The season of indulgence is in full swing! Between family gatherings, holiday parties and the never-ending supply of seasonal treats available at every turn, it can be challenging to eat healthy around the holidays
As Christmas meals quickly approach you may find yourself getting anxious about or at least considering how you will go about eating traditional holiday fare this year. This is the time of the year where overeating unhealthy food is part of the tradition. It’s a dream come true for many, but it can be a nightmare for those that appreciate all the benefits a Paleo diet has to offer. It can be especially difficult when many traditional Christmas dishes are focused on grains, processed foods and sugar.
While you might be hosting your own holiday meals and have control over the menu, many people find themselves attending at least one function hosted by a friend or family member. Whether you’re a seasoned veteran or a newcomer approaching your first Christmas without traditional fare, the holidays can be a challenging time to stay Paleo. It is, however, unnecessary to give up on your health to enjoy the holiday: these tips can help you make the most of your Christmas without compromising your Paleo goals.
Decide On Your “Non-Negotiables.”
Having some structure around eating is the first step towards enjoying your Christmas celebration. If you are well into your Paleo journey, you likely have a good idea of which foods you can consume in small amounts with little to no short-term deleterious effects and which are an absolute no-go. For example, if you have celiac disease or non-celiac gluten sensitivity (NCGS), then you should commit to avoiding gluten at your holiday gathering; consuming even small amounts of gluten “here and there” can cause significant problems for celiac and NCGS individuals and is not a matter to take lightly. Similarly, if dairy throws off your digestion and makes you inflamed, avoid it and instead use replacements such as full-fat coconut milk and almond milk in recipes.
Be Selective About Indulgences.
There are certain favorite comfort foods and sweets (some of which are less than healthy) associated with the Christmas holidays. If you indulge heavily in these foods, you may walk away from the dinner table feeling less than your best for a good few days. Choose your food indulgences wisely. Treat yourself to the comfort foods and sweets that are most special to you, rather than every delectable treat that crosses your path!
Do the best you can and perhaps choose to aim for Paleo-ish, making nutritionally sound choices most of the time, but allowing a chosen indulgence. If you eat healthy food and watch your portion sizes with most of your meals (during the holidays and throughout the year), you can sprinkle in a little non-Paleo decadence without doing much damage – unless, of course, you have a severe food allergy.
Allow yourself to sample a taste of something you may be craving or that looks too good to resist. If there’s a really special treat that your Mom/Grandma/Great Aunt Anna only makes for Christmas and having it will fill you with joy, I would argue that this is the moment where you could/should/would diverge from strict Paleo adherence. Really savor each bite, and you will most likely find you are satisfied with a small portion Working through a box or two of store-bought gingerbread cookies every day through to New Year’s Eve is simply not that special!
Furthermore, you can enhance your recovery from sugary, rich holiday indulgences by sipping on nourishing bone broth (get yours delivered right to your door by ordering here). Eating plenty of fresh vegetables, clean protein, and healthy fats at your other meals will help the process even more. Also, make sure to drink plenty of water (preferably filtered) if you plan to indulge in alcohol.
Read on here for more strategies on dealing with holiday feasting
While sugar is not considered Paleo-friendly, many other sweeteners are. Consider sweetening your eggnog with maple syrup or glazing your holiday ham with honey and orange juice. With the mindful use of sweeteners, Christmas meals can be just as sweet and decadent as any non-Paleo feast.
Steer clear of sugary mixed drinks and eggnog (unless it is your indulgence of choice). Instead, choose wine, vodka, tequila, or rum and avoid the soda mixers! Limit yourself to one or two drinks, because making smart food choices when your brain is fogged by alcohol, can be particularly challenging.
Read on here for more information on choosing alcohol on your Paleo diet
If you’ve decided to forgo alcohol, have a substitute drink. That way you can still mingle and have something sparkly in your hand while socializing. Sparkling water with a squeeze of citrus is always an easy, thirst quenching option.
If you are going to a party/dinner/get-together where the food situation is likely to be difficult to navigate, eat at home first. This may sound simple enough but it is never a great experience to go hungry at a party then arriving home really late, starving. If you show up and there are options, you can pick and choose and fill your belly up with food that you are sure will not leave you feeling dreadful.
As soon as the party gets started, check out the table and see if there is something you can eat. Once people start eating, fill your plate with the most Paleo friendly foods available. If there is little or nothing you can eat, pour yourself a drink (a non-alcoholic beverage of choice) and mingle. No one will notice that you have no food if you have a drink in your hand and you appear to be having a good time.
Remember that your body can sometimes confuse thirst for hunger, leading you to overeat. Avoid this problem by sipping on plenty of water throughout the day, as well as mugs of bone broth or tea.
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Don’t Make A Fuss
Politics, religion and diet are the topics best avoided at a party!
You might be loving your Paleo choices and all the wonderful things it has done to positively impact your life, making it so tempting to want to shout it from the rooftops and tell EVERYONE. That captive audience at your holiday get together is not the audience ready for your Paleo message. As much as you may want to tell Uncle Roger why his dinner roll causes gut permeability or your Cousin Jane about the blood sugar spike she will most likely experience after eating that 3rd slice of pie, this is probably neither the time nor place.
Eating differently can draw questions and attention. While it can feel uncomfortable sometimes, it can have an educational and inspirational effect. Many people have chosen to follow a Paleo lifestyle after seeing the successes and benefits experienced by a friend or loved-one. While the goal isn't to try to change anyone, there are benefits to leading through example and simply living your best and healthiest life.
Of course, if someone happens to ask about the fabulous changes they have noticed in you, you may want to strategically talk about what you changed or have been doing (like eating plenty of meat, healthy fats and lots of vegetables). Focusing on the positive always helps. Discussing the downsides of grains at a holiday family party often goes over poorly, whether solicited or not..
If you are the host of a party this holiday season, send your guests home with nicely packaged leftovers, especially if you have made some extra special, once-a-year-type treats. They will generally appreciate the extra food, and you won’t find it sitting in your fridge waiting to tempt you further.
It is also perfectly acceptable to politely decline your host's kind offer of leftovers to take home.
Spirit Of The Season
In spirit, the holidays are a chance to spend time with and connect more with your loved ones. Despite all the stress and chaos, Christmas dinners, parties, events, feasts, celebrations and get-togethers are meant to provide an opportunity to be with the people you love, the people who you (hopefully mostly) enjoy and have fun.
Celebrate this Christmas appreciating the love and warmth around you. Focus on the companionship, the connection and the fellowship. Taking care of your health with a Paleo diet will give you the energy to handle the rough spots, and appreciate what you do like about the season.