Since I’ve been eating a grain-free diet, I’m faced with the same decision each year as the holidays roll around: compromise or feel deprived. Except, there is one more option, one which I make sure to take advantage of so I’m not left compromising or feeling left out: getting creative and re-creating all my favorites with GAPS diet recipes!
The holidays are a magical time of year… a time when you want to start a fire, listen to special music, and cook up all the goodies you wait for all year long. But what if you have food allergies or intolerances? Do the holidays illicit anxiety or stress when you think about traveling or going to someone else’s home for a meal? Maybe you just find it so stressful (or the temptation so great!) that you throw caution to the wind and enjoy foods you normally wouldn’t eat… only to suffer the consequences later.
Last year, our family was on the GAPS diet through the holidays. We were just at the end of the intro portion by Thanksgiving and you know what? I was able to make all of our favorite foods without compromising. I re-created a pecan pie, as well as came up with a new fun recipe for a layered pumpkin cheesecake pecan pie. We didn’t feel deprived at all.
If you’re facing a strict diet during the holidays, have no fear: you can do it, and I’ll give you some tips to not lose your mind while doing so!
How and why to stick with GAPS diet recipes during the holidays
It may come as no surprise to you to learn that “flu” season really boils down to a few months of the year when folks are consuming lots more sugar than usual. The holidays should not be an excuse to totally go crazy with sugar. Early in my healthy living journey, before I eliminated sugar, it seemed like even when I was trying to keep my sweets to a minimum, once Halloween hit, I allowed myself junk I would never usually eat.
Then by the time Thanksgiving rolled around, I was weak in my resolve and ate all kinds of stuff I normally wouldn’t (ask me about how my vegan Thanksgiving went. Hint- I binged on cheese dip!). By Christmas? Fahgeddaboudit. I was swimming in sugar and I didn’t even care.
Studies that sugar consumption lowers the immune system’s ability to fight pathogens. Additionally, it provokes an inflammatory response, further leading to sickness.
Instead, limit treats and sweets to only special occasions (read: every holiday luncheon, class party, and playdate is not a special occasion), and find ways to make healthier versions of treats you love. Confused about which sugars to avoid and which ones are more natural and ok to eat in moderation? Read my guide to sugars here for more info.
The holidays can be stressful. I’m pretty minimalist, but even with that in mind, there are usually a few things on my plate that I don’t typically deal with year-round, whether I’m teaching a special holiday-themed nutritional class, participating in a cookie or gift exchange, or just getting some simple gifts purchased for my family, there’s a lot of activity. Not only does the added stress add to immune system suppression, but it can make me cranky.
You know what else makes me cranky? Eating foods I don’t tolerate well. Since sticking with GAPS diet recipes, I’ve noticed I am way more loving and patient with my kids. Not only does a poor diet cause a blood sugar roller coaster which leads to mood swings, but even occasionally eating foods your body doesn’t tolerate well can make you feel foggy-headed and, as a result, grouchy.
There’s lots of info out there about food and children’s behavior (you can read our story about that here), but people forget that their own behavior as an adult can be affected by food choices. I am guilty of indulging in foods I normally wouldn’t (even gluten- which is a major trigger for me!) just because it’s the holidays and I have family around. I get caught up in the nostalgia and want to just enjoy myself. As a result, I usually end up with a headache, body aches, and a grumpy mood as I recover from my over-indulgence.
Instead of giving in and eating foods you want in the moment, only to be hit with a case of the blues later on, plan and prepare, and remind yourself why you eat the way you do on a regular basis, and that you don’t want the symptoms you’ve been avoiding to crop up during that special time with family.
While it may seem like the easy thing to do to just eat what someone lovingly prepared for you, this can cause long-term problems vs just being honest and eating foods your body tolerates well. Initially, it may feel stressful to have to turn down foods you’ve always eaten with your family or friends during the holidays, but by being up front about your food needs, you will not only be saving your body from food reactions, but you will continue to enjoy those special times with family, rather than resent them because you end up getting sick.
Plus, you may open up conversations with your family about eating healthier as well. That has been my experience, and I’m happy to report that my healthy eating habits have rubbed off on my family, and my mom even cooked a whole gluten-free Thanksgiving meal for us last year! If you have a family who is not on board with your healthy lifestyle yet, you can offer to bring a few side dishes or dessert so you can be certain to have something you can eat, as well as get a chance to let your family try your amazingly delicious and healthy food.
If you are worried about placing pressure on your host, bringing your own food is absolutely the kind thing to do! Especially if your friend or family member is already familiar with your alternative food choices but has no clue how to prepare foods you can actually eat. Saying “don’t worry about it, I’ll bring something I can eat!” may not only not offend your host, but may let them off the hook when they are already busy planning a whole meal for others.
Do it for the kids
Not only is it so important for me to take care of my body year round and through the holidays, but I have to consider how poor foods effect my children. If you’ve read our story, you know I have a kiddo with multiple food sensitivities and behavioral problems. A well-meaning friend, knowing I was feeling a little stressed about the kind of work it takes to eat the way we do, once suggested I try an 80-20 approach: eat like we do 80% of the time, then let the other 20% go.
That approach is great for some people, and if I could get away with it, I might let the holidays account for that extra 20% of junk a year. But, in our family, it’s just not an option. Just as adults are inundated with opportunities to eat junk foods through the holidays, so are children, and each occasion should not be treated as a “special” occasion.
Parents often lament that between sports activities, birthday parties, and school events, their children get lots of junk food. We choose to always provide our children with alternatives instead of giving in on these occasions.
Allowing your children to eat foods they don’t normally eat puts their bodies in the same position as it does yours: their immune systems are weakened and their behavior is affected. When they are behaving poorly because their brains are inflamed, you often find yourself in the hot seat with relatives who want to know why your children are not behaving themselves. Trust me, I know how this feels! It’s not fair to you or your child to set them up for failure this way.
Instead, make them some homemade treats you know they love to bring with you to the family dinner, school party, or other event. It’s not that hard and the benefits are enormously worth it- having a child behaving like his normal self instead of being hyped up on junk is a great reward for the little bit of extra effort!
Do what’s best for you
There is no doubt that sticking with a stricter diet than most during the holidays can be tricky to maneuver, but, in my experience, it’s worth the sacrifice of turning down the breads, cookies and cakes for well-being. The important thing is to focus on why you eat the way you do the rest of the year, so you’re not tempted to eat junk during the most wonderful time of year. Once you feel secure in why you make the decisions you do about food, you’ll feel more confident in sticking with them through the holidays.
For me, as long as I can get creative in the kitchen and make treats and comfort foods my family can enjoy without getting sick, I’m perfectly happy to skip the stuff that will result in reactions later. It just takes a little commitment, planning, and communication to keep your body and emotions in check this holiday season, while keeping your family and friends in the loop so they can be supportive of your dietary needs.
Need some great GAPS diet recipes to get you through the holiday season? Be sure to grab my new e-cookbook Nourishing Holiday, which contains over 50 grain-free, gut-healing GAPS diet recipes your family will love, so no one has to compromise or feel deprived. You’ll find all the classic holiday favorites like pies, cakes, dinner rolls, turkey gravy and more.
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Do you plan to stick with GAPS diet recipes during the holidays? What are your best tips for doing so?