Managing a #gastricgrinch (aka tempermental tummy) during the holidays is no joke. I’ve always incorporated lifestyle modifications into my healing journey, and a lot of the time that has involved making very specific choices as to what I eat. Low sulfate diet, elimination diet, gluten free, dairy free, grain free, low FODMAP — I’ve experimented with my fair share of health-related dietary restrictions in an effort to use my food for symptom management and as a component of healing.
On a normal day, it can be difficult to try and stick to the guidelines dictated by a particular eating regimen. Navigating these dietary restrictions during special occasions and particularly during the holidays, takes it to the next level.
I’ve found that the emotional component of not being able to partake in “normal” holiday foods can be extremely frustrating. There have been countless occasions when I’ve sat around the table watching my family effortlessly eat the foods that I used to enjoy right alongside them. I miss the times when I used to be able to do the same, and not have to give it a second thought. Sometimes I feel envious of the ease with which they get to approach holiday meals; how they can pile their plates with whatever looks good and satisfy their nostalgic, traditional desires, without fearing the inevitable GI revolt which has become my “new normal”.
Holiday traveling and more meals out can also make it logistically difficult to make sure you are sticking to whatever eating style is necessary for you at the moment. When my GI symptoms are at their worst, it’s really hard for me to trust eating food that others’ have cooked. It can make hosts feel uneasy when I’m not eating the food they’ve prepared, and it can be difficult to explain the complex reasoning behind why, on that specific day, I’m just not able to deviate from foods on my “safe list”. Sometimes this has to do with a recent GI flare up, other times it is specific to a diet I am on for my health. Nevertheless, it can be an uncomfortable dynamic to handle when I’m forced to explain why I’m not eating what everyone else is.
Below, I’m sharing some tips and tricks I’ve picked up over the years which I find helpful in navigating some of the classic CHRONIC ILLNESS FOOD + HOLIDAY issues. At the end of this post, I’ve added a bonus list of some special recipes that I am looking forward to making this season.
Hope you enjoy and Happy Thanksgiving Week!
I cannot overemphasize how much pre-eating before events has helped me (and my stomach) handle the holidays. Pre-eating before get togethers has helped to ease my stress and to feel more in control of my body. Since many of my symptoms are unpredictable, I find that eating a meal before an event helps immensely by taking at least one “unknown” variable off the table. Often I do this privately and don’t share this information with others. I’ve found that by keeping it to myself, I don’t feel the need to “explain” my situation. I used to feel guilty for pre-eating, like it was somehow disrespectful to my hosts who put a lot of effort into preparing food for their guests to enjoy. Today, I’m much more confident doing what I need to do for me and only telling others about it when I feel comfortable doing so. Not everyone is entitled to every single aspect of your healing journey, and you don’t have to justify the things you do to take care of your body.
2. Pack alternate meals and snacks
It took some time for me to feel completely secure doing this too, but once got to that point, I never looked back! Sistas — nobody has to endure an upset stomach caused by eating foods outside of your norm besides YOU! So, if that means that you need to bring an entire meal in a mason jar and only supplement it with event food that is 100% okay for you, then by all means, do it. If I don’t pre-eat, a lot of the time I will pack a to-go meal of “basics” — grilled chicken, roasted veggies and some rice. With this as my base, I can add bits and pieces of the holiday food to my plate, but I’m not dependent on that food.
In addition to a bringing a full meal (depending on the timing of the event), I always, always pack snacks. Usually this will involve some type of crackers (I love Nut Thins and Simple Mills Almond Flour crackers), a banana, rice cakes, applesauce or other bland “safe” foods for my tummy. The timing of holiday meals isn’t always ideal for my body (regular interval eater over here), and having food on hand makes me feel like I have a lot of freedom to be able to step out for a snack when I need one without “bothering” the hosts. Sometimes it can be uncomfortable to need to snack while hosts are preparing a big meal (especially on Thanksgiving) — so I just step away to another room or outside with my bag and nibble on something discreetly. The point is, you gotta do what you gotta do for you. Don’t let waiting too long to eat because you’re trying to be polite spiral you into a flare; it’s not worth it!
2. Alcohol alternative
I’ve avoided alcohol for several years now, but sometimes it’s still hard and I feel left out. I miss the ritual of having a glass of wine before dinner, tasting new fancy cocktails and honestly, just the freedom of engaging in carrying around a drink when I am at an event.
One of the ways I’ve made this a little easier on myself is by making sure I always have an alternate beverage that is “exciting” to me. It can feel like a bummer when the only non-alcoholic beverage choice is a bottle of water. Sometimes I’ll bring a fresh pressed juice or two or my own stash of Spindrift sparkling water. I also like to bring a packet of Four Sigmatic hot cacao or some festive herbal tea for “after dinner coffee” alternatives (sometimes my stomach can’t tolerate coffee and I hate being left out of this li’l ritual too!)
I’ve found that the moments I feel most self conscious about not drinking alcohol are when everyone else is actually pouring their drinks. When I have something “special” that I can take out for myself to enjoy alongside them, it really helps to ease my frustration about having to choose between enjoying a drink socially vs. paying for that drink with increased physical pain.
*Extra alcohol tip: There are some people who seem to enjoy pressuring others to drink or some settings where you don’t want to be asked why you aren’t drinking. One of my favorite hacks for this is to order a tonic water with lime in a cocktail glass. To everyone else it will look like you’re drinking a gin and tonic — and you can do your sober thing on the sly without having to explain anything to anyone.
4. Bring a “tummy first aid kit”
This will look different for every person, but it is essential in keeping your tummy calm and your holidays enjoyable. I always pack a travel pharmacy that includes GI medication and Belly Comfort tea. Usually my “kit” also includes some of the bland snacks discussed above. There’s nothing worse than having a symptom flare up and not having your tools with you, and I’ve learned it is always better to be safe than sorry. Sometimes I’ll pack a separate bag with these items that stays in the car, other times I’ll make sure I have my meds with me in my purse. I always make sure that they’re easily accessible and bring anything I’d use at home to handle a flare (sometimes this even includes a hot water bottle for abdominal pain or change of bottoms — because being stuck with a distended belly without stretchy pants is the worst).
5. Act confident, and nobody will question you (and if they do… let it roll off your shoulders)
At the end of the day, you are the one who has to live with your temperamental tummy and chronic illness symptoms; which means you are the one who gets to decide what you need to do to take care of yourself. You are also the only one who gets to decide if it’s “worth it” to try eating a specific food or how much pain is too much pain.
Although it’s always ideal (and so amazing) when friends and family are understanding of dietary restrictions — if people don’t “get” why you’re eating the way you are, that is a them problem, not a you problem.
Walking into the holidays with a confident “I’m gonna do what I need to do to take care of me” attitude is one of the most caring and compassionate things that you can do for yourself. And when you adopt this attitude, of listening to your body and respecting its needs, you set the tone for others to do the same. We teach people how to treat us by modeling how we treat ourselves. The more kindness and understanding you give yourself and your body, the more likely others are to mimic that behavior too.
Sending you all so much love and hoping these tips help you navigate the holidays a little bit more smoothly. I’ve linked a handful of my favorite recipes below to give you some kitchen-inspo! Enjoy!
15 Minute Homemade Paleo Bagels — yep that’s right, HOMEMADE BAGELS. These are the absolute perfect size for topping with avocado mash and a single fried egg. I love to pop half in the freezer for later and use the other half for breakfasts (or snacks or lunches) for the week.
Easy Gluten Free Blueberry Pancake Scones — love these so much; they’re great for traveling because you can buy the Simple Mills mix at any Whole Foods and require minimal ingredients. Nobody I’ve served them to has noticed that they’re gluten free and they make yummy leftovers (but hardly ever last).
Paleo Cinnamon Raisin Bread — this is one of our classic #treatyoself breakfasts. Turn it into french toast and watch your world be rocked!
Paleo Stuffing (Healthy, Gluten Free, Grain Free) — stuffing might be my favorite Thanksgiving food, so finding a paleo grain-free alternative was a must!
One Pot Moroccan Chickpea Quinoa Salad — this is a recipe I’ve made a few years in a row now, it’s a great side and can be combined with lots of different meals. I love that it can be eaten hot or cold, and the cranberries make it very seasonal and festive.
Lightened Up Healthy Sweet Potato Casserole with Pecan Oat Streusel — we made this for “Friendsgiving” this year and it was a hit!
Sweet Potato Lentil Shepherd’s Pie — this is another holiday classic we have made a few years in a row; it’s such a cozy and comforting meal.
Paleo Carrot Cake “Noatmeal” Cookies — I absolutely love these little spicy cookies. You hardly notice that they’re grain free and they are so festive!
No Bake Superfood Brownie Energy Bars — this is one of our all time favorite desserts. Refined sugar free and has been a major hit with everyone we’ve made it for! Such a good thing to bring to a holiday meal.
Spiced Stuffed Dates — these are SO easy and yummy. A great treat for yourself or a good thing to bring to a holiday event if you are looking for something very low effort (but also high yield and delicious).
I share each step along my road to wellness and healing and hope that in doing so I can inspire you along your own path. Thank you so much for being here.