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“I can resist everything except temptation.”
~ Oscar Wilde
15 Tips for a Healthy Holiday Season
The holidays are meant to be about beautiful things: celebration, love, family, fellowship. But they come wrapped in a package that includes stress, pressure and a tradition of foods we can no longer eat. So, how does a paleo autoimmune warrior not only survive, but thrive and enjoy the season?
- Plan For It: Look ahead at your holiday schedule, both the annual traditions and this year’s invitations. Which ones pose challenges? What are your personal temptations? Write them down, so you can make plans in advance to help you navigate them smoothly.
- Communicate: Angie Alt recently wrote about how she handles food-focused events, and she shared these wise words: “If you act wishy-washy, uncomfortable, or uncertain about your food choices, the people around you will also act weird. They won’t take you seriously.” Instead, calmly let people know what you need, and take steps to make sure your needs are met. Be confident. If you don’t feel confident, “fake it till you make it.” Seriously, pretend to be confident, and with practice, it will start to feel real.
- Create New Food Traditions: Paleo isn’t about deprivation, even when you're following the autoimmune protocol. Just because some traditional celebratory foods are off the table, doesn’t mean you can’t find even better options. Here’s a Thanksgiving Roundup, here's a Holiday Party Roundup, and here's a Christmas Cookie Roundup. Together, they include over 150 recipes that are not only paleo-friendly but meet the autoimmune protocol as well. There are also some wonderful holiday AIP cookbooks: AIP Holiday (Meals and Desserts) and Holiday Sweet Treats (Desserts).
- Offer to Host: This is the easiest way to control the food that will be served. It’s your house, your kitchen, your diet template. If you don’t want to take on all of the cooking, assign some potluck dishes. Just make sure you cook enough that your plate is full of healthy goodness, so if SAD foods show up, they’ll pale by comparison. Another fun idea is to actually host an AIP Potluck. More and more people are using the autoimmune protocol to heal, and they face the same challenges over the holidays. Advertise a meet-up group through Facebook, your local health food store, or your local newspaper. Picture a party where you can eat everything that’s served. Now, that’s a holiday celebration!
- Bring Your Own Food: Sometimes, you are going to be the guest of people who don’t follow the paleo lifestyle. The easiest solution here is to bring your own food. Let your host know ahead of time. Remember Step 2 above? Communicate calmly and clearly. You’re not asking them to plan the menu around you. Let them know you’re really looking forward to their company, and bringing your own food is the easiest solution.
- Eat Ahead of Time: If bringing your own food isn’t an option, or your simply don’t want to have that conversation, then eat before you go. A friend of mine does this, and she has another technique she swears by. When she arrives at a party, she gets herself a glass of water with ice. She said that if you have something in your hand as you mingle, people don’t notice if you’re not eating.
- Pick the Restaurant: Are you meeting a group at a restaurant for a celebration? Is your workplace ordering food for a staff lunch? Advocate to pick the restaurant. Let’s face it; you have great taste! Here's a list of paleo-friendly restaurants worldwide, and if there isn't one near you, follow the tips at the bottom of the article for how to order in any restaurant. Don’t be afraid to use the “allergy” word with the waitstaff, to make sure your needs are met.
- Bring a Friend: When I went on field trips as a child, we were always assigned the buddy system. The theory was that we’d keep each other safe, and it worked. Why not apply it to our adult lives? Are you going to an event where you know you’ll be tempted to eat SAD foods? Bring a friend to bolster your willpower. Are you going to a family event that often carries high emotions as part of the package? Bring someone to act as both your buffer, and your support while you’re there. There’s one caveat: choose your buddies carefully! You don’t want to bring anyone who’s going to add to the challenges.
- Take a Break: When we’re surrounded by our families, it’s a gift in many ways, but it’s also true that these people can push our buttons better than anyone else. They’ve had a lifetime to practice, after all. This is the time we tend to reach for a drink, or stress-eat. Instead, take a time-out. Go outside, breathe some fresh air, turn your face up to the sun or the stars. Or find an empty room in the house, close the door, and savor some solitude. You can create your own peace this season. Choose to relax and recharge, rather than react.
- Meditate: I know, you get this advice all the time, but there’s a reason for that. Meditation is powerful. And if there’s ever a time you need a research-proven method to reduce stress, the holidays are it! Meditation is often misunderstood as stressful in itself, when we picture ourselves trying to sit still and force the thoughts out of our head. There are actually many ways to meditate: guided visualization, moving meditation like yoga and tai chi, meditating to music, etc. Research shows that 15 minutes is enough time to produce positive results. So, give it a try!
- Build Up Your Reserves: When stress ramps up, those are the times we need to take care of ourselves the most. Prioritize a good night’s sleep. Consistently good nights’ sleep turns off inflammatory genes. Since stress increases inflammation, you have the power to counter this effect every night. And don’t forget your healing foods. When we think of holidays, we think of desserts first and foremost, so go ahead and enjoy your paleo treats this season (in moderation). You’re less likely to reach for gluten-laden baked goods, if you’ve allowed yourself some paleo indulgences. Between holiday events, eat lots of healing foods: organ meat, seafood, bone broth and home ferments. Think of these foods as your holiday health booster-shot.
- Make Time for Joy: This season is supposed to be about peace, joy and gratitude, yet often the reality is the opposite. You have the power to change this. Schedule joy into your life. Don’t make it optional. Seriously, put it on your calendar in pen. Plan time with friends who relax and rejuvenate you. Make a date with your spouse or significant other to reconnect and take a break from the busy-ness of the season. Is there a special event that symbolizes for you the beauty and real meaning of the holidays? Buy tickets now. You may think you don’t have time for any of this. The reality is that you need rejuvenation the most, when you feel you have no time for it. Looking for more ideas? Check out this list of 101 Ways to Treat Yourself That Have Nothing to Do with Food.
- Simplify: Do you know what the definition of holiday is? “A day of festivity or recreation when no work is done.” When was the last time you experienced that feeling during the month of November and December? The truth is, overdoing and overspending have become the modern holiday tradition, and it's not healthy for anyone. Instead of trying to keep up with what you've done in years past, sit down with those you love and decide what traditions are the most important, and which can you let go? Similarly, try reducing some of the financial pressure of the season. Some people try to express love through material gifts, but it's a poor substitute. Instead of buying gifts for friends, agree to do something fun together. If you're too busy during the holiday season, make a date for January. For extended family, consider drawing names instead of buying gifts for everyone. For those you love the most, consider gifts of time and service. My favorite section on my Paleo AIP Holiday Gift List is at the bottom: Sweet Deeds. Those ideas are written with people with autoimmune disease in mind, but that would be a fun list for your family to create. What gifts would each person appreciate the most that can't be bought?
- No, But Thanks For Asking: This is a necessary skill for simplifying during the holidays. People often say that “please” is the magic word. I disagree. I think the magic word is “no.” It’s incredibly powerful in protecting both your mental and physical health. Learning to say no is like strengthening a muscle; your ability increases with practice. Try it. If you’re invited to an event you know you won’t enjoy, decline the invitation. If you’re asked to take on a task that pushes you to the tipping point, politely decline. I’m going to teach you a magic phrase. I’ve used it many times, and it takes people by surprise because it’s crystal clear, yet totally polite: “No, but thanks for asking.” Practice it in the mirror, and say it with a smile. This phrase also works beautifully when someone is trying to pressure you into a food you can’t eat.
- If You Fall Off the Wagon, Get Right Back On: So, you ate some foods you shouldn’t? Forgive yourself, rest up, drink some ginger tea, and re-dedicate yourself to your healing diet tomorrow. Don’t use it as an excuse to binge throughout the season. You, and your health, are worth more than that. Remember why you’re following the paleo lifestyle in the first place. Remember how you felt before going paleo. It’s okay to take a mis-step, but too many are too much.
Other Holiday Resources
A version of this post originally appeared as a guest post for The Paleo Mom.
Photo credit: PeakPx (creative commons).