything new on the night of a special occasion, and pre-decide your drink limit.

4. Super-safe alternatives: Decorating, scary movies, trick-or-treaters, craft projects. Even old-school parlor games like holding a seance, using a Ouija board, or saying “Bloody Mary” three times in front of a mirror. These activities are unlikely to have a direct negative effect on your gut (your soul may be another matter). Get a hot glue gun and make a Halloween wreath for your door. Drink hot cocoa or herbal tea with cozy, bat-covered socks on. Relatedly …

5. An Rx you’ll like. One of my healthcare providers, knowing my undying love for all things undead, actually “prescribed” seasonal enjoyment of Halloween to help me cope with current health and work stress. And studying Halloween history and making a mummy wreath have been great stress-relievers. But this can apply to anything you truly love. Love walking or running in the woods with your dog in the fall weather? Love binge-watching Slovakian national ice-dancing competitions? Hate Halloween (eek!) but love Christmas and want to put your tree up early (it’s hard for me to even say this)? Lose yourself in any activity that you love, holiday or not, and you’ll have a chance to forget you have IBD for even a minute.

Editor’s note: Any medical information included is based on a personal experience. For questions or concerns regarding health, please consult a doctor or medical professional.