It’s officially December, which means I’m allowed to play Christmas music at all hours of the day in my house. I LOVE this. I swear it makes me workout harder, and study harder as I’m a sucker for the holidays. The Christmas tree, snow, time spent together by the fireplace, gifts, holiday baking and my favourite, opening the stockings!
The holiday season also means lots and lots of social gatherings. This can also be a source of stress for people with IBS, food allergies, intolerances or special diets. You want to enjoy yourself, but having to explain your dietary needs over and over, or grill the host over every single ingredient can be tiresome and annoying for both of you. To help avoid awkward situations or even more awkward bathrooms encounters the next day, here are some tips for navigating the holiday menu with style and poise.
Help! I Have a Million Food Restrictions! What Can I Do?
- Plan ahead and call the host- If the event is being catered by a specific company or individual, call ahead and explain your dietary concerns over the phone. Most catering companies are willing and able to accommodate dietary concerns these days. If the host is someone you know, politely asking to leave a few dishes aside that don’t contains X,YZ can be extremely helpful. For example, if you are allergic to garlic or lactose intolerant, ask her to leave you a plain piece of protein (chicken, steak fish etc) and plain steamed veggies without any sauce, rub or marinade to ensure safe eating. The same goes for celiac disease as many proteins (chicken, fish, pork etc.) are coated with flour before frying, and flour is used as a thickener in many sauces.
- But don’t expect the entire party to revolve around you- Just because you can’t eat dairy or gluten or think sugar is the devil doesn’t mean the entire party should be forced to eat a dairy-free, gluten-free, organic, refined-sugar free, tasteless & overpriced artisanal cake on your behalf. I always recommend eating a high fiber snack with protein before attending parties in case you do find yourself starving and with nothing to eat. A salad with egg, handful of nuts and some fruit, or a small serving a greek yogurt before a party are good choices. You can also use these special occasions to expose your friends to different food choices, by bringing specialty items such as almond flour desserts, gluten-free grains and vegan friendly mains. If the party is a potluck, ALWAYS bring a main you feel comfortable eating. At my last potluck, I brought some avocado egg salad with gluten-free crackers that was a huge hit.
- Start popping some pills- No I don’t mean copious amounts of Pepto Bismol, Tums or Zantac, but there are some great herbal remedies that can help your avoid tummy troubles and keep your digestive system happy. When eating out at restaurants, I always bring a broad spectrum digestive enzyme with hydrochloric acid. I take my digestive enzyme when my meal arrives. I find this really helps reduces abdominal discomfort and GI issues. A Naturopathic Doctor can help find the best solution for your needs.
- Prep your elevator speech- In my experience, some people can be extremely judgmental of other people’s eating habits. Suddenly a fun holiday party turns into a debate about different diets and whether or not your sensitivities are ‘real’ or you happened to jump on the gluten-free fad bandwagon. If someone asks you why you eat a certain way, clearly explain your intolerances, without preaching, avoid any scientific jargon and then change the conversation topic if necessary.
What If I Can’t Say No?
Like most people, I love a good party, especially if it involves an ugly Christmas sweater. That doesn’t mean you have to completely abandon ship and give up your fitness or healthy eating routine. It is possible to enjoy yourself, indulge a little and still feel great during the holidays. To do so, consider following some of the simple guidelines I have listed below. I don’t believe in extreme dieting, diet rules or cheat days. I believe in mindful eating, being intuitive to your hunger signals and making food and socializing a pleasurable experience.
- Eat something ahead of time- This may sound counterintuitive, but if you show up ABSOLUTELY starving, people will start giving you weird looks as you stuff your face with every single piece of food in sight. A salad with lean protein, some veggies and hummus or a piece of fruit and some almonds ahead of time can keep hunger at bay and prevent you from overeating.
- Be picky- You look forward to your Grandma’s chocolate dipped shortbread all year and have to have one. Before filling your plate with everyday items, do a scan of the food table and pick out which items you enjoy most. Choose foods that you don’t normally get, and say no to those you can make at home anytime. My guilty pleasures? I head straight for the red wine (hello California Cab Sauv), shrimp ring, and anything chocolate at the dessert table,
- Watch the liquid calories- a HALF-CUP (yes literally a tiny half-cup measure) of eggnog contains on average a whopping 220 calories. Since most people pour at least one cup and top if off with a shot of rum, you’re looking at over 500 calories per drink. Limit yourself to one small rum and eggnog, cut the eggnog with skim milk or almond milk and go easy on the rum for a rich and tasty treat. Alternate each alcoholic drink with a glass of water to stay hydrated.
- Make wise choices- Choose a smaller plate if possible, and load it up with raw veggies to start. The worst fingers foods tend to be: creamy dips or spreads, puff pastry, breadcrumb coated or deep-fried anything. Save room for dessert, but limit yourself to small portion sizes or one/two things you actually want.
- If you’re looking for recipes for your next potluck, check out our upcoming 7 Days of Jingle Glow at Higher Health Naturopathic Centre & IV Lounge. There will be tons of awesome events, great food and wonderful recipes for your holiday season. Email me to RSVP and get all the glowing details. You can follow me on Instagram @drvonhagen to stay updated.