5 Tips For Enjoying the Holidays With Food Sensitivities

Dr. Brighten here –

When you’ve got food sensitivities it can feel like surviving the holidays is impossible. But not to fear! My staff nutritionist, Mallory, shared with use her top 5 tips for surviving the holidays with food sensitivities. 

Wishing you Happy Holidays!!!

Dr. Jolene Brighten

The other night, I went to a small event at a beautiful shop in Portland. About a dozen women were milling about, checking out handmade woodwork and ceramics, testing the locally sourced natural moisturizers. The hostess immediately began offering wine and tea, then came around a second time with a large, beautiful tray of brightly colored donuts.

I don’t get out much, and when I do go out, it’s usually to restaurants I know, or where I can call and ask if they can accommodate dietary restrictions. This. This was different. This was a private event, much like a house party, and I wasn’t prepared for delicious floury donuts to appear in front of my face. I was either caught of guard or nervous, but either way, in the most annoying, obvious way possible, I blurted out, “I can’t eat those! I’m gluten-free!”

I immediately intuited that I could have gone about this in a more graceful way. I think I scared the poor woman and honestly, I really don’t need to be “that girl” who tells everyone about her gluten sensitivity before they even know my name. It got me to thinking that I, of all people, (someone who deals with patients’ food restrictions for a living) could come up with some subtle, graceful ways to navigate the holiday season with food restrictions.

Here’s what I came up with and these have been working beautifully…

5 Tips for Enjoying the Holidays with Food Sensitivities

Never assume.

Ingredients are not always obvious, especially when it comes to broths, soups, casseroles, and gravies. It’s OK to ask your host what’s in each dish. I suggest getting her (or him) alone or even calling beforehand to inquire. Assure her that there’s no need to go out of her way for you, but you just like to be sure what you’re eating. If she asks questions that you’re comfortable answering – great! Educate away! If you’d rather not get into it, politely change the subject by offering to bring a dish.

No is enough.

It’s natural to want to explain yourself. “That looks delicious, but, you see, when I eat white potatoes my joints hurt for a week,” or “I’d love to partake, but I’m on a pretty strict elimination diet – doctor’s orders!” Sometimes, we’re just excited about our new lifestyle. We feel amazing, so when people offer up freshly baked bread or cauliflower au gratin, we’re like, “omg, I used to love those foods, but since transitioning to a Paleo diet I feel the best I have since I was 12.” It’s so good to be excited about how awesome you feel, but there is a time and a place. And I’ve found that a simple and graceful “no thank you” works just as well. It is possible to be gracious while still saying no. No guilt. No explanation. Simple as gluten-free pie.

If no seems too harsh when grandma is stuffing her famous banana walnut bread in your face, try something subtle like saying you’re not hungry. Or literally run away. She’s old and can’t catch you. (Kidding. Sort of.)

Be a great guest.

I do one of these three things now before I show up to any party or family gathering:

1) Eat. If you’re pretty sure there won’t be anything you can enjoy without spending the entire next day on the toilet, eat at home before you head out to the festivities. I have a friend with celiac disease who eats every time before she goes out. Sometimes, she’ll enjoy some tortilla chips or fruit and veg if she’s sure there’s no gluten cross-contamination, but for the most part, she just sips a cocktail or two and is as happy as a clam.

2) Communicate. This harkens back to tip #1. We are so lucky to live in an age where food sensitivities are relatively understood. Talk with your host (especially if it’s a full-on dinner party) and let her know what’s up. Don’t assume that people know what gluten is, for instance. This may be a good time to resort to option 3 (below).

3) Bring your own dish. If it’s a dinner party, or I’m feeling so inclined, I’ll go with with this fun-lovin’ option. I love gravy, for instance, but most holiday gravies are thickened with wheat flour. I can easily make my own and bring this, maybe along with a tray of gluten-free stuffing or some roasted veggies. This way, the host is stoked because there’s more than enough food for everyone, and I don’t have to worry about asking the ingredients of every dish.

If you’re looking for some kitchen inspiration or just want to get some more recipe ideas, I recommend downloading Dr. Brighten’s Hormone Friendly Holiday Menu and Recipes for free and create a delicious dish that is grain, dairy, soy, and gluten free.

Revisit the why.

This is a good tip for year-round maintenance, not just during the holidays. We all have different reasons for avoiding certain foods. Maybe your doctor recommended a strict elimination diet. Maybe you realized after a couple months on a Paleo diet that you feel the best you’ve felt in years. These are your whys and they’re important to you. At least they are important until you’re faced with some delicious food that you’re trying to avoid.

So let’s say there’s some freshly baked, straight outta the oven biscuits on the table. The first thought might be, “well, they won’t kill me.” Nope. One biscuit won’t kill you (unless you have an anaphylactic response to one of the ingredients or have celiac disease). But my first thought is always a quick, “how is this going to make me feel?” I’ve had enough run-ins with biscuits over the years to know exactly how I feel afterwards and you know what? Not. Worth. It.

If you’re on an elimination diet or other doctor/nutritionist prescribed diet, ask yourself, is it worth starting from scratch? Whatever your reason for a restricted diet, it’s important to you. And it’s worth skipping that biscuit. Why don’t you indulge in an extra helping of that veggie packed stuffing you brought instead?

For most of us, the effects of food sensitivities are subtle, and perhaps even depend on the dose. But the effects are cumulative and can be especially hard on our bodies during times of stress (read: the holidays). So if you can’t remember your why when a pie is staring you in the face, remember that!

Change your mindset.

Just because you’re on a limited diet doesn’t mean food is boring or can’t taste good. Au contraire! Take this as an opportunity to create a new, exciting dish that you can eat. Can’t eat the mashed potatoes? Tap into your inner chef and create a mix of mashed parsnips and cauliflower with garlic and ghee. Same goes for booze. If you’re not drinking, concoct an alcohol-free fruity cocktail with fresh squeezed lemon, ginger, and turmeric. Bring a jug to share! Rejoice in the foods you can eat and relish the fact that you will feel amazing after nourishing your body with nutrient-dense food.

Wish you a very Happy Holiday Season!

P.S. Don’t forget to grab your free copy of Dr. Brighten’s Hormone Loving Holiday Menu & Recipes!

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About The Author

Mallory Leone

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Mallory Leone is Nutrition Consultant and Lead Nutritionist at Oakland Naturopathic Medicine. She holds a bachelor's from San Francisco State University, has completed post-baccalaureate work in biochemistry, and holds a Certification in Holistic Nutrition from Bauman College, a state licensed and nationally recognized health education facility located in Berkeley, Calif. Mallory has trained extensively in Dr. Brighten’s unique protocols and has a particular passion for individualized nutrition plans for each patient. Mallory lives in Portland, OR with her yellow lab, Whiskey.