December Survival Guide

Posted by Healthful Elements Staff

December is a month full of celebrations — office parties, family gatherings, and festive neighborhood get-togethers. It’s also a month full of sugar-laden treats and pressure to eat them. (“You have to have a slice grandma’s layer cake! She will be devastated if you don’t.”)

Let’s not forget the mulled wine and hot toddies (more sugar), cookie exchange parties, and ubiquitous holiday candy bowls on coworkers’ desks.

In other words, December is a month full of competing forces: family expectations, family traditions, joy-filled socializing, and the desire to celebrate versus the desire to stick to your healthy habits, maintain your (newfound) health successes, and not experience an autoimmune flare-up (or, short of that, a nasty sugar hangover).

No matter what your goals are this holiday season — whether to maintain a full immune modulating dietary protocol or to just eat slightly less sugar than last year — there are smart strategies you can use to stay on track without sacrificing holiday fun.

To start, I want you to think about family gatherings and other celebrations as a major sports event — the Super Bowl or a Final Four game (or whatever your preferred sport) — and yourself as the star player.

Now we’re going to approach the ‘big game’ with three key components: pre-game strategy, game-day strategy, and post-game analysis.

Pre-Game Strategy
Holiday success starts before the big day(s). Here’s what to do now to get ready: 

1. Give yourself permission to indulge (just a little). Unless you follow a strict medically supervised diet, like the ketogenic diet, or you have celiac or Hashimoto’s and gluten is categorically off the table, or you have strong philosophical or emotional reasons for maintaining your usual protocol during the holidays, consider allowing some room to let loose. Pleasure is an important part of eating, and sometimes the stress we put on ourselves to be “perfect eaters” can outweigh the benefits of a restricted diet.

Also, saying ‘yes’ to an off-limits treat every once in a while will help you say no when you need to. Following a path of strict denial makes it more likely to go off the rails — hard. Think of a few thoughtful treats as inoculation against a full on binge. 

2. Decide now what your indulgences will — and won’t — be. Give yourself indulgence parameters. What will you say ‘yes’ to and in what amount? Two of Grandma’s sugar cookies over the course of the holiday weekend? One glass of mulled wine? What’s a strict ‘no’? Anything with gluten? Any industrially raised meat? When you know your rules in advance, you’re less likely to waiver or to just start saying ‘yes’ to everything.
3. Simultaneously, pick some simple health indulgences that you will “hit hard” during the month. Pick one or two of your regular health habits that you could give extra emphasis this month. Eat a lot of leafy green vegetables? Try turning up the dial and eating all the colors of the rainbow in one day (pomegranates! sweet potatoes! purple onions!). Sit in the sauna once a month in the winter? Aim to go once a week in December. Don’t pick anything too extravagant (learning raw, vegan cooking) or complicated (starting a ketogenic diet) or difficult to fit into your schedule. Make it something you already do and like, and that won’t be inconvenient to do more of.
4. Do some emotional pre-gaming. A lot of holiday eating — and a lot of indulgence eating in general — is emotional more than anything else. Spend a little time thinking about potential triggers. A guilt-tripping parent? A sibling with diametrically opposed political beliefs? Your uncle who insists on keeping the TV blaring during the big meal? And think about your less-than-ideal coping strategies. Face first in the Chex Mix? Sixteen Christmas cookies? Sugar-laden lefse? Then visualize some powerful alternatives or substitutes, maybe escaping the crowd for a minute and catching your breath or subbing in unsweetened carbonated water or chewing on tea tree and cinnamon toothpicks when cravings strike.
Game Day Strategy
Here’s what to do when you ‘hit the field’:
1. Eat right before its time to eat. When I was in high school, I worked for an in-home cleaning service. Many of our clients would clean their house (at least nominally) before we arrived. They wanted the house to look good for the cleaning ladies. While that was our job and their work was sweet but unnecessary, I want you to adopt their strategy if your holiday gatherings present you with major eating obstacles. For example, if you can’t eat pork or dairy or sugar, and that’s pretty much all that’s on the table, you will go hungry or wind up indulging when you shouldn’t. Getting full on good foods right before the main meal will help you relax, stay full, and resist temptation. You won’t be thinking of all the food you can’t have and feeling deprived – and you’ll be free to delight in what you can eat at the table and not worry about the rest.
If you’re hosting, eating some of your healthy staple foods right before the main meal should be relatively easy. If you’re visiting relatives, use healthy snacks and prepared leftovers to your advantage.
2. Replace, replace, replace. If part of what you miss about holiday eating is the ritual, focus on substitutes. Love the after dinner coffee and conversation? Bring your own dandelion coffee. You’ll be surprised how much of the joy is in the actual holding of the warm cup and less in the beverage itself. Miss the glögg wine? Make your own non-alcoholic version, brimming with phytonutrient-dense berries. Bring some paleo cookies. You won’t miss the “real” versions as much as you think.
3. Still tempted by foods not on your indulgence list? Close up shop. That is, brush your teeth. It’s amazing how the simple act of brushing your teeth can squelch an urge to eat, especially when the craving is emotional.
4. Practice your “nos.” Saying ‘no’ to an eager parent or a pushy but well-meaning friend or relative can sometimes be the hardest part. We break down and eat the off-limit food just out of guilt or torment about hurting his or her feelings. If you have some stock answers ready for why you’re declining Option A or Option B, it’s so much easier. You’ll need to find the words that work for you, so practice a bit before you get to the table. I’ve developed two approaches that work for me, usually with really good success.
My preferred route is humor. It disarms people and it makes them forget about being offended. When Pushy Person says, “Oh, have some of the pie! Just have some!” I usually say something like, “Sorry, I can’t…because I hate fun and things that taste good.” We both usually laugh and the conversation moves on. Honestly, I can’t remember a time that I’ve ever had to explain further.
My other preferred route is honesty. I say something like, “I gave up dairy a while ago to see if it helped my headaches and I’ve been headache free ever since. I feel so much better, I don’t want to give it up!” People have a very tough time arguing with — or shaming you for — feeling better.
Post-Game Analysis
When the holiday rush is over, reflect on how it went — without judging. This is a really a time to embrace self-compassion. Just take stock of what went well, what went less well, and what you want to try next year. 

Posted by Healthful Elements Staff


Dear Jill, I'm looking for a coach to help me find a good diet. I've had hashimotos for 35 years, now exhaustion too.

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