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You Can Survive Gluten-Filled Holiday Parties

It might seem that Christmas just wouldn’t be Christmas without the gluten-filled sweets and treats that you’ve become accustomed to since childhood. But new traditions can be just as rewarding as old ones — and sometimes the old ones can be updated without anyone being the wiser. 

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You Can Survive Gluten-Filled Holiday Parties

Written by Dr. Kellyann Petrucci

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It might seem that Christmas just wouldn’t be Christmas without the gluten-filled sweets and treats that you’ve become accustomed to since childhood. But new traditions can be just as rewarding as old ones — and sometimes the old ones can be updated without anyone being the wiser.

Here, I cover how easy it can be to start new and healthy traditions, as well as some tricks to bring old traditions into your new primal lifestyle.

This can be challenging, to be sure.  Aunt Betty seems to always have a platter of cut-out sugar cookies and Uncle Joe likes to offer you a cold brew as soon as you walk in the door. These are, of course, foods and beverages that don’t fit into your guidelines.

assortment of christmas sugar cookies

Then there’s work! How many times must we walk to the coffee/tea station at the office only to find another box of chocolates from a vendor or a plate of cookies from the boss’ wife? These work treats can be a big tease.  And how about those more-frequent happy hours that occur this time of year? Or that spur-of-the-moment call from a friend who says, “Let’s meet for a holiday toast!” 

Do know that if you give in once in a while, it’s no big deal. But do be careful! These little hiccups can quickly get way out of hand. (Remember my post on how the average person gains about a pound every holiday season? That’s the one pound that doesn’t go away … so imagine in 15 years being 15 pounds heavier!)

And that’s just the holiday season! Take a moment to count the number of special occasions throughout the year. There’s New Year’s Day in January, as well as Super bowl Sunday, which is a major celebration for some people. In February, you’ve got Valentine’s Day, followed by Easter, July Fourth, birthdays, weddings, anniversary parties and graduation celebrations. There’s a reason to celebrate during every month of the year, and if you indulge at every gathering, you can seriously disrupt your healthy habits in a way that’s counterproductive.

But here’s the thing about the holiday season that I always remember: This is a time to focus on conversations, laughter, and camaraderie with your favorite people. It’s easy to fall into the trap of thinking that a party is primarily about the food and the cocktails, but really, it’s about enjoying social interaction with people you like. If you take the focus off the food and drink, and shine your attention on the people, you’ll enjoy the occasion more, and following your primal guidelines will feel effortless.

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The key is to learn how to enjoy your holiday social life and take part in holiday celebrations without feeling deprived — and without compromising your healthy new habits.

Holiday Tips for Having the Best of Both Worlds:   

Plan and Prep: You probably know by now that it’s much easier to guarantee your success of eating clean when you invest a little time in planning and preparation. This eat-think-and-be-merry principle definitely applies to making the most of social situations, too. With just a little prep — and a willingness to actively change your public behavior — you can enjoy parties as much as ever without sacrificing your eating principles.

Meeting friends or family out on the town? Do your research: A quick, advance review of a restaurant’s menu can mean the difference between a relaxing, enjoyable meal and a gluten-infused nightmare. Read all the options on the menu and decide what you’re going to order before you go. Then when you arrive at the restaurant, don’t even open the menu — just revel in the knowledge that you know exactly what you’re ordering and sip on a glass of sparkling water with some olives or lemon while your dining companions make their decisions.

BYOF: Okay, bringing your own food isn’t always possible or appropriate, but in many cases, it works like a charm. Let people know that you are fine, but that your body can’t tolerate or is sensitive to many foods, or that you are sticking to a special regime and that you have your own food but will enjoy their salads, etc. To avoid a stare-down with a tray of lasagna, I will take advantage of vegetables and salads or protein (if it’s served without sauces or breading).

Eat Before You Go:  If your big night out is dinner in a restaurant with friends, you probably don’t need to eat before you go and can follow my trick above about looking up the menu ahead of time. But a party at a friend’s house or an afternoon of holiday shopping might call for eating ahead so that you won’t derail good habits. Eat a solid Paleo meal before you go and bring Paleo-friendly snacks with you to sustain you, if you get hungry, or to give you something to eat when your companions indulge in a snack along the way.

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Enlist Help: Tell your family and friends that you are sticking to your new food habits. That will shed light on why you’re not gulping beer, noshing on sugar cookies, or diving face first into the plate of appetizers you usually order. They might tease you a bit, but when they realize you’re serious and that it’s important to you, they’ll probably also encourage you and may even think about their own lifestyle and how they might want to try a primal diet. 

Be Firm: You might be surprised to learn that for the most part, no one else will really notice when you change your habits. And if they do, they most likely won’t care too much. If someone gives you a hard time — a waiter, a co-worker, a “friend” — simply look them in the eye and say with as much steel (and patience) in your voice as possible, “It’s important to me that I eat this way. I’m sure you understand my desire to be as healthy as possible.” Tell them succinctly why you live the lifestyle you do and I’m betting no one will argue with that.

If you’re with friends or family members who want to know more or seem open to learning, here’s what I like to say: (It’s what I like to call my dinner party pitch)

“I love being healthy, feeling really energized and looking my best. Eating real, unprocessed foods gets me there. The concept is simple really. It’s just eating foods that our body metabolizes and digests best, so naturally I function better. This lifestyle is easier than you think and I actually learned to adapt almost every dish I used to eat to primal. The food tastes fantastic. For me, it’s a no brainer. I love the food, I look better, and I don’t feel sluggish anymore or deal with any health conditions.”

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Eat When You Get Home: Congratulations! You did it! You went to a holiday party and avoided chicken wings and 2-for-1 cocktails. When happy hour turned into dinner, you ordered a salad with grilled chicken while everyone else ate burgers and fries. Now, back at home, you’re feeling proud, but also a little hungry. Now is the time to celebrate with a solid, Paleo snack. Put on your pajamas and snuggle in to enjoy a restful sleep knowing that come morning, you won’t have a food hangover. Sweet dreams.

Hope these suggestions help you survive your next holiday party! 

Keep thinking big and living bold!

– Dr. Kellyann

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