Healthy Christmas Eating
Food can cause much joy over the holiday period but at the same time be a source of stress, especially if food is a big part of managing your autoimmune condition - like it is for me. Here are some tips to help you with food over the holiday season whilst still setting you up for success in 2022. Food after all is supposed to be a tool to help us celebrate over the holidays and is something to be enjoyed rather than cause stress. Let’s keep it that way. Read on for helpful tips and yum recipes including Roast parsnips, Mushroom Paleo Stuffing, Maple and Orange glazed Ham and Paleo Christmas Cake.
1. Have your “food ground rules” worked out in advance of the holiday period.
There may be foods / drinks you will avoid no matter what and other things you might allow yourself to eat over the holiday period that you don’t normally indulge in. Remember they are your ground rules and no one else’s based on what is best for your body. Deciding on these in advance rather than deciding in the moment, will help you stick to these rather than give into temptation. For me, staying gluten free and dairy free will be a non-negotiable as I know my body doesn’t react well to either of these foods but on the other hand I will be more flexible on my sugar consumption as even though this can be inflammatory my body deals with it ok for short periods.
2. Communicate your “food ground rules”.
If you are going to be spending time eating at other people’s houses, I would thoroughly recommend communicating your ground rules in advance to those hosting. I would also explain “why” you are doing it and what you can eat! I now realise people are more than happy to accommodate my dietary requirements - especially if I tell them that eating this way is helping me manage my autoimmune disease! But do make life easy for them and don’t just say “I don’t eat gluten and dairy” instead say what you can eat with some examples so they realise that it actually isn’t too difficult. Depending on the event, you can always offer to bring a plate so there is at least one thing you can eat or if it is a more cocktail style event, I will often eat before I go just in case there is not much I can eat.
3. Keep on listening to your body.
Our bodies are amazing and give us messages when things are not quite right. If you are being more flexible than usual it is extra important to spend some time each day noticing what is going on in your body. You might be feeling absolutely great but on the flip side you might start to notice a few adverse symptoms. Here is a list of things to look our for: are your bowel movements staying regular, are you experiencing any digestive symptoms like bloating, are any symptoms of your autoimmune disease occurring e.g. joint stiffness, are you still sleeping through the night? If your body is starting to experience a few adverse symptoms it might be a good idea to slow down on the “flexibility” or to add some extra nourishing activities (see below) in your day to support you as you want to make sure that your body is able to cope and its much easier if we listen to the little messages rather than wait for the more serious symptoms to arise.
4. Keep up with nourishing foods and activities around your holiday commitments.
Whilst attending holiday events or hosting, make sure you reserve some time each day for nourishing foods and commitments, this will really help you come out the holiday period in one piece. For example:
- Have your fridge and pantry stocked with foods that will nourish you when you are not at events or during times if you don’t feel so good. For me - my go to foods when my body is feeling a bit fragile are centred around bone broth and slow cooked meals. Bone broth is extremely healing and when you combine it to other foods to slow cook it add more nutrients plus the cooking process partially breaks down the foods making them easier to digest for your body. Ideas for cooking with bone broth by Jo Whitton (including link to cauliflower mash and coconut lemon chicken soup). Here is a Food to Enjoy and Foods to Avoid list to also help you stock your fridge.
- Hydration - make sure you keep your water consumption up to help nutrients be delivered to different parts of your body and waste products carried away. Ideally filtered and away from meals so not to disrupt digestion - and bonus points for having 1/2 lemon squeezed into warm water once a day to support your liver or before meals to aid digestion.
- Get daily movement - ideally in the fresh air, for example gentle walk, swim in the sea, a round of golf - movement helps your body detoxify and has lots of other benefits too.
- Other nourishing activities: reading a book, getting plenty of sleep, baths with Epsom salts (great for detoxification too).
5. Have a date after the holiday period when you go back to your usual way of eating.
Many of us can tolerate a diet change for a period of time but we need an end day to stop these changes becoming a habit and can potentially cause a flare. Put a date in your diary for a reset once the holiday festivities are over when you are especially focused on nutrient dense, anti-inflammatory foods. Your body will thank you for it for the rest of 2022!
6. Eat mindfully regardless of what you are eating.
This will really help you relax which helps not only the digestive process but also helps you enjoy the occasion.
A few ideas:
- Take five deep breaths before your meal
- Appreciate the colours and smells of your food
- Chew thoroughly and slowly
- Put your fork down between bites
- Express gratitude before the meal
- Check in with how full you are on a regular basis and whether you need to eat more.
7. Let go and have fun!
This is the perhaps most important item on the list! Food may be a big part of your holidays but it is not the only thing! It is a time to let go and let your hair down! So once you have determined your ground rules, start focusing on what you can eat, on socialising with friends and family and doing those activities that are going to light you up and feel good. For me at Christmas, I love being in nature, playing board games (scrabble preferably) and simply spending time with those closest to me - even if it is over FaceTime with my nephew in the UK! Write a list of the things you want to do that is going to make you feel good!
Finally I will leave you with some of the recipes I will be cooking over the Christmas period to help spark your creativity:
- Kombucha (bonus points if you can get a cranberry version) or sparkling water - with some star anise and cinnamon stick added to make it feel Christmassy - kombucha in small amounts can be good for digestion!
- Ginger and lemon switchel - great digestive aid!
- Food ideas:
- Maple and orange glazed Ham
- Mushroom Paleo Stuffing
- AIP Roast parsnips
- Paleo Christmas Cake - we will be adding homemade marzipan and royal icing as part of our European Christmas traditions!
- Almond pastry mince pies - using the grain free almond pastry from Jo Whitton’s cookery book ‘Life changing foods’ - being from the UK these are a favourite!