As we jump into the holiday season, I wanted to offer some quick advice.
And yes, I realize I am writing this less than a week before Thanksgiving, which shows you how well I follow my own advice. But stay with me, because I’ll also share why I’m not completely sweating it (aside from the fact that I will be attending someone else’s Thanksgiving dinner this year and only bringing a few side dishes).
- Get Prepped
Whether you are preparing your own meals or are going to be a guest at someone’s home, do some planning up front.
If you’re going to be a guest at someone’s home and are worried you won’t be able to eat any of the food they prepare, give them a heads up. You don’t need to make a big proclamation or require them to make food specifically for you, just let them know ahead of time that you have sensitivities, and offer to bring your own compliant dish (or two) to share with the group. The host will appreciate it. I know this may feel awkward, but not nearly as awkward as pretending you aren’t hungry, or sneaking almonds out of your purse, while everyone else at the event is digging into their meal. If your host knows in advance to save some space on the buffet for your dish(es), you can easily place them on there after you come in. Nobody even needs to know they aren’t an original part of the host’s menu.
If you’re preparing meals, look up recipes for whatever special dietary requirements you have. Gluten-free, dairy-free, paleo, grain-free, you name it – you can find just about anything on the internet. I personally don’t have one recipe book I defer to. I usually just think of a dish I want and try to find a clean version of it. And while I’m not paleo or 100% grain-free, I find “paleo” to be an easy search term because it will also assure that the recipes are gluten-, dairy-, corn- and soy-free. They will also likely be free of processed sugars, and should include fresh vegetables. Pinterest, and Cookery are great apps to look to.
- Swap Your Staples
My littles have very generous school vacation schedules. So this time of year, more often than not (MUCH more often), instead of researching and trying new recipes, I simply swap out cleaner ingredients 1:1 for recipes I already know and love. (Especially around the holidays, so I can use family recipes that have been passed down). Here are some staple swaps that will help you avoid gluten, dairy (casein, really), GMO’s, processed sugar, and harmful additives, as well as maintain a high level of inflammation-fighting fats:
- Wheat flour > brown rice flour, sorghum flour (best for baking), or a ready-made gluten-free flour mix.
- Eggs or meats > organic, pasture-raised versions to ensure high amounts of anti-inflammatory omega-3 fats and to avoid pesticides and GMO’s
- Butter > ghee (clarified butter) or coconut oil
- Cow’s milk > non-dairy almond milk or other nut milks
- Processed sugar > Lakanto sugar (expensive, but magic)
- Chocolate chips > dark chocolate chips, cacao nips or Enjoy Life allergen-free chocolate chips
- Conventional baking powder > aluminum-free, non-GMO baking powder
- Oats > certified gluten-free oats (oats themselves are gluten-free, but commonly processed with wheat)
- Lesser Evils
On holidays or special occasions, another rule I follow is this: Don’t follow the rules. I loosen up on the uber-clean, ideal versions of foods for both myself and my kids. This is the 20 to my 80 in the 80/20 rule. While eating gluten and conventional cow’s milk dairy is an absolute non-starter for me (and should be for you too, especially if you have an autoimmune disease or known food sensitivities), I don’t worry about a super clean, unprocessed ingredient list. For example, I know my family will crave dinner rolls at Thanksgiving, so I will buy UDI’s dinner rolls or French baguettes. They are made with a lot of starches and some sugars, rather than whole grains, but they’re tasty. They can be eaten on their own, and also work as a replacement in stuffing. This way, nobody feels deprived, and everyone enjoys “traditional” foods without feeling the need to dive headfirst into a plateful of inflammation-inducing gluten.
- Digestive Enzymes
Other tools to keep in your back pocket (or if you’re like me, in your purse) are DPPIV digestive enzymes. These help to digest the proteins in gluten, casein, and soy and can reduce your reaction if consumed. It’s always ideal to get professional-grade versions from a trusted healthcare provider, but you can find pretty good quality versions at most health food stores. They should be taken 15-20 minutes before eating. I often take these before a meal at a restaurant or at a social event when I’m not 100% certain what could be in it or if the food may be contaminated during preparation. These won’t help much if you consume a tray of mac and cheese, but it should fend off negative reactions if consuming very small amounts.
IMPORTANT: THIS DOES NOT APPLY FOR TRUE FOOD ALLERGIES or SEVERE CELIAC DISEASE
- Give Yourself a Break.
I think most people who have seen the benefits of a clean, anti-inflammatory diet lose the desire to indulge in foods that are going to make them feel like crap. However, if you find yourself amidst a plate of food with items you don’t tolerate well but can’t resist, you might as well enjoy it in the moment. Practice conscious eating and savor every bite. No sense beating yourself up about it (your body will likely take care of that for you in the following days). Some things that might help with the food hangover: activated charcoal supplements, lots of water, an epsom salt bath, and getting back on the straight and narrow so your body can heal.
I hope these tips help take some of the stress out of what tends to be a busy, chaotic time of year. Enjoy this holiday season, be grateful for all the joy it can bring, and get ready for an amazing new year.
For more information about food sensitivities, inflammation and a personalized, step-by-step plan to heal, check out my book, INFLAMED: Discover the root cause of inflammation and personalize a step-by-step plan to create a healthy, vibrant life.