Hey, let’s lighten up a bit here. Another holiday issue I’m thinking about is how to maintain my healthy eating habits in the face of, well, all of the temptation. Whether you’re working on losing the quarantine fifteen, have a restricted diet for medical, religious, or ethical reasons, or are just plain trying not to gain winter weight this year, Thanksgiving and other celebration menus can be tough to manage. Even if you’re avoiding larger gatherings, it’s still natural to want the traditional dishes and treats. So what can you do?
Cooking for yourself and your family makes it easier, for sure. Controlling the menu right up front means you can be sure to have food available that you can eat. You can skip making certain things, and modify or use variations of the usual recipes for others to stay within your dietary limits and guidelines. Candied yams might be a family favorite but no go for you right now, so maybe you make baked sweet potatoes instead, that everyone can dress up as sweet or as plain as they like. This is also a great opportunity to make something that you can eat, but is usually too much expense or effort to bother for an everyday meal. Avoiding having a potentially troublesome item on the table means you won’t have to decide not to eat it, no matter how good it looks. Even better is if you have something available that you will genuinely enjoy. Even restrictive diets often have treats available, and a holiday meal is a perfect time to break them out. And of course, you’ll have to practice it at least a time or two before the big day, right?
That’s not always an option though: coronavirus and all, you still might have to or want to show up at certain food-centered gatherings. Occasionally, you can work with the host to ensure that you will have something available that you can eat. If nothing else, finding out the menu in advance can give you some time to game-plan how to put together a plate that will meet your needs. It could be as simple as staying away from the glazed ham but getting to enjoy all of the turkey you want. You might also check in to see if it’s appropriate for you to bring a dish so that you can bring something that works for you. You might have an idea for something everyone will enjoy, food restrictions or not, and introduce them to the idea that it’s not all bad to have your limited diet. Personally, I’ve been converting some folks to the Southern classic of vinegar green beans instead of green bean casserole, for instance. If you don’t, that’s okay too.
It can certainly be appropriate to bring even an entire meal for yourself if you believe that’s the only way it will be possible for you to safely eat. Think of it and frame it as not an insult to the host, but rather a way of making both them and you more comfortable. One of my friends often travels with some camping food that they can be certain is gluten-free, for instance, and while we all feel a little bit bad when they can’t join our meal, we also know that this is how he can be absolutely positive that his health won’t be affected and that’s more important than anything else when we can’t find a way for us to eat the same thing we’re having. On the flip side, by the way, if you’re the host and you’re aware of a guest facing these issues, don’t forget to reach out and do what you can within reason for them. Even if it’s just letting them know that you’ll make sure they have fridge, stove, oven, or microwave space as they need is a considerate step, and one that can help ease the awkwardness a guest may already feel about the fact that they need to be “difficult” about what they eat.
Many holiday events are more formal or less personal than that, though. You might not be able to find out the menu details in advance, or be able to work with anyone to provide alternatives or to bring your own food. In those cases, you might need to pre-game your meal or plan on eating afterward. Depending on the timing of the party, it could be easy for you to make the excuse that you’re eating at another time or that you’re not hungry. After all, you don’t owe anyone an explanation of why you aren’t eating or, for that matter, drinking. If it takes a bit of sliding past the truth to not have to do that, go ahead. Order that sparkling water from the bar and ask for it in a highball glass to look like a cocktail. Tell the person you’re chatting with you’re just waiting for the one hors d’oeuvre that you really love (read: that you can eat) to come around again. At the same time, it’s also okay to just say that you’re unfortunately unable to eat what’s been offered. Certainly we’d all like to avoid that moment where we shut down conversations by bringing up a topic that nobody knows quite how to respond to, but you’re the one who’s there and can gauge your audience. But consider that maybe, it’s time to let your coworkers know why having lunch with them is so difficult, when you’re all in a more relaxed setting.
Finally, if your diet has some flexibility to it, now is the time to wiggle! Make a principled plan about what you can do that is out of your ordinary, and allow yourself to indulge, just a little, and with something that makes any side effects or other costs worthwhile to you. It could be saving up calories or points to eat on the big day, allowing yourself one lovely, decadent wedge of pie, having that glass of bubbly or cup of coffee and disturbing your sleep…whatever it is that you have to maneuver for your particular food restrictions so that you can have something normally forbidden, now is when it can be worth the work and when you might have the time to do so. Me, I managed to enjoy half a can of full sugar, rarely-found-in-the-US yuzu soda into a recent celebration meal because I had been extra-disciplined with the dietary recommendations I’ve been following on my doctors’ advice. Let me tell you – it was totally worth all the earlier deprivation, and all the better for how rare a treat it was.
What about you? What diet plans are you going to try to keep through the holiday season? More importantly, what are you going to do to keep them as well as you can?