Surviving Christmas Dinner

Christmas is a holiday often associated with foods like decadent cookies, sugary candy canes and rich fudge. Unfortunately, many holiday treasures are not Paleo-friendly, as followers of the protocol eschew grains, legumes, refined sugars and processed foods.

At first blush, the Paleo diet appears overly limited, but with a little legwork it can be anything but. Whether you or a loved one follow a Paleo lifestyle, some tips for navigating the holidays from a Paleo perspective can always come in handy.

Focus On The Can, Not The Can’t.

It can be understandably challenging to build a gingerbread house while remaining grain-free (although these cookies make it simpler). However, the list of Christmas dishes that are inherently Paleo-friendly is comparatively endless: prime rib, roast turkey, spiced apple cider, roasted chestnuts, Champagne, mulled wine.

Do the best you can and perhaps choose to aim for Paleo-ish, making nutritionally sound choices most of the time, but allowing yourself an occasional, chosen indulgence If you eat healthy food and watch your portion sizes most of your meals (during the holidays and throughout the year), you can sprinkle in a little non-Paleo decadence without doing any 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. Really savor each bite, and you will most likely find you are satisfied once you are done a small portion.

Know Where You Can Cut Corners.

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. If gluten ties your stomach in knots but dairy generally causes no distress, you will know to studiously avoid the cookies while maybe having some holiday eggnog. If you are out and you want to indulge a bit, pick a choice that you are sure will not wreck you for days.

If there’s a really special treat that your mom/grandma/Great Aunt Julia 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. A bag of red and green covered kisses every day through to New Year’s Eve is simply not that special!

Sweeten Selectively.

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.

Trade Traditions.

Traditional English Christmas puddings were a simple affair made with dried fruits and spices with an egg and suet binder. Instead of relying on modern, flour-dependent varieties, investigate a historical recipe. You could also consider taking cues from international holiday dishes, like Puerto Rican pernil (roast pork) or a traditional Swedish smorgasbord with meatballs, sausage, pickled herring and sliced beetroot.

Drink Wisely.

Steer clear of sugary mixed drinks and eggnog (unless it is your indulgence of choice). Instead, reach for wine, vodka, tequila, or rum and avoid the soda mixers! Limit yourself to one or two drinks, because making smart food choices when fogged by alcohol is particularly challenging.

Read on here for more information on choosing alcohol with Paleo principles in mind

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 easy, thirst quenching and rather pleasing to drink.

Spoil Your Appetite.

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 filling their plate, make a beeline for the compliant foods. 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.

Resist The Zealotry.

Politics, religion and food choices are the topics best avoided at a party!

You are loving your Paleo choices and all the wonderful things it has done to positively impact your life, be it better sleep, more energy, fat loss and the like. This makes 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 ideal folks to spread your Paleo message. As much as you may want to tell Uncle Bob why his dinner roll causes gut permeability or your Cousin Joan about the blood sugar spike will most likely experience get 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 being a role model for a different way of living and healing.

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..

Give Goodie Bags. 

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 it 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.

Beyond The Food.

In the end, the holidays are a chance to grow closer to your loved ones. Underneath all the mayhem, the point of these parties and events and feasts and celebrations and get-togethers is to be with the people you love, the people who you (hopefully mostly) enjoy and have fun.

Celebrate this Christmas around a warm fire without a second thought as to what’s in your neighbour’s mug. Appreciate the companionship, the connection and the fellowship.

Merry Christmas

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