By Amanda Idleman, Crosswalk.com
Welcome to the season of holiday eating! There are so many reasons to celebrate over the month of December, and almost all those celebrations include delicious and indulgent foods! Last week alone, our family attended three amazing and oh-so-delicious Thanksgiving feasts! The weeks ahead include holiday cookie-making, hot chocolate, special holiday dinner dates, and more! I love all the celebrating, but neither my waistline nor my stomach can handle all these fantastic foods well.
Over the past few years, I have had to contend with a broken stomach and digestive system. It's been a blessing and a curse, for sure! In order to find healing and manage my pain, I've had to change my habits completely. So many foods I loved I can no longer tolerate. I also rely on moving my body regularly to help manage stress and anxiety in my life. These new restrictions that my body has placed on me have led me to approach the holiday season a little differently. I'm still giddy about the celebration, but I have to pass on those delicious cookies. Instead, I'm coming up with new ways to create gluten-free, dairy-free, grain-free, and sugar-free treats! Surprisingly there are some delicious recipes out there, I promise!
For those of you who can tolerate gluten, sugar, and dairy, I know you still need help making sure you don't consume too much fat over these exciting months. Truly, even if our bodies don't sound the alarm through pain and discomfort, healthy habits still matter when there is so much temptation around us to overindulge! Here are a few simple tips that have helped me feel my best while still enjoying the holidays:
1. Make a Fitness Plan for These Busy Weeks
A habit I started years ago was to plan and be prepared to move my body, especially during the busy weeks of the year. I promise if you don't plan to prioritize your health and well-being, it will be pushed to the back burner. Last week, during our Thanksgiving marathon, a few things helped me ensure I was still active, even during all the celebrations.
First, I planned a couple of early morning workouts. I know mornings are hard to get on board with, but if you are a busy person, they can be the only time your health can make it into the schedule. I didn't wake up early every day, giving me the space to also enjoy some slow-moving holiday mornings too! But two days out of the week, I planned to meet some friends to exercise before anyone else in my house was up and moving around.
Second, I brought exercise clothes to our family hangouts. After a large helping of turkey, there is one thing my body really wants me to do, and it's not nap! It's to take a walk! All that delicious food needs help to digest; walking is a great way to facilitate that. Every year after we eat that large afternoon meal, I come prepared to take a stroll around my parent's neighborhood with any family members who are brave enough to join me. Most of the time, I end up taking all the ancy kids around with me, but that's also a win to keep them moving too!
Simple choices to get a few walks in during a busy week, taking 10 minutes to go through a free weights routine in your backyard, or having a special morning gym date with friends make such a big difference and how you feel. Moving your body helps combat the extra calories and stress the holidays bring.
2. Bring Healthy Options to Gatherings
It is awkward to be that annoying person who people offer their delicious homemade delicacies, and you have to decline because of a dietary restriction. I hate being "that person" who quietly shares my list of "foods to avoid," and sadly, it's a long list. My strategy to make sure my host doesn't feel offended is to compliment how amazing their food looks and smells even if I can't taste it. I hate for them to feel unappreciated or that they have to go out of their way to cater to my weird diet. Even as I've come to accept that this is part of my life now because if I choose to eat those foods, I know they would make me extremely ill, it's still hard.
A strategy that has helped me feel less awkward is always bringing something I can enjoy to gatherings. That way, I'm not sitting empty-handed while everyone is enjoying the food. I bring homemade treats that I can enjoy. I bring the salad, so there are always vegetables available for me to enjoy, or I bring my own meal to eat alongside my friends and family.
This definitely means I can't fly by the seat of my pants, just showing up with whatever store-bought baked goods I grab on the way. The intentionality of planning and cooking ahead has been necessary for me because my healing has required a full-time effort. That makes any diet hard; we want to follow it when it's convenient and struggle when more enticing options are in front of us. I've learned never to show up empty-handed or hungry! I fill up on plates full of veggies and lean meats and leave my meal satisfied.
3. Be Accountable to Others
Hard things require help. Maintaining a healthy lifestyle is really hard, especially in our culture filled with processed and sugary foods! You need accountability if you will remain committed to your well-being during this season. This can look like choosing one friend that you plan to work out with, so you are less likely to bail on that pre-planned gym date. It can be signing up for a health or fitness program such as Noom or Weight Watchers. You could get your spouse in on the action and help each other stay on track. It's just vital to have others on this journey with you.
4. Find What Works for You
There are like seventeen million different diet and fitness plans out there! Here is the deal, you just have to find something that works for you.
What eating habits work best in your current schedule? Which foods make you feel better or worse? What level of time and resources can you realistically put into your health?
It's important to let go of the lie that you must follow a particular eating plan 100%. A choice to enjoy a food "off your list" is totally okay. You are not a failure; life and food are meant to be enjoyed! Aim for 80% success when it comes to following a certain diet plan.
Some guiding principles to feeling your best to help you find something that you can commit to is to do all you can to eat as many whole foods as possible. This looks like meat, vegetables, fruits, nuts, whole unrefined grains, healthy oils, whole dairy products without added sugars, and beans. Whatever diet you follow, it should look like eating whole foods for as much of your diet as possible.
When I was really fighting for my own healing, I had to follow a very strict diet for a season because my body responded with pain anytime I deviated. I had a health practitioner suggest a low-carb diet, which would have been great, but I elected to follow a version of the Autoimmune Protocol Diet because I knew I'd be more successful if I could eat carbs. Both diets had significant health benefits, and both were hard to follow, but I knew what I needed to be successful. Thankfully, after about six months, I was able to add foods back into my diet and found measurable relief from the pain I had been dealing with. My body needed to be strictly nourished with whole foods only for that season and continues to thrive when I remain committed to a plant-based diet. Honoring what my body needed and what felt doable for my lifestyle was a significant part of my healing journey.
5. Stock Up on Healthy Staples
The easiest way to end up eating that entire pan of holiday cookies instead of more nourishing foods is that you don't have a good healthy option easily accessible. Hungry grazing is the best way to get yourself in diet trouble! Some of my favorite foods to grab for the afternoon munchies include bananas or apples and nut butter, RX Bars if I'm in a rush, vegetables and hummus, nuts, or I just eat another helping of lunch. There is no rule that snacks have to be made up of snack foods. Last night my before-bed snack was a skillet full of roasted broccoli!
Smoothies, dried fruit, hard-boiled eggs, or oatmeal are all fairly easy go-to snacks or breakfast options. When holiday foods are around, don't give up on your healthy routine. Keep those nutrient-dense foods present in your home and find ways to incorporate them into your fun Christmas meals and treats.
Being in a body is a lot of work! The struggle to use self-control and develop healthy life rhythms never ends. It's not without sacrifice or grief, either! When my body first started breaking, I truly had to grieve the loss of the ability to enjoy some of my favorite foods like ice cream and cheese. I had to re-learn how to cook and had to take time to research new recipes that allowed me to enjoy my new diet more fully. In the end, it's a blessing to learn to better honor and care for this body God has gifted me. Remember when the holiday menu feels enticing: your body is a temple, and you are worth the effort to live a full and healthy life!
Amanda Idleman is a writer whose passion is to encourage others to live joyfully. She writes devotions for My Daily Bible Verse Devotional and Podcast, Crosswalk Couples Devotional, the Daily Devotional App, she has work published with Her View from Home, on the MOPS Blog, and is a regular contributor for Crosswalk.com. You can find out more about Amanda on her Facebook Page or follow her on Instagram.