The holidays can be such a minefield for those of us who are strict about what we eat. Personally I find myself in circumstances almost every day where I have to say ‘no’ to some food or drink. Usually these are in situations with strangers like at business events, with supermarket samplers or just in my own mind when I’m looking at a menu. I never think twice about hurting someone’s feelings or whether a person is going to think I’m a freak in these settings.

christmas cookies

But the holidays bring gatherings with family and friends and these are certainly more delicate situations. Do you ask your sister-in-law whether the celery on that tray is organic and risk offending her by rejecting it after she tells you that it isn’t? Your mother’s stuffing might not be made with gluten-free bread but she’s going to expect you to have some. Rejecting foods could bring anything from an eye-roll to prying questions about your dietary challenges, which might inevitably lead to questions like “what’s wrong with you anyway?” Even travel during the holidays doesn’t save you. When is the last time you were in a hotel with an organic breakfast menu or even gluten-free toast?

I’ve laid out some worst-case scenarios here but these are certainly exemplary of my fears when I venture out this holiday season. Chances are things won’t be so terrible. Food allergies and special diets are becoming much more mainstream so many people are aware of and sensitive to them. Your family may already know about your quest for better health and surprise you by being ready for (or at least tolerant of) your preferences. You could choose bed and breakfasts or independent boutique hotels that are happy to cater for special dietary requirements. An easy time over the holidays is achievable with a little planning. Here are my favorite holiday health tips for dealing with your diet.

Don’t be afraid to ask.

Give the host a call and ask about the menu. This is a great time to mention that you’ve been having some health issues this year, insert a little groan, and let the person know that you want to plan ahead so you know what you’ll be able to eat. You can reassure her that you don’t expect any special catering but it would be helpful if you could know the menu and prepare accordingly. I can’t imagine a good friend or family member not being understanding and accommodating in this situation. This is an especially important step if you have any kind of severe allergies. Believe me, your host doesn’t want an ambulance called in the middle of Thanksgiving dinner! If you have children with allergies, here are some additional tips for handling the holidays. You might even ask about the next point.

Bring a plate (or two).

Once you know the menu you can focus on the items that are most likely to present a problem. Politely ask your host whether it would be okay for you to bring an alternative dish that you would be happy to share with others too. Guess what? It’s pretty likely that you won’t be the only person with allergies or dietary preferences at the party. Coordinating with your host in advance allows her to manage any other incoming plates and prevent duplication. Be sure to watch out for cross-contamination by bringing your own serving utensils and try to keep the special foods separate from the others, especially if you have Celiac disease or allergies.

Just say no.

If you’re offered something on the no-no list, try simply saying “no, thank you,” first with a smile. If someone tries to push a food item you can gently push back by firmly saying that you cannot have that food and that it doesn’t agree with you. Hopefully the person is good with social cues and won’t press any further. I really try to avoid discussions about my health issues at parties unless someone seems genuinely interested, and even then, I don’t make it a table-wide conversation. Just proceed at your comfort level and don’t be shy about saying you’d rather not discuss the subject publicly if that is your preference.

Fake it.

The wonderful thing about large holiday gatherings is that they are often buffets and most people are too busy with their own eating to pay attention to what is on your plate. Pile yours high with food you can have and don’t give it another thought. You can always push troubling foods aside and say you didn’t have room if asked. When it comes to the bar, if you aren’t drinking, make yourself a club soda with lemon or lime. That will look like an alcoholic beverage even though it isn’t.

Offer to host.

This is, of course, the easiest way to control everything. Just have the party at your house and remember the tips about cross-contamination that I mentioned above. People can still bring things to help you out and you’ll be able to prepare and serve whatever you like. I cannot tell the difference between the gluten and dairy-free items I prepare and the “real” thing. For many items, your guests won’t either. Ask people to bring those items that do need to be regular versions and you’re all set.

Since you are aware of special diets, however, remember that being a good host means that you should find out whether anyone else has one too. I’ve been sensitive to this for a few years now. Our wedding RSVP cards had a place for guests to write in their dietary requirements. When I’m creating invites for less formal parties I simply include a line at the end saying, “Please advise any dietary restrictions.” Try to accommodate the people as best as you can and don’t be afraid to ask them to bring a dish if you are unsure how to prepare something suitable.

Don’t stress if you digress.

Our festive season has been underway for a couple of weeks now and I have had a few items with gluten, some cheese, sugar and drinks here and there. No, I am not being hypocritical, nor am I freaking out about it. I believe I have my methylation under control and in small quantities these things really don’t bother me all that much. I don’t notice symptoms even a couple of days later and even though I would prefer to have a perfect diet all the time, I am realistic. Unfortunately this may not be true for everyone. Many of us have allergies and intolerances where a digression will cause an inflammatory response or worse, a serious reaction. In fact, sometimes you don’t even know that the inflammatory responses are happening but they are still doing damage. This could be happening to me and I’m unaware of it. I feel like I need to put that disclaimer out there.

You need to know your body’s limits and respond accordingly. If having a piece of cheese now and then or some wheat rolls is no big deal for you, don’t stress and beat yourself up over it. Unfortunately the holidays often present party after party and all the little transgressions can add up. Personally I think it’s bad to stress about the odd piece of ingested forbidden fruit but I also don’t think it’s a good idea to just throw your diet out the window because it’s the holidays. Try to find a balance here and make an effort to stick with it. And if you have real allergies these absolutely must be considered. Try to focus on conversations with people and find other things besides food to enjoy when you attend a party. Remind yourself how much better you will feel by not stressing out your digestive system and of all your amazing progress so far being disciplined.

Focus on what you can have.

Finally, as you may have learned since changing your diet, there is so much wonderful healthy food to eat that won’t harm you. Fill your life with these foods during the holidays and you won’t even miss the things you can’t have when you’re at a party. Depending on your protocol you can often “stress dose” by increasing supplements or medication to compensate for the chance indiscretion you might have over the holidays. Speak to your health practitioner about this and whether it’s an option for you.

I hope everyone has a wonderful holiday season filled with health, love and laughter!

Do you have any tips to add?

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