10 Tips to Maintain a Special Diet During the Holidays

With a little preparation you will be able to maintain your diet during the holidays.

With a little preparation you will be able to maintain your diet during the holidays.

Holiday parties and travel can present a real challenge for people who are on a special diet. Planning ahead can help enormously. Here is a personal account and 10 tips to help you maintain your diet during the holidays.

What happened to my diet?

At 4:00 AM, I woke up. I felt awful. I thought, “I feel hung over, but I didn’t drink any beverages containing alcohol at the party.”

I am on the Bredesen Protocol for Alzheimer’s prevention and reversal. This means I eat a combination of a Paleo and Mediterranean diet minus the pasta.  I have been on the Paleo diet, long before it was popular because I can’t handle sugar, foods with a high glycemic index or gluten.

Earlier in the evening, I attended a neighborhood holiday party. Nursing a sprained ankle, I had sat in the chairs that faced the buffet table. There was only one salad on the buffet table that met my diet’s restrictions.  I helped myself to several servings of the delicious salad prepared with red, yellow and green peppers, tomato, avocado, black beans and just a touch of jalapeno.

At 10 PM, a new arrival at the party placed two boxes of pizza laden with gluten-and-processed-ingredients on the buffet table. As she opened the box, the aroma immediately reached my nostrils. Lou who was sitting next to me asked, “Would you like a slice?” I heard myself answering, “Yes.”

Why did I say yes?

Now tossing in bed, I pondered my behavior. I thought, “I reacted like a teenager being offered a cigarette or joint at a party.” My first instinct was to feel disappointed by my actions for not being stronger. As I lay in bed trying to find a comfortable position, I continued to think about the situation.

I remembered a conversation long ago with a friend during a church Thanksgiving dinner. She said, “I no longer belong to the same spiritual denomination as my family; I have a college education and enjoy a different economic lifestyle. I can’t change my diet; it’s the only connection I have left with my family.”

My mind then jumped to a college discussion about cultural assimilation summed up this way: “Long after immigrants have lost their native language, the love for their traditional foods remains.”

Food is so much more than something we eat. As I have pondered my “yes” response, I realize that it was less about the aroma of the pizza and more about communion. There are strong emotional and social elements when we gather together. The feeling of belonging without a food connection is nearly impossible. So, what could I have done differently to bond and yet take care of my sensitive health needs?

Plan Ahead to Maintain Your Diet

If you are on a special diet to lose weight, control sugar levels or any other dietary restrictions, it will help immensely to plan. Planning will allow you to have fun, connect with family and friends and take care of yourself.

Ten Tips

Here are 10 tips by Sarah Kolman, a registered nurse and integrative nutrition health coach, that are posted on the Seventh Generation website.

  • Eat Regularly: Keeping your blood sugar levels and appetite stable throughout the day will help you be better positioned to make appropriate choices when offered sugary and processed foods. This may mean avoiding a sweet altogether or indulging in a small portion of one of your favorites. Eat some healthy food options throughout the day so you don’t go to a holiday event hungry.
  • Fill Up on Real Food First: When you attend a party fill your plate with nourishing foods first. If you are still hungry later go back for those indulgent choices when you are just near full. Don’t forget to choose vegetables whenever they are available—even if these foods aren’t always your favorite. Beware though—not all holiday vegetables are healthy! (Not mentioning any names… good ol’ fashion green bean casserole or yams drenched in marshmallows.)


Water is a great dietary tool during the holidays to avoid sugar cravings and overeating.

Water is a great dietary tool during the holidays to avoid sugar cravings and overeating.

  • Stay Hydrated: Being hydrated curbs sugar cravings and often prevents overeating. If you notice a craving for junk food use that feeling as a trigger to first drink a full glass of water. Then, re-assess your craving before indulging in the treat.
  • Bring Your Own Treats: Be prepared for work or social parties by bringing your own healthy treats/desserts. Here is a salad, a snack and 47 dessert ideas.
    • Choose Foods You Love: Scan the food choices and note which foods you don’t care that much about versus the must have treats that you look forward to during the holidays. Health is about balance (nutritional and emotional). If the treat you’re looking at doesn’t make your “must have” list, don’t put it on your plate. Save your one or two exceptions for those special items that are the most significant part of your holiday tradition. Having a prioritized plan enables you to avoid falling victim to everything that is placed in front of you.
    • Create Healthy Versions of Your Holiday Favorites: I have come to realize that most (maybe even all) of my holiday favorites can be reinvented into a healthy version. For Halloween, I made a pumpkin pie minimally sweetened with “raw” honey with a nut-based crust—delicious! Gravy made with arrowroot flour and coconut milk—a staple at Thanksgiving. Green bean casserole with fresh green beans and mushrooms—yum! Make a list of your holiday must have’s and do an Internet search for recipes that align with your healthy eating habits.
    To maintain your special diet during the holidays consider the sugar in many traditional beverages.

    To maintain your special diet during the holidays consider the sugar in many traditional beverages.

    • Beware of Beverages: Alcohol can lessen inhibitions and lead to poor eating choices. And both alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages themselves can be full of calories, carbs, and sugar. Choose low to no sugar drinks. A wine spritzer (wine and club soda mix) is a great way to slow alcohol consumption and reduce sugar intake. Alternating between alcoholic and water will keep you hydrated while keeping sugar/carb and alcohol consumption balanced.
    • Check Your Fullness Gauge: Just because food is on your plate or in arm’s reach does not mean you need to mindlessly eat. Check in with yourself and aim for about 7/10 fullness—nice and full, but not busting at the seams.
    • Remember the 80/20 Rule: This is a rule that inspires eating 80% nourishing, healthy food, and allowing 20% of food intake to be indulgent or less optimal. This rule doesn’t work for everyone—especially those with sugar addictions who find that they “can’t just have one” or when they eat unhealthy foods they quickly go down a fast and furious rabbit hole of poor eating decisions. For some, on the other hand, the 80/20 rule provides a reasonable guideline for eating healthy without feeling deprived of the season’s treats.
    • Keep Your Routine: The spontaneity and loose routines of the holiday can shift our normal schedule. Many people thrive on routine and it helps them maintain their healthy habits as second nature. Try to keep as much structure as possible–meal plan, eat regularly, keep your exercise routine, and wake up and go to bed as consistently as possible. For some, planning/scheduling their holiday activities with specific times can help maintain some structure.

    • Enjoy Friends, Family and Food

      The holidays are a time to enjoy friends, family and food. Contrary to popular belief, you can enjoy all three even if you have dietary restrictions.  If you slip, stop any negative self-talk that might arise. Instead, focus on being gentle with yourself.

      Affirmation: During the holidays, I will enjoy friends, family and food. At the same time, I will practice self-care by honoring my special dietary needs.

      Wishing you a healthy and happy holiday season.

      Rejuvenating Lifestyle

      Diana-Liz Gallego, Rejuvenating Lifestyle & Rejuvenating Dance


    • Rejuvenating Lifestyle™ website and blog are dedicated to easy, no cost/ low cost and comfortable lifestyle changes that promote health and longevity. Diana-Liz Gallego is a Functional Medicine Health Coach. She also leads Rejuvenating Dance™ sessions and teaches meditation in Dallas, Texas.

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