Can Make It Through the Holidays Without a Hare-up?
The best part of the holiday season is the celebration and love that we share with family and friends. The worst part is the stress, which can hit from many directions. The special challenge for those of us with autoimmune disease is that traditional holiday foods are often flare-up foods, and stress is a flare-up trigger. So, the goal is to keep the good, manage the bad, and create new traditions that are fun, meaningful, delicious and healthy. Does that sound impossible? Its not. It just requires a plan
Holiday Treats: Most of us have very specific foods we associate with the holidays, and we crave them this time of year. It might be Christmas cookies and candy canes, potato latkes and doughnuts, collard greens and black-eyed peas, or sheer khurma and Turkish delight. While we cant eat the traditional versions of these recipes, we can find or create Paleo versions to enjoy. I know some people say that Paleoized treats arent really Paleo. While that might be true, we’re much less likely to binge on the foods that will really hurt us if we allow ourselves some holiday treats that wont. The good news is that there are hundreds, if not thousands, of Paleo cooking blogs now. Whatever food you’re craving, someone else is craving it, too. Google is your friend, and Chowstalker.com is a great place to find recipes from lots of Paleo bloggers. Theres even an autoimmune gallery for people following the autoimmune protocol (AIP).
Holiday Meals: So thats the treats, but what about the meals themselves, filled with foods you no longer eat? You have options:
1. You can offer to host and cook the meal. This is the safest choice food-wise, but the toughest one time-wise. Only do this if you feel you have the time.
2. Depending on your family or friends, they might be willing to make the holiday meal Paleo. You can work together on meal planning, grocery shopping, and cooking on the big day. Its a way people can show their love and support for you, and you all share the effort. You can even ask for that to be your gift for the holiday.
3. Bring your own food with you. This is the simplest solution. You only need to prepare food for yourself.
No one else has to change their plans. You just heat up your food when you arrive, and enjoy everyones company at the table. However, if you’re going to be miserable seeing a table full of foods you cant eat. this isnt the choice for you.
4. If a restaurant or catering company is involved, communicate your needs by either choosing the place or the menu, or speaking with the chef to request a special meal for you.
5. Lastly, we get lots of invitations over the holiday season. Its okay to decline the ones that are more stressful than fun.
Alcohol: Since alcohol leads to leaky gut, and leaky gut leads to autoimmune disease, it shouldnt be a big part of our life. That said, were human, and we might enjoy the occasional grain-free drink. This is where you need to know yourself. How well do you tolerate it? In times of stress, do you drink more?
Is it a flare-up trigger for you? If yes, commit to an alcohol-free season. Empty your house of alcohol if possible, and look ahead at your social calendar. Where will alcohol be served? For those situations, bring your own delicious and safe beverage with you. It might be kombucha, holiday cider, fruit-infused water or anything else you enjoy. Bringing your own drink serves two purposes: It keeps you from feeling deprived, and it prevents others from asking you why youre not drinking. Generally speaking, as long as your glass is full, people don’t notice whether its alcoholic or not.
Focus on Traditions That Dont Involve Food: There are so many beautiful ways to celebrate the season that don’t involve food: Christmas caroling, holiday decorating, building snowmen, watching favorite holiday movies, ice skating, church services, family time, and holiday concerts and plays. If you dont have traditions like this, start some.
Time. We dont have enough of it, right? It’s a universal feeling that intensifies over the holiday season. Heres the thing: The length of your day isnt going to change, so the way to manage this stress is to learn to say no and limit the number of extra tasks you take on. Sometimes this feels beyond your control, but its not. Saying no gets easier with practice, and if you have trouble prioritizing, enlist the help of an objective friend.
Money. Although the holiday season started as a spiritual celebration, its become the season of gift giving, and we often put pressure on ourselves to give extravagantly. This can lead to a second job or high debt, both of which can be autoimmune flare-up triggers. It takes more thought and creativity to give someone a gift they will love that doesnt cost a lot of money, but its absolutely possible. Start brainstorming now for ideas. Its also okay to set new expectations. If you have kids, let them know the budget is tighter and ask them to choose one or two gifts that would mean the most to them. For adult family members, draw names and set a price limit, instead of everyone buying everyone gifts. Children in the family can do the same thing. For friends, agree on cards; its the friendship thats the true gift.
Family. I love my family, and Im sure you love yours, too, but that doesnt mean they dont know how to push our buttons. Who are the challenging people in your family? Can you limit your time with them? When you do spend time with them, can you bring along someone to act as a buffer? Make an escape plan. When you find yourself getting upset, plan to change the topic or leave the room. Can you take a walk? Can you go make a phone call to someone who will calm you down? Can you find a quiet room in the house and just breathe deeply?
Do you need to manufacture an emergency and go home? Some families are more intense than others. Do what you need to do to take care of yourself.
Nutrient Density When life gets busier and more stressful, what we eat becomes even more important, because it provides us with the nutrition we need to manage the stress. You can add Paleoized treats to your diet, but eat them alongside the best meat and seafood you can afford, lots of fresh vegetables, fermented foods, bone broth and organ meats (the most nutrient-dense food of all).
Sleep: Sleep is directly related to inflammation in the body. Too little, and your inflammatory genes kick in and your immune system goes into defensive mode. Prioritize getting eight to 10 hours of sleep every night.
Schedule Joy: Sometimes we get so caught up in the obligations of the holiday season that we forget this is supposed to be a joyful time of year. Schedule one thing every week that will revitalize you. Maybe its a pedicure, or a pick-up game of basketball. Maybe its a snowball fight, or a tea date with a friend. Don’t make this optional. Write it in pen on your calendar, and make these plans with people who light you up and leave you feeling better after their company.
Take a Daily Break: You can find 15 minutes somewhere. Is it in the morning before anyone else is awake? Is it right after the kids go to school? Is it your lunch break at work? Can you take 15 minutes when you get home, before facing whatever needs to be done that night? How about the 15 minutes before bed? Whatever you choose, commit to giving yourself this time every day, and temporarily turn off all contact with the outside world. Find a room where you can be alone in your home, or go outside. You can just be quiet and breathe. If that makes you nervous, do something relaxing: Take a bath, go for a walk, listen to soothing music, or lie down for a little while. The important thing is to feel that this time is 100 percent yours and yours alone. This isnt selfishness. This is renewal.
This is important. Were human beings, and sometimes we make mistakes. If you fall off the Paleo diet train, forgive yourself and get right back on. Dont use it as an excuse to binge the whole season. Its much easier to recover from one day of indulgence than from a whole month. Keep an eye on the big picture: Your health is worth more than any temptation you face this season.
Eileen Laird is reversing rheumatoid arthritis with the Paleo lifestyle and can be found on her blog Phoenix Helix, www.phoenixhelix.com